Your ‘gut microbiome’ is made up of trillions of microorganisms and their genetic material that live in your intestinal tract. These microorganisms, mainly comprising of bacteria, are involved in functions critical to your health and wellbeing. These bacteria live in your digestive system and they play a key role in digesting the food you eat, plus absorbing and synthesizing nutrients. However, research shows your gut biome plays an even bigger role on your health by impacting your metabolism, body weight, immune regulation, inflammation, and your ability to fight off infection. Plus, it effects your brain functions and mood.
Your gut microbiome and brain are connected physically through millions of nerves, most importantly the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve helps to regulate many critical aspects of human physiology, including the heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, digestion, and even speaking. Whether you know it or not, your gut bacteria is communicating with your brain and affecting your state of mind.
Scientists are providing more and more evidence for this link, which they refer to as the ‘microbiome-gut-brain axis’. Research is showing that a healthy micro biome can actually improve stress response, reduce anxiety, and mitigate the effects of other mental health problems.
There are more than 100 million brain cells in your gut. That’s more neurons than are found in the spinal cord or peripheral nervous system. 95 percent of your body’s serotonin, your body’s feel good chemical, are found in the gut. It makes sense that a poor diet, medications, and antibiotics can wreak havoc on your mood. In fact, different foods have been shown to change a person’s mood. For example, consuming carbohydrates stimulates serotonin release, and eating fats increased feelings of happiness due to triggering a release of dopamine, the brains natural opiate.
Not only does your gut hold brain cells, it also contains 70% of your immune cells in what is called GALT (gut associated lymphoid tissue.) GALT plays a critical role in killing pathogens. GALT and your gut microbiome work together to help you get past whatever ails you. That’s a big reason to act wise with the use of antibiotics, which also kill the good bacteria in your gut along with the bad.
While you cannot change your age and genetic makeup, science provides ample evidence showing several things you can do to keep your gut microbiota healthy, balanced and functioning optimally.
- Diet: Reducing the amount of processed, high-sugar, and high-fat foods you eat. In addition, eat plenty of plant-based foods and lean protein. A diet high in fiber has been shown to contribute tremendously to a healthy gut microbiome.
- Supplements: Adding a prebiotic or probiotic supplement to your diet can improve your good bacteria.
- Hydration: Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated is a simple way to promote a healthy gut.
- Sleep: Prioritize at least 7–8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.
- Stress: Reducing stress plays a critical role in a healthy micro biome. You can incorporate prayer, meditation, walking, massages, exercise, yoga, or even having a pet.
- Antibiotics: Although it is often necessary to take antibiotics to combat bacterial infections, overuse is a significant public health concern that can lead to antibiotic resistance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), doctors in the United States prescribe around 30% of antibiotics unnecessarily.
- Exercise: Regular exercise contributes to good heart health and weight loss or weight maintenance, which directly impacts gut health.
How is your gut health? How can you grow in the 7 categories listed above to improve the quality of your life?