What is Microbiome & Why It’s Critical to Your Health
Microbiome is the one of the “buzziest” words in medicine today. Why? Because the trillions of bacteria living in our bodies have an impact on our overall health in many ways influencing everything from the health of your gut, to impacting your immunity, weight, and mood.
So, what exactly is microbiome? It’s a community of microbes—like bacteria and yeast—that live in your body. The microbes in your system started making a home the day you were born, attaching to you on your way out of the birth canal.
You have specialized microbes in each portion of your body—and those microbes on your skin are not necessarily the same as those in your gut, or on your gums. Each type of microbe has a different function—whether it’s keeping your gut healthy or boosting your immunity. But it’s the microbiome in your gut that has the most variation of bacteria—and it’s those bacteria that influence the health of every part of your body, starting with your gut.
Microbiome of the Gut: The Secret to Solving Leaky Gut Syndrome
Unhealthy bacteria in your gut can lead to leaky gut syndrome—which occurs when the intestinal walls become more permeable than normal, causing leakage into the body. This allows undigested food, bacteria, and the other contents to pass through the walls into the surrounding tissue, where immune cells must deal with the aftermath.
Mainstream medicine doesn't have a pharmaceutical or surgical solution to the leaky gut syndrome. So, not surprisingly, most just pretend that leaky gut syndrome doesn't exist—or they refer to it as "intestinal permeability." Yet, not only has it been well-documented, increased intestinal permeability (and leaky gut syndrome) has been directly linked to a long list of health issues such as:
- Chronic fatigue
- Aches & pains
- Constipation & diarrhea
- Brain fog
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Heart condition
- Pancreatic illness
If you suffer from any of these problems, there’s a good chance you have some degree of leaky gut. In fact, we all probably have some degree of leaky gut at some point in our lives. Some people may not display any obvious symptoms, while for others, it can be debilitating.
You can combat leaky gut syndrome by targeting your gut with quality probiotics and a special diet, which we will get to later. This solution helps with more than just gut health; it benefits the rest of your body too.
The Gut/Brain Axis: How Your Gut Affects Your Mind
If you’ve ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach, you already know the gut and brain are connected. Your body has a “second brain” in the gut that controls and regulates the intestinal tract. It can work independently, or in conjunction with, the brain in our heads to sense environmental threats—much as our eyes, nose, and ears do.
If your gut bacteria aren’t balanced, your brain won’t be either. In terms of mood and behavior, your gut can trigger…
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), major depression is the leading cause of disability for Americans between the ages of 15 and 44. That’s not something to ignore.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that at least 40 million American adults (ages 18 and older) suffer from an anxiety disorder in any given year. This isn’t mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event. These are disorders like panic, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress, phobias, and generalized anxiety that last six months or more and require treatment.
Around seven percent of individuals in the U.S. experience “intermittent explosive disorder” (IED). The symptoms include road rage and irrational, violent acts of extreme anger.
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Incidences of ADHD are skyrocketing. The modern diet is a huge reason for the spike in ADHD percentages. We need to make up for this in the gut.
Researchers at Arizona State University studied and evaluated the gut flora of 20 autistic children and 20 non-autistic children of ages 3 to 16. It was found that autistic children had less variety of bacteria—and in particular, less of these three strains Prevotella, Coprococcus, and Veillonellaceae.
Pharmaceutical companies have embraced the fact that there is a neurological connection between the gut and the brain by way of the tenth cranial nerve. It’s no coincidence that anti-depressants are some of the most common pharmaceutical treatments used for IBS.
In my humble opinion, drug companies are doing things backwards. They are treating the symptoms instead of the true cause of the problem. A much healthier approach would be to look at the problem from the “bottom up,” rather than “top down”—meaning start with the gut, instead of the brain. Finally, we’re starting to see more work with probiotics and, just recently, studies proving that mood disorders can be controlled by starting with the microbiome in the gut.
