What is the gut microbiome?
Each human has their own (completely unique) gut microbiome- a community of thousands of coexisting species of microorganisms, including multitudes of bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses. Understanding the Gut microbiome is integral for good health. This complex network of microbiota is created firstly by your DNA and then continues to change as you move through life, exposing yourself to microorganisms through your environment. This journey often begins with your mother’s birth canal, her breast milk and then your diet and everything you come into contact with throughout your life.
Why is the gut microbiome so important?
The gut microbiome and the immune system are inherently linked. Not only does it help to shape our immune system, but it actively helps to protect the body against harmful pathogens. It is also responsible for vital metabolic and nutritional functions by helping to extract nutrients from food and make vitamins B and K.
What is dysbiosis?
Both protective and harmful microorganisms exist in balance (symbiosis) within your gut, however, a pathological imbalance (dysbiosis) can arise when either the non-beneficial organisms overgrow or the beneficial ones become damaged. This transition away from your ‘normal’ gut microbial community can then allow for the proliferation of pathogens and lead to inflammation and associated disease. A number of things can cause dysbiosis, such as excess consumption of foods that are highly processed and contain high levels of refined carbohydrates and sugars, alongside alcohol, stress (through increased cortisol production) and having to take *antibiotics.
Diet and the microbiome
A high-fibre diet is particularly beneficial for supporting a healthy intestinal microbiota, with fruits, vegetables, beans and wholegrains all considered good sources of prebiotic fibres. Fermented foods, like sauerkraut, are also brilliant! There are supplements available to buy, however, you can also add foods to your diet that naturally contain readily available and unprocessed prebiotic fibres. If your body is unfamiliar with a high-fibre diet then it’s always best to introduce these foods slowly in order to build tolerance and to eat meals regularly. If you struggle with symptoms of abdominal bloating and gas then it’s helpful to soak your grains and beans overnight in water, eat slowly (lots of chewing) and to add asafoetida to your meals.
Most important is finding a diet that works for you and your lifestyle. Explore food mindfully and with compassion for yourself, by travelling a journey that’s less about restriction and more about balance. Make any changes slowly, one step at a time. It’s also good to remember that it’s totally fine to splurge sometimes. Unless a specific illness absolutely prohibits it, then go ahead and enjoy that chocolate cake or [insert other favourite thing here] with no regrets or shame! You didn’t ‘fall off the wagon’ because there is no wagon.
If you fancy trying some at-home fermentation then here is a nice and simple sauerkraut recipe from The Nourished Kitchen.
We hope you enjoyed ‘Understanding the Gut Microbiome for Good Health’
If you liked this blog post, you’d really enjoy ‘How Nature’s Networks Connect Us All’
Words by Heather
Heather works for Feel Good Norfolk and is a medical herbalist in training. Once she qualifies she will be working intentionally with women to support their reproductive and hormonal health for improving physical and emotional well being. She has an MSc in environmental sciences and integrates nature into all aspects of her daily life and herbal practice.
* Always take antibiotics when advised by your medical practitioner. It’s good to be mindful of not misusing or overusing antibiotics, but they are otherwise an incredibly useful medical tool for fighting bacterial infections. You can restore your gut microbiome after a course of antibiotics with a healthy high-fibre diet and probiotic supplements bought from your local health food store.