Let's Talk About Microbes!

Hello, my friends.  I would like to kick off my blog by talking about what is, in my humble opinion, the most interesting topic on the planet.  The gut microbiome!

The research in this area has absolutely exploded over the past few years, and we’ve learned a lot about what these little critters can do.  In fact, there is so much new information about gut bacteria that I cannot possibly do it justice in just one blog post.  So I’ll cover the basics now, and go into more detail in future posts.

So what is the gut microbiome? “Gut” is a general term used in the medical and scientific communities to describe the entire digestive tract including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine.  However, when we talk about the gut microbiome, we are generally referring to the microbes present in the small and large intestines.   There are trillions of  microbes present in the gut, and they typically include bacteria, fungi, yeast, archaea, viruses and parasites.  For the purposes of this post, we will be talking about gut bacteria.

So, you may be asking, “how much can those microscopic bacteria really accomplish?”  Well, it turns out that they play a major role in our physical and emotional health!  70-80% of our immune system resides in our digestive tract, and our gut bacteria communicate with our immune cells.  In this way, our gut microbes help to regulate the immune response to all of the things that pass through on a daily basis such as viral and bacterial pathogens (the “bad” guys that can cause disease), food particles, and chemicals.   They also help maintain the mucus layer that protects the lining of our gut, which is very important because we don’t want the “bad guys” getting through the gut lining and into our bodies.  Imbalance or “dysbiosis” of the gut microbiota has been linked to a number of chronic health conditions, particularly autoimmune diseases.

In addition to playing a huge role in digestion and immune function, it turns out that gut bacteria are also in communication with our brain!  Having the right balance of bacteria in the gut can support a better mood and decrease depression and anxiety.  What can’t these little creatures do?  

The challenge is that gut bacteria are influenced by a number of factors including genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.  The gut is constantly being inundated with foods, food additives, chemicals, medications, and potentially pathogenic bacteria and viruses.  It is difficult for many of the beneficial bacteria that live in our gut to thrive under such harsh conditions.  That’s why our food and lifestyle choices are so very important. 

Adopting healthy eating habits and managing stress can keep your friendly gut bacteria from packing up and moving out (or you can probably entice them to move back in). Gut bacteria love high-fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables (we’ll talk more about their favorite foods in future posts), and they grow and thrive when they get lots of those types of foods with minimal processed, high-sugar foods.  So thank your little gut allies for all the hard work they do, and feed them what they need in order to thrive and do their thing!