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Health Blog

What is the Gut Microbiome?

When you hear about ‘gut health’, you might automatically think about how well your body digests food. However, your gut health influences many more processes beyond digestion and considerably impacts your overall health. 

What is the gut microbiome?

Your ‘gut microbiome’ refers to the microorganisms living in your intestines. These microorganisms or‘ microbes’ mainly comprise bacteria but are also viruses, fungi, and other microscopic living things.

These microbes play a crucial role in your overall health. In addition to aiding digestion, they help absorb and synthesize nutrients. They are also involved in many other processes beyond your gut, such as metabolism, body weight, immune regulation, brain functions, and mood. The microbiome is even labelled a supporting organ because it plays so many vital roles in promoting the smooth daily operations of the human body.

Several factors can disrupt the ‘balance’ of your gut microbiome, which can cause inflammation, a risk factor for physical and mental disorders.

Did you know? The bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microscopic living things that make up your gut microbiome weigh about 2kg and is bigger than the average human brain.

What is a healthy gut?

Good gut health occurs when you have a balance between good and bad bacteria in your digestive system. In a healthy person, the good and bad bacteria coexist peacefully. Since 80% of your immune system is in the gut, your immune system and hormones won’t function properly if your gut isn't healthy.

A healthy gut has several other important purposes, including helping fight off infection and performing all of its usual digestive and regulatory functions, like absorbing and synthesising nutrients essential to keep your body running at its best.

What factors affect the health of our gut?

While several factors can contribute to poor gut health, some of the most common can include:

  • Poor nutrition: Processed food and sugar can harm the beneficial bacteria in your gut and contribute to or cause inflammation throughout the body.
  • Stress: Stress and depression can alter the balance of bacteria in the gut through stress hormones and inflammation.
  • Long-term use of antibiotics and antacids: There is a time and place for antibiotic treatments; however, they can alter the composition and magnitude of gut microbiota.

What is ‘Dysbiosis’?

Dysbiosis is when the gut microbiome becomes imbalanced or disrupted. Stress, illness, the overuse of antibiotics, or eating a poor-quality diet can all be contributing factors to causing dysbiosis. A poor quality diet is a significant factor affecting the composition of bacteria living in our gut. High-processed foods, often high in emulsifiers and sweeteners, can also compromise gut lining.

What are the signs of an unhealthy gut?

An unhealthy gut can appear as gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea, but it can also present itself in many other forms. Fatigue, food cravings, mood issues, unintentional weight change, and skin irritation such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema can also be indicators of gut inflammation.

Past research studies have found links between gut health and

  • the immune system
  • mental health
  • autoimmune diseases
  • endocrine disorders
  • cardiovascular disease
  • cancer

IBS& the gut microbiome. 

Although the exact cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome is unknown, research has found that people with IBS often have changes in the gut microbiome which in turn can cause inflammation and pain. This disturbance or imbalance of microbiota may have a role in the development of IBS or other illnesses linked to inflammation such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. 

How can you improve your gut microbiome?

Several things can be done to maintain a healthy, balanced, and optimal gut microbiome:  

  • Fermented foods such as kimchi, yoghurt, and pickles have live cultures that can keep your gut healthy. 
  • Avoid highly processed food which is often full of emulsifiers and sweeteners, which can irritate your gut. 
  • Ensure that you get an optimal amount of sleep each night. 
  • Taking probiotic supplements. 
  • Manage your stress levels. 
 Find out 10 ways to strengthen your gut microbiome here.

The gut microbiome and probiotics

Aside from changing your diet or lifestyle, implementing probiotics could be a way to modify and improve your gut microbiome. Probiotics are live and active organisms, specific strains of good bacteria found in your gastrointestinal tract. Taking probiotics can improve the microbiota composition of your gut, which can help build a healthy intestinal protective layer. A healthy gut results in boosted immunity and general overall health. 

Clinical Trials to advance knowledge

Further research is needed to understand the gut microbiome and how probiotics might help the symptoms of IBS. Clinical Trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy or treatment is effective with the help of volunteers. These trials help develop knowledge and ultimately help patients worldwide. 

We are currently enrolling for a study investigating the potential benefits of a natural food supplement in people suffering from IBS.

To learn more about our current IBS study or apply to take part, click here.

Maeve Cronin

Maeve Cronin / About Author