Why Your Gut Can Hold the Secret to Losing Weight
While there isn’t enough research to prove that you can directly use probiotics for weight loss, there is something to be said about the connection between gut health and eating habits. Just as microbes in the gut can affect our mood and behavior, they can also influence our choices on what we eat and drink. It may sound unbelievable, but allow me to explain.
We have a very diverse population of bacteria in the gut and they are all focused on one thing: survival. But, their goal of survival is not always in the best interest of our health. Different nutrients appeal to different species of bacteria: some want sugar, while others favor fat. Rather than just accept whatever you choose to eat, they can chemically alter the nerve signals that the brain uses to monitor activity in the gut. By releasing certain chemicals, they can change taste receptors, inducing cravings and making us prefer one food over another.
Fortunately, there are ways to manipulate the microbiome in the gut, but we’ll get to that later.
Immunity Begins with Your Microbiome
One of the most acknowledged connections between the microbiome and your health is the strength of your immune system. This happens in a number of ways, but generally is the result of our microflora’s ability to prevent pathogenic organisms from taking hold in our bodies. A healthy microbiome means your body can:
- Defend against bad bacteria.
Beneficial microbes produce substances that our bodies use to reinforce our resistance against bad bacteria, yeast, and other invasive organisms. Just as the bacteria lining your intestines reinforces the barrier that prevents pathogens from seeping out of your GI tract and into the body (leaky gut syndrome), other types of bacteria strengthen the barrier that stops undesirable, foreign organisms from affecting your body.
A good example of this would be the microflora in the oral cavity, the first line of defense against pathogens. Since often our first exposure to viruses and bacteria comes through the mouth and nose, it is important to keep higher numbers of good bacteria there to prevent infections.
- Create an undesirable environment for bad bacteria in the gut.
The microbiome in the gut also supports immune health by balancing the pH in the digestive tract so it is difficult, if not impossible, for toxic bacteria, such as salmonella (which causes food poisoning), shigella (which causes diarrhea), and E. coli (which can cause intestinal disease and chronic kidney failure), to settle in and colonize.
Healthy gut flora also produce a volatile fatty acid which, along with other byproducts, makes it difficult for fungi and yeast to survive.
- Keep you regular.
The shorter your bowel transit time, the less chance there is for contaminants from your feces to be reabsorbed into your bloodstream and spread throughout your body, causing harm to your immune system.
Urinary & Vaginal Health Depend on a Strong Microbiome
Like in the colon, good bacteria and bad bacteria are constantly battling for places to settle in the vagina and urinary tract. The good bacteria need to defeat the bad bacteria as well as keep the pH levels of the vagina and urinary tract slightly acidic. Maintaining a healthy, balanced microbiome with a slightly acidic pH level is a crucial tool in keeping yeast and other bad bacteria from thriving. Otherwise, you will find yourself burdened with either the infamous yeast infection or urinary tract infection (UTI).
UTIs are often caused by infectious bacteria finding its way from the lower bowel to the urinary tract by way of the lymphatic system. The best method for preventing a UTI is maintaining a healthy colon and microbiome. Many of the strong antibiotics given for UTIs destroy good microflora, allowing harmful bacteria to affect other aspects of your health.
