As scientists discover more about the microbiome, they learn that its benefits aren’t simply limited to the gut. Instead, its sphere of influence can be felt throughout the body and brain.
In this post, let's explore what the microbiome is and offer a few tips for improving microbiome health.
What Is the Microbiome, and Why Is It important?
Essentially, the microbiome is a bustling metropolis of microorganisms that live inside our bodies, mainly in the large and small intestines. That image may make some readers feel squeamish (no one likes intruders – especially not inside us), but these microorganisms play a pivotal role in several daily bodily operations.
Collectively, organisms in the microbiome support the immune system, synthesize essential amino acids and vitamins, and protect against other harmful bacteria – among many other things. Recently, scientists have begun studying the link between microbiota and mental health (called “the gut-brain axis”), determining that a healthy microbiome can help alleviate anxiety and depression.
The microbiome is the unsung hero of several fundamental bodily operations, and we owe it to this benevolent army of microorganisms to ensure they are healthy and abundant. Here are three ways to improve your microbiome.
Often, when you hear someone discuss the microbiome, it’s in relation to probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria or yeast that people consume. They improve, restore and repopulate our natural gut flora, strengthening the microbiome in the process.
You can find probiotics in:
- fermented dairy products like yogurt and kefir
- fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi
- and soy products like miso paste and tempeh.
An excellent way to work probiotics into your schedule is to start the day with a bowl of yogurt or kefir. To reinforce your daily probiotics intake, consider substituting meat in your dinner with tempeh or adding naturally pickled vegetables to your meal for extra zing.
Prebiotics are less discussed but equally as important as probiotics. In essence, prebiotics are the food that probiotics eat. Without a proper diet, probiotics can’t work their magic (just like us), and so it’s essential to the microbiome that you balance your probiotic intake with prebiotics.
Prebiotic foods are generally high in fibre and natural sugar. Garlic, bananas, whole grains, asparagus and chicory are all adequate sources of prebiotics. Certain functional mushrooms like Reishi mushrooms, Lions Mane mushrooms and Chaga are also fantastic prebiotics. Additionally, these mushrooms may further boost long-term health with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune-stimulating properties. These prebiotic mushrooms used to be challenging to find, but these days you can buy Lions Mane mushrooms, Chaga and Reishi online in powdered form.
GI specialists and the role they play in gut health
The microbiome is a collection of trillions of microbes in the gastrointestinal tract. These microbes are essential for many aspects of health, including digestion, metabolism, immunity, and more.
So a gastroenterologist is an expert in the digestive system and the microbiome. They can help diagnose and treat conditions that affect gut health, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
There are many reasons to see a GI specialist. For example, if you have persistent digestive symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea, a GI specialist can help figure out what’s causing them and recommend treatment options. GI specialists can also guide how to maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
Sleep & Exercise
Although diet is the largest factor in microbiome health, it isn’t the only factor. Recent studies suggest that getting sufficient daily exercise improves the microbiome by altering “the composition and functional capacity of the gut microbiota, independent of diet.”
Experts have also drawn a link between sleep deprivation (including chronically interrupted circadian rhythms) and negatively altered microbiome composition. Experts already recommend getting consistent, quality sleep as a way of holistically supporting your body, so – regardless of its effect on the microbiome – quality sleep should be a top priority.
To summarize, your body needs that metropolis of microorganisms to thrive for several health-related reasons. Support your microbiome with probiotics like fermented foods, prebiotics like superfood mushrooms, and plenty of exercise and rest.