The Many Influences of the Microbiome
From the immune system to the GI tract, this population of trillions of microbe impacts the entire body.
What is the microbiome?
The microbiome is the population of trillions of microbes — including bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms — that live within the human body alongside human cells. It doesn’t serve just one purpose; instead, the diversity of the microbiome aﬀects virtually all body systems by inﬂuencing:
- Gene expression
- Nutrient absorption
- Energy metabolism
- Integrity of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract
The microbiome begins populating with those microbes during fetal development and continues changing through every stage of life. The composition of the microbiome and its inﬂuences on GI/overall health depends on the interactions between microorganisms and the host. Various species and strains of bacteria within the microbiome develop diﬀerent relationships with the cells of the human body. They do diﬀerent things and have separate purposes, yet they maintain an interactive relationship and share two goals: survive and thrive.
The relationship between the microbiome and gut health
Gut health is determined in large part by the composition of microorganisms in the gut microbiome. Diﬀerent bacterial species, oﬅen found in the microbiome, are associated with various health eﬀects in the human body — both good and bad.
Microbial activity in the gut can increase the bioavailability of phytochemicals, which are plant metabolites associated with health beneﬁts in the human body. A high diversity in the gut microbiome leads to positive health beneﬁts, while low diversity can lead to negative or poor health beneﬁts. Additionally, balance in the gut’s inﬂammatory responses may mirror balance of the microbiome.
As part of the gut microbiome, bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), like butyrate, that act as an energy source for the cells of the GI tract. Gut bacteria also positively inﬂuence health by interacting with bile acids. Bile acids are an important component of bile, and they play a role in the digestion and absorption of nutrients consumed via food in the diet. A diverse gut microbiome can support more eﬃcient digestion and absorption of nutrients in this way.
Components of a healthy human microbiome
Infant feeding methods and diﬀerent birthing processes can inﬂuence the composition of the microbiome early in life. Diet, stress, antibiotic use, and other lifestyle factors aﬀect the diversity of the microbiome throughout life. Diet is especially important, and dietary components like ﬁber can act as prebiotics to “feed” good bacteria in the gut microbiome.
A healthy microbiome looks diﬀerent for everyone, but the main characteristics of a healthy microbiome are:
- Balance of diﬀerent types of microorganisms
- Balance of the right amount of microorganisms
- Minimal harmful strains of bacteria
How to improve your microbiome
Improving gut health by fostering healthy diversity in the microbiome can revitalize health throughout the whole body. Create and maintain healthy diversity in the microbiome by eating a variety of whole foods and supplementing with nutritional supplements to ﬁll in the gaps. Additionally, metabolites from plants positively inﬂuence gut health by supporting the immune system, promoting the growth of healthy bacteria, and supporting the production of short-chain fatty acids.
In addition to maintaining a healthy diet, engaging other aspects of a healthy lifestyle can support a diverse, healthy microbiome. Components of a healthy lifestyle include maintaining healthy sleep habits, managing stress, and being physically active.
You can also promote the growth of good bacteria in the microbiome by introducing extra beneﬁcial bacteria to your gut microbiome in the form of supplements, including probiotics and other whole food supplements for microbiome support.