The Microbiome: What It Is And How Does It Work?
Over the last few weeks, we’ve examined gut health through a four part mini-series. We’ve discussed how the gastrointestinal tract works, some healthy habits you can adopt and the impact it can have on your overall gut health.
In the final instalment, we’re going to be talking all about the microbiome. You may have heard the term, but what exactly is the microbiome, what does it do and how does it work?
The microbiome is such a complex and vital aspect of general health. At first glance, it might seem to only impact our gastrointestinal tract - though this is only scratching the surface. Our microbiome influences various aspects of our health and wellbeing - including our immunity, heart health, mental health, and so much more.
Because the microbiome has its hand in so many other systems in our body, we believe that understanding what it is and how it works is essential for general health.
So, what is the microbiome and how does it work? Below, we’ve covered everything you need to know about this complex and diverse system. Find out more below.
What Is The Microbiome?
Let’s start with the basics - what is the microbiome, exactly? The microbiome is an aggregation of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that reside in the intestinal tract. This network comprises trillions of microorganisms and contains up to 1,000 different species of bacteria - each of which contributes to general health and wellbeing in extremely diverse ways.
If it’s not already obvious, the gut microbiome is such an elaborate system within the body - it’s essentially another organ. In fact, the trillions of bacteria alone within the system can weigh up to 2kg.
What Does The Microbiome Do?
Now that we have defined what the microbiome is, it is time to identify what role it plays within our bodies. At its very core, the microbiome is responsible for breaking down complex carbohydrates during digestion, such as fibre. This produces short-chain fatty acids, which further promotes gut health.
It’s also been suggested that the microbiome can influence our immunity. Gut bacteria is believed to assist with immune function by supporting the production of antibodies and assisting vital immune cells.
Ross Barnard’s in-depth analysis of probiotics Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium explores the scientific evidence and studies available on both strains here.
It doesn’t stop there - our gut bacteria may influence our brain health in several ways. The gut is connected to the brain through a physical network of nerves, so the gut can communicate with the brain and control messages that are sent to a certain degree.
Plus, since the gut produces most of the body’s serotonin supply, it’s also believed that the microbiome can influence our mood.
Our microbiome clearly plays a large role in our general health, especially since it influences digestion, immunity, brain health, and more. By understanding how our gut bacteria can influence our overall well-being, we find ourselves more compelled to understand and nourish it.
Good Bacteria Vs. Bad Bacteria
As we previously mentioned, our microbiome is home to trillions of bacteria, fungi, and microbes, along with 1000’s of species, that can influence our health and wellbeing. That being said, not all of these microbes in our gut are good for us.
In fact, the microbiome is a balance of both good and bad bacteria - living together in harmony in our gut. As long as we’re positively balanced with good bacteria, our microbiome is considered to be healthy.
Though, when we’re exposed to stress, physical inactivity, or a poor diet, good bacteria can be harmed, causing an imbalance in-favour of bad bacteria - which can lead to gastrointestinal issues. This is where probiotics often come to the rescue.
Probiotic Supplements & The Microbiome
When our gut falls out of balance, and bad bacteria begins to flourish in the intestines, we can experience an assortment of symptoms - including bloating, discomforts, gas, cravings, and more.
This is where probiotic drinks and supplements may come in handy. Probiotics are designed to rebalance and restore the good bacteria in the gut. A healthy gut can ease any discomforts, support digestion and keep the gastrointestinal tract working properly.
The microbiome is very important for our general health and wellbeing. This system contains trillions of bacteria, fungi, and microbes, which can influence digestion, immunity, brain health, heart health, and so much more.
That being said, not all the bacteria in this system are ‘good bacteria’. Instead, our microbiome is a balance of both good and bad bacteria. Though with adequate amounts of healthy bacteria, these bad pathogens are limited in their influence.
On the occasions that our microbiomes do fall out of balance, probiotics can be useful. These supplements contain an abundance of beneficial bacteria that can rebalance the gut and restore it to its former glory.
*The information in this article is opinion only, and any advice provided is designed for those with no healthcare issues. Before adjusting your diet, speak with your healthcare professional.