It's pretty mind blowing to think about the gut microbiome.
I don't know about you, but most of my life "bacteria" was always a bad thing.
There was no such thing as "good" bacteria.
And I came in contact with my fair share of em, too.
I was the kid who had strep throat once a month.
And the bottle of pink medicine that tasted that bubble gum to go with it.
It killed the strep.
But what we didn't understand 30+ years ago was all that it was killing right along with it.
Like anything else, when you know better, you do better. And when it comes to the gut this is where we're at.
In the last 20+ years the exploration of the gut microbiome has caused a huge paradigm shift. Just like the discovery that the world is not flat. Or that there's an entire solar system out there.
These discoveries changed the way people thought about the world. the universe.
This is the level we're talking about with the microbiome.
Our understanding of it is changing the way we view ourselves in relation to the microbes around us (and in us) and it's proving to be much more complex than us versus them.
We co-exist, we co-habitate, we've co-evolved over millennia.
We need them just as they need us to survive and thrive.
By now I imagine this isn't news to you.
You watch TV. You see Activia commercials. You know about probiotics.
We've only begun to scratch the surface of how these little guys affect our world (and us theirs) though.
So I want to share with you 10 things that I think are the most important to know and understand about the gut microbiome.
The gut is technically outside of the systemic human body.
Imagine it like the inside of a donut, or a stack of donuts, where the inside of the donut (the hole) is your gut, creating a tunnel from your mouth to your bum. The skin along the inside of the gut is separating the outside (ie. what's in the tunnel) from what's on the other side (ie. your systemic body).
The gut is separated from the rest of the body by a semi-permeable skin that is one-cell thick.
This semi-permeable skin is guarded and kept healthy by microbes, which help to digest food and allow nutrients through and keep food, debris and other materials that are meant to stay in the gut in the gut, and allow nutrition to fuel every cell into the body.
We have more microbes in our gut than we do cells in our body.
We're talking tens of trillions of microbes. A planetary level of microbes living inside us (well technically according to #1 outside of us). These microbes do a lot for us, like digesting our food, creating vitamins, enzymes and benefits fats, surveilling the outside environment, maintaining microbial balance just to name a few.
There are thousands of different species living in an ecosystem in our gut microbiome...
including bacteria, yeast, fungus and parasites - all competing for space and food and nutrients. E coli, candida, h pylori which are known as being "bad" are part of a healthy balanced microbiome. These things only become problematic when they are allowed to overgrow. Which is why...
Diversity is key for a healthy gut microbiome.
Diversity maintains balance. Studies show the greater the diversity in a gut microbiome the more robust the immune system. For example, researchers compared the microbiome of children living in more rural, underdeveloped communities, or on farms (think more dirt/playing in the mud) versus suburban or city-living communities (think more sterile) in the environment and the children in rural communities had healthier immune systems.
You can foster greater microbial diversity through your own environment by exposing yourself to microbes in soil (ie. get your hands in the dirt more often, garden, play outside), and eating a wider diversity of plant foods, which feed the microbes in your own gut.
The microbes in the gut contribute more DNA than we do.
Gut microbes express and share their own genes with each other and transfer genes into human DNA. It's their genes that arguably have more of an impact on our own gene expression. When you consider this and their sheer numbers you start to wonder, who's really in charge here - us or them?! Most importantly: our health depends on their health.
Our gut is our second brain.
And really you could really argue it's our first brain. It's our more primal brain. It's where our instincts lie. The gut and the brain are connected via the vagus nerve with 90% of the nerve fibers going from the gut TO the brain, not the other way around. The brain is getting information from the gut about the outside world (remember #1). So, trust those gut instincts.
The majority of our neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine are made in the gut.
95% of our serotonin and 50-60% of dopamine - those feel good neurotransmitters - are produced in the gut. So when there's an imbalance in serotonin that may be causing depression, anxiety or mood swings, look to the gut.
Over 2/3 of the immune system is housed in the gut.
It makes sense when you consider (#1) the gut is technically outside of the human body. The gut is in contact with the outside world so it's gathering intel about what's going on out there so the body can appropriately respond. A balanced microbiome primes the immune system to respond appropriately.
The gut is a common origin of disease...
As Hippocrates said "all disease begins in the gut"...
Many diseases can be traced back to the gut as the place of origin because of it's critical functions in digestion, absorption and immune system regulation.
A breakdown in digestion and absorption easily leads to nutrient deficiencies or problems with making crucial neurotransmitters. Imbalances in microbes and inflammation can make the gut's semi-permeable skin more permeable or "leaky" allowing food particles, bacterial waste and debris into the systemic body, causing an immune reaction and inflammation, which can lead to food sensitivities, decreased immunity and over time even autoimmune activation.
Here's a short video about this...
What Do You Think?
Or should I say, what does your gut say??
Do you find this as fascinating as I do?...
I'd love to know.... which one makes you go "WOW"? What part do you want to learn more about? How do you take care of your gut? Did you take as much antibiotics as a kid as I did??
Tell us down below in the comments.
Megan Adams Brown, CHC, helps people take charge of their health and to start listening to themselves over the latest diet trend to optimize their own wellness, happiness and potential. Her family-friendly meal plans help parents take charge in the kitchen, too. This leads to more vegetables, less junk, and happier, healthier kids and parents. Megan shares kid-approved, allergy-friendly recipes on her blog. To learn more click here.