I am sure most of us have heard about the existence of good bacteria in our bodies, particularly in our intestines. We have about 300 to 500 different species of bacteria present in our digestive tract. Besides bacteria, our intestines also house viruses, fungi and other microorganisms or microbes, for short. Most of these microbes are concentrated in a “pocket” of our large intestine known as the cecum, and collectively they are called the gut microbiome.
Bacteria is the most studied of our gut microbiome. Our body consists of more bacterial cells than human cells. There are about 40 trillion bacterial cells in the human body and only 30 trillion human cells. The more diverse your gut bacteria, the better it is. Based on a study on gut bacteria in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, having a wide variety of good bacteria in your gut can enhance your immune system, improve symptoms of depression and benefit your health in numerous ways. Let’s take a look at how your gut microbiome can affect various aspects of your health.
How the Gut Microbiome Affects Gut Health
The healthy bacteria in our microbiome can improve gut health. For instance, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, present in yoghurt and probiotics, can prevent leaky gut syndrome by helping to seal gaps between intestinal cells. Besides that, these species can also prevent disease-causing bacteria from sticking to the intestinal walls.
However, having too many unhealthy microbes in our microbiome may lead to intestinal diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Having an uneven balance of healthy and unhealthy microbes is called gut dysbiosis. Gut dysbiosis may be the reason for the bloating, abdominal pain and cramps experienced by IBS patients.
How the Gut Microbiome Affects Heart Health
Besides the health of your digestive tract, the gut microbiome may also influence the health of your heart. Based on a recent study of 1,500 people, the gut microbiome played a significant role in promoting “good” HDL cholesterol and triglycerides, thus benefiting heart health. Besides that, certain bacteria like Lactobacilli may help reduce bad cholesterol, when consumed as a probiotic.
However, certain unhealthy species of bacteria in the gut microbiome may contribute to heart disease through the production of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a chemical that causes artery blockage. TMAO increases the risk of heart attacks or stroke. For instance, certain bacteria convert choline and L-carnitine, nutrients found in red meat and other animal-based food sources, into TMAO, thus increasing the risk for heart disease.
The Gut Microbiome’s Influence on Brain Health
The gut microbiome can also affect brain health. Certain species of bacteria in the gut can help in the production of serotonin, an antidepressant neurotransmitter that is responsible for stabilizing our mood, happiness and feelings of well-being. Besides that, according to a small number of studies, certain probiotics can help alleviate symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders.
Additionally, since the gut is physically connected to the brain through millions of nerves, the gut microbiome can also influence brain health by helping control the messages that are sent to the brain through these nerves.
Since the gut microbiome plays a crucial role in our overall health, we must take steps to support the growth of healthy microbes in our gut. This can be done by eating a diverse range of fruits, vegetables, fermented food and whole grains. Taking probiotics can also help restore the gut to a healthy state. Meanwhile, we should also limit the intake of antibiotics as they kill many good bacteria and bad bacteria in the microbiome, which may result in weight gain and antibiotic resistance.
Random Rose is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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