Antibiotic use is one of the many factors that can lead to vaginal infections. Here are a few more common causes of yeast infections:
- Insufficient levels of beneficial bacteria
- Antibacterial or scented cleansers
- Tight-fitting pants
- Wet swimwear
- Increased consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugar
Lifestyle Habits that Keep Your Gut Balanced
Bad Gut Habits: What Not to Do
There are many day-to-day habits you might not even think about that have been consistently damaging your microbiome in the gut, possibly resulting long-term consequences. These bad habits not only destroy the number of good bacteria in your microbiome, but also the diversity. Whenever possible, make sure to avoid these bad gut habits:
- Antibiotic use
- Usage of over-the-counter products and medications, such as mouthwashes, aspirin, antacids, painkillers, and laxatives
- Increased usage of antibacterial cleansers
- Drinking chlorinated water
- Ingesting pesticides and herbicides
- Washing with douches and excessive colon cleanses
- Having certain surgeries, colonoscopies, and chemotherapy/radiation therapy
- Exposing yourself to pollutants such as heavy metals, including amalgam dental fillings
- Eating sterilized foods
- Consuming artificial food coloring
- Taking antidepressants and sleeping pills
- Eating food products with altered fats
- Increasing consumption of carbohydrates
- Taking anti-cholesterol drugs
- Dramatically increasing your use and variety of vaccinations
Eat a Gut Healthy Diet
Don’t worry, there are some lifestyle habits that are good for your gut. Certain probiotic foods can boost your gut health and they are delicious, in my opinion. It has become increasingly difficult to guarantee which products still contain "live" probiotics at the time of purchase. After being created by the fermentation effects of beneficial bacteria, they must be "stabilized" before they could be packaged to increase the shelf life of the product. Sometimes, the health benefits are reduced or eliminated in the process. The only 100% reliable way to know there are live probiotics in your fermented foods is make them yourself which I highly recommend whenever possible. If you do choose to make your own foods for a gut health diet, these are a few of my favorites:
- Cottage Cheese
- Fermented tofu
How to Restore Gut Health
As I mentioned, altering some lifestyle habits and eating fermented foods can enhance and improve gut flora. But, this method will not do enough to restore your gut health on its own. Plus, it’s very time consuming to be making your own fermented foods so frequently, and some people get sick of the taste. The best way to restore gut health is with the use of quality probiotics.
Benefits of Probiotics
Under ideal circumstances, while some bad bacteria may exist in the microbiome, other beneficial microflora keep their numbers in check. It’s only when certain “bad” strains of bacteria get out of control that we begin to see issues. These problems can be as minor as diarrhea, or as serious as a systemic infection.
There’s no possible way to eliminate all the potentially pathogenic bacteria from our environment. To maximize your gut health, there must be a balance in the microbiome. Taking a quality probiotic supplement everyday will help maintain that delicate balance.
Quality probiotic supplements will aid the microbiome of the gut by creating an environment that supports the growth of beneficial bacteria and inhibits the growth of harmful or pathogenic strains of bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
How to Choose the Best Probiotics
So how do you recognize a quality probiotic supplement? There are a lot of myths that prevent people from finding the right one. Here are the top criteria in choosing the best probiotic supplement to improve your microbiome and your health:
- Pay attention to the list of probiotics strains.
It’s not about a high number of CFUs. A quality supplement will have a very diverse combination of strains. I personally find that these 13 strains are the best for overall gut health:
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus fermentum
- Lactobacillus salivarius
- Bacillus coagulans
- Bacillus clausii
- Bacillus subtilis
- Saccharomyces boulardi
- Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Beyond these, the best probiotic supplement for you depends on your specific health concerns.
- Recognize the delivery system and packaging.
When I say, “delivery system,” I mean the form in which the product is created and how that form enables the bacteria both to remain alive and healthy while on store shelves, and to reach the areas in your gut where they’ll be most effective. If the delivery system and packaging are not up to par, you will be taking a supplement full of dead probiotics, which is a waste of your money.
- Look for an expiration date.
Some probiotics do not have expiration dates; don’t bother purchasing them. It is a common myth that probiotics don’t need them. How will you know how long the probiotics will live without an accurate expiration date?
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that must be alive to work, and like all living things, they cannot live forever. Every probiotic supplement should be tested at the time of packaging, and then retested, to determine how long the number of bacteria listed on the label survive. Every probiotic package should show this accurately with an expiration date.
- Make sure there is a money back guarantee.
Any quality probiotic company will believe in their product enough to offer a money back guarantee. If they don’t, it should raise questions.
I hope this information helps you on your journey to improved well-being. I know how frustrating it can be to experience health issues without clear knowledge on what is causing them. I hope you continue to learn more about the microbiome and gut health and how important it is for your overall wellness.