Gut microbiome: What you need to know

Over the past decades, research into the intricate workings of the human digestive system has intensified.

Scientific studies are highlighting not just the fascinating workings of the veritable ecosystems within our bodies, but our guts’ profound impact on the body and brain.

The role of gut microbiome

The human digestive tract is home to an extensive community of microbial life responsible for a range of functions such as providing us with essential nutrients, digesting cellulose, synthesising vitamin K and promoting gut nerve function.

When this gut microbiome is thriving, robust and diverse, we are healthy too.  The trillions of bacteria we are designed to host are there to benefit us.

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A gut feeling

The trouble is, is that like most living systems, the gut biome is somewhat delicate and vulnerable.

Changes, such as a course of antibiotic treatment, a period of stress or a spate of unhealthy eating can easily upset or even devastate the sensitive balance of the microbiome.

We might feel the impact of this in the digestive tract through a variety of ailments that range from temporary discomforts like constipation or diarrhoea to ongoing disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease.

Nurturing gut microbiome

According to Robyn Smith, founder of Faithful to Nature, we can apply lessons learnt from protecting the earth’s ecosystems to nurturing a flourishing community of beneficial life in our guts.

“Our gut biome has the characteristics of any other living system,” she points out. “It is permeable to the outside environment and we have to make sure that what’s going in fosters life and protects diversity.  That means we have to avoid toxins and provide the bacteria with high-quality nutrition. We also have to manage ‘outside’ conditions that can wreak havoc on the system, such as stress, inactivity and not enough rest.”

Restoring balance

So how do we go about restoring balance to gut biome?

According to Smith, it may be vital to restore populations of particular bacteria, just as we might reintroduce key species of plants or animals to restore the balance of the natural environment that has been depleted.

Here are some tips for getting a healthy balance back:

  • Avoid toxins – this involves reducing our intake of toxins in foods by avoiding processed foods, fast foods, added sugar, plant foods produced conventionally, meat from animals that have been farmed intensively and diary from animals that have been treated with hormones. “It also means going against the trend and ensuring that you only resort to antibiotic treatment when it is absolutely necessary as these wipe out great populations in your gut biome,” Robyn says.
  • Opt for quality nutrition – the focus needs to be on eating a variety of healthy, unprocessed foods that are mostly plant-based. Include organically produced vegetables and fruits; legumes, nuts and seeds, fermented foods that are high in probiotics such as kimichi and a balance of healthy fats and protein.
  • Embrace a healthy lifestyle – apart from eating healthily, pay attention also to being physically active every day, managing your stress and getting enough good sleep and rest.
  • Restore the biome – “When we are aware of the symptoms of ill-health in the gut biome, it helps to take action to restore balance,” says Smith. “For instance, there’s a wide choice of supplements, remedies and ingredients that promote overall digestive health, and also the same to target a specific issue such as irritable bowel syndrome.

“What many people don’t realise,” Smith concludes, “is that yes, an unbalanced gut biome is common to many of us, but we don’t have to just live with it.  It is a remarkable, responsive community of life that can be quickly restored if we just take the right actions that protect, soothe and replenish.”

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While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.