What is the Gut Microbiome?
Did you know that our gut bacteria and gut microbiome can influence our overall health? This includes Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), heart disease, our immune system, mental health, body weight and sleep patterns.
The gut microbiome is very complex and can vary from person to person. It is a term used to describe the large and diverse group of microorganisms, also sometimes referred to as stomach bacteria or gut bugs, that live in our gastrointestinal tract. The diversity and amount of these bacteria increase throughout the gut from the stomach, to the small intestine and then large intestine or colon.
FUN FACT – Did you know that your colon has the most amount of gut bacteria?
Diet and the Gut Microbiome
Our diet significantly affects the makeup and diversity of our gut microbiome. The composition of our gut microbiome can begin to change in as little as one day after changing our diet. This can influence our overall health by the products that are made when the bacteria in our colon breaks down or ferments the nutrients that we have eaten in our diet.
These are mainly certain types of carbohydrates called fructans (including inulin and oligofructose) and fibre (including resistant starch, wheat bran, beta-glucan and psyllium). These are also known as prebiotics and produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). These help to protect our gastrointestinal tract, speed up repair of any damage in our gastrointestinal tract and reduce inflammation.
It is also important to remember that although diet has a major impact on the gut microbiome, some medications and conditions can also alter its composition. These include constipation, IBS, inflammatory bowel disease and some nutritional supplements.
What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics have been scientifically shown to impact the gut microbiome in healthy people, however there is limited evidence for their use in different diseases. Prebiotics are known for promoting “good bacteria” in our gut which assists with improving our overall gut health. As mentioned above, these are natural non-digestible nutrients, particularly carbohydrates and fibre found in the food that we eat. Prebiotics include fructo-oligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides. These are found in foods such as bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, soybeans and whole-wheat foods.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics is a term used to describe live microorganisms such as bacteria or yeast. They are commonly referred to as “good bacteria” and are found naturally in our gut. Health benefits, particularly in the gastrointestinal tract, may be seen when enough are consumed. The most common probiotic bacteria are from the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species. Probiotics are currently being added to a number of different foods including yogurt, cereal, cheese, milk, juice and even chocolate. They are also available as supplements. However, it is important to remember that there is no guarantee that the probiotics added to foods will have health benefits. There is currently limited evidence supporting the use of probiotics as scientific research does not reliably show that they modify the gut microbiome. However, some strains are used in the management of some conditions such as IBS.
Follow My 5 Easy Steps to Keep Your Gut Healthy Like a Pro!
STEP 1: Increase Your Intake of Fruit
Try and eat at least 2 pieces of fruit each day. Choose a variety of different types and colours of fresh fruit that are in season and try using fruit for snacks and desserts. They are a good source of vitamins, including vitamin C, and folate and provide potassium, dietary fibre and carbohydrates in the form of natural sugars. Edible skins are particularly high in fibre, but fibre is also in the fruit flesh.
STEP 2: Increase your intake of Vegetables
Try and eat at least 2.5 cups each day. Include a variety of different types and colours including beans and legumes. Try new ways of cooking with vegetables like roasting, baking, barbequing and stirfrying. Including these in your diet can provide a range of nutrients as they are a good source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre.
STEP 3: Include a wide variety of wholegrain breads, cereals and pastas in your diet
These provide more dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals than refined or white versions of grain (cereal) foods. Eating wholegrain and/or high fibre cereal foods will not only keep your gut bacteria happy but can help reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, excessive weight gain, and some cancers.
STEP 4: Limit your Intake of Red Meat
Great substitutes are poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans. It is currently recommended that no more that 455g of cooked lean red meat is eaten per week as eating larger amounts can be linked with a higher risk of developing bowel cancer. Eating large amounts of protein from animal sources has also been shown to alter our gut microbiome. This can decrease the amount and diversity of the gut bacteria found in our gastrointestinal tract.
STEP 5: Make Sure you Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking enough water helps make sure that we do not get dehydrated and can also assist with decreasing our risk of constipation. You may have heard a lot about how much water we should drink, such as 8 cups or 2 litres per day, however as we are all different, there is no one amount that is recommended for everyone. The best way to judge if you are drinking enough water is by looking at the colour of your urine. Dark urine likely means that you may be dehydrated and have not had enough fluid, while clear urine means you may be drinking too much. Aim for a pale-yellow colour as this is likely to indicate you are well hydrated.
If you would like some support to take control of your IBS, click here to watch my program video to learn how I can help you eliminate your bloating, constipation and diarrhoea WITHOUT feeling confused or overwhelmed.
Collins SM (2014). A role for the gut microbiota in IBS. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 11: 497-505.
Fraher MH, O’Toole PW, Quigley EMM (2012). Techniques used to characterize the gut microbiota: a guide for the clinician. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 9: 312-22.
National Health and Medical Research Council. Eat for Health-Educator Guide. Canberra; 2013:11-23.
Sekirov I, Russell SL, Antunes LCM, Finlay BB (2010). Gut microbiota in health and disease. Physiological Reviews. 90: 859-904.