Sounding like something out of a sci-fi flick, our digestive system is host to tens of trillions of microorganisms, with at least 1000 different species of known bacteria and over three million genes.
This colonization of microorganisms is known as our gut microbiome – and while one third of our gut microbiota is common to most people, two thirds are specific to each one of us (though fulfils the same physiological functions for all humans.)
Our gut microbiome begins to develop at birth – in utero, our gut is ‘sterile’ – or flora free. During birth, the microbiota start developing, and within the first hour of birth, we start to pick up useful bacteria from our mother, father, and the environment. Around the age of three, the microbiome become stable, changing again in our later years of life.
What does it do?
At a basic level, the gut biome is helpful in digesting food that cannot be digested by your gut, and also produces some B vitamins and vitamin K. A healthy gut microbiome helps support healthy immune function.
More recently, researchers have begun to understand the true extent of how important a good gut biome is across a wide area of health.
Microbiota are involved in the prevention of infection from pathogenic or opportunistic microbes, and the maintenance of intestinal barrier function. An imbalance in the gut microbiome (called disbyosis) may be linked to a range of problems that we can experience to our health.
Still, even more study has gone into exploring the gut-brain axis, and how the health of our gut microbiome may well affect our mental wellbeing.
What are probiotics
The benefits of fermented foods
So how do you create and keep a healthy gut biome?
Diet is a key player, and a balanced and diverse diet is the best way to keep gut flora balanced and diverse. Pre and pro-biotics can have a beneficial effect, working as fuel for beneficial bacteria. Fermented foods are a great addition to a gut friendly diet.
Prebiotics appear to assist in improving the functioning of microbiota and allowing the growth and activity of ‘good’ bacteria. Garlic, onion, leek, asparagus, beetroot, chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, nectarines, white peaches, watermelon, dried fruit, oats, and cashews are good food sources of prebiotics.
Probiotics are live microorganisms - such as bacteria, yeasts and fungi, some of which survive digestion and can have a beneficial effect on the friendly bacteria living in the digestive system.
Strains of lactobacillus
bacteria are the most commonly used probiotics as they can survive the passage to the gut. Studies suggest they may help to improve digestion and support immune function. Yoghurts and drinking yoghurts, fermented milk drinks and supplements are all good sources of probiotics.
The third prong is to follow the adage ‘first, do no harm.’ Stress, certain medications and illness can create imbalance, and while they are not always possible to avoid, it’s certainly helpful to keep them minimised where possible as these can affect digestive health and general health and wellbeing.