Guest blog post by Winthrop University Nutrition Intern, Zachary Scott
Go ahead and place your hand on your tummy. You may feel a little rumble if you have skipped breakfast, or a little distention if you have recently gorged yourself on your lunch break. Most people may believe that underneath your hand is just a part of your body reserved for digesting and absorbing foods and liquids. But what if I told you that this part of your body is wayyyyyy more complex and has far more effects on your overall health than you could ever imagine?
Experts believe that there are 10^4 microorganisms that live in and on our body. That is 10 times the number of cells that make up your actual body! In a way, you are actually made up of more microorganisms than you are of your actual body! A large portion of these microorganisms reside within our gastrointestinal tract. This collection of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi are what makes up our Gut Microbiome.
At this point, your skin may begin to crawl as you imagine all of the little beings that have opened up shop in your body. But don’t fret; if your gastrointestinal tract is healthy, these organisms are looking out for you and are doing a lot of good for your body’s overall health.
So how could these little organisms, that you can’t see or feel, actually have a substantial effect on your health? Well, these “good” organisms and bacteria prevent bad organisms from growing within your gut. When there is an overgrowth of these “bad” organisms within the gut, this is known as Gut Dysbiosis. Gut Dysbiosis has been found to be correlated to serious health issues including rheumatoid arthritis, colorectal cancer, obesity, diabetes, IBD, and even cognitive and mood issues.
So how do these organisms that comprise the Gut Microbiome specifically mediate these effects on the body? Unfortunately, this is a somewhat new frontier in the health science community and much of the details regarding specific mechanisms remain unknown. What is known (without diving too deeply into the scientific rabbit hole), is that these organisms eat what we eat and break down these foods into metabolites. These metabolites can then be absorbed into the bloodstream (via the intestines) where they can be sent throughout the body and mediate these “good” or “bad” effects.
Gut bacteria are also vital in the synthesis of certain vitamins. These bacteria are vital in maintaining adequate levels of vitamin K and many B-vitamins. In fact, up to half of the daily requirements of vitamin K are synthesized by these bacteria within the gut. For this reason, a reduction in gut bacteria from things like antibiotic usage can result in K and B-vitamin deficiencies. Because Vitamin-K plays a huge role in blood clotting, a deficiency in this vitamin can lead to easy bruising and excessive bleeding. B-vitamins are active in virtually every metabolic process and blood-cell generation. For these reasons, B-vitamin deficiencies can result in low-energy, neurological issues, anemia, vision complications, birth defects in pregnant women, poor digestion and appetite, and many others.
So how can you promote a healthy Gut Microbiome? It is important to consume enough dietary fiber daily (shoot for around 30 g/day), as fiber serves as a food source for growing the “good” bacteria. An effective dietary approach to achieving this goal is to include lots of veggies and whole-grain pastas/ breads and limit the amount of processed simple sugars. So, think more bran muffins and less donuts. Increasing the ratio of unsaturated fat to saturated fat intake is another effective method. Think more nuts and salmon and less fried foods. Also, the use of probiotics is great for increasing gut health as they contain live cultures of the “good” bacteria that will proliferate within the gut. Probiotics include Greek yogurts, kefir, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods. It should be noted that probiotic supplementation should only be conducted under the direct guidance of a qualified health care professional as incorrect dosage and the utilization of incorrect probiotic strains could make problems worse, not better. Lastly, try to avoid antibiotics if at all possible as they kill not only the “bad” bacteria, but the “good” as well. So, if you HAVE to utilize an antibiotic for any reason, be sure to supplement with a probiotic to reintroduce the good bacteria back into your gut.
REMEMBER: Take care of your gut and it will take care of you!
Morowitz, Michael J., et al. “Contributions of Intestinal Bacteria to Nutrition and Metabolism in the Critically Ill.” Surgical Clinics of North America, vol. 91, no. 4, 2011, pp. 771–785., doi:10.1016/j.suc.2011.05.001.
“Nutrition in Adolecence.” Krause’s Food & the Nutrition Care Process, by L. Kathleen Mahan and Janice L. Raymond, Elsevier, 2017, pp. 335–336.
Shreiner, Andrew B., et al. “The Gut Microbiome in Health and in Disease.” Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, vol. 31, no. 1, 2015, pp. 69–75., doi:10.1097/mog.0000000000000139.