Why The Gut Microbiome Is Crucial For Digestion
- 3 mins read
- Diet and Healthy Food
- Jillian Lai Mei Siew
If you’re sitting in your room feeling lonely – remember, you aren’t alone. There are trillions of microbes – both good and bad, residing in your body. Many species of these organisms have housed themselves in your gut, probably since you were born! Find this odd? Think of them as unwelcome guests? Here’s how they depend on your diet and how they impact digestion.
Gut Microbiome: A world of their own
Bacteria. Viruses. Fungi. Other things that might make you squeal. All of these come under microbes or microorganisms. It’s important to note that bacteria are the most well studied of them. You’ll be surprised to know that over a thousand species of bacteria are present in your body, and especially in your gut. They coexist peacefully, like happy, friendly neighbours.
Wondering where they’ve set up camp in your gut? It’s in this small pocket called caecum present in your colon. Altogether, these microbes may weigh as much as 2–5 pounds (1–2 kg), which is roughly the weight of your brain. Together, they function as an extra organ in your body and play a huge role in your health.
Companions from birth
Each person has a unique network of microbiota, which is determined by your DNA. An infant is first exposed to microbes during birth and also through breast milk. This network builds as one grows and comes into contact with different environments or based on one’s diet.
Feed your guests
We’ve talked about the residence of our esteemed inhabitants. But what sustains them? You probably guessed this one – the food we eat, especially high-fibre diets, is converted into Short-Chain Fatty Acids (whew!), which lowers the pH of the colon. This keeps away some of the bad bacteria from growing in our gut. In short, welcome the fibres into your diet.
What you eat affects them
Diet is one of the most important factors that shape the network of bacteria inside our colon. We’ve seen how this happens. Here are some interesting facts to understand in what way diet affects your gut residents :
- Alterations in diet can even bring about changes in your microbiome in one single day!
- If these alterations are eliminated, your gut bacteria will return to normal within 48 hours.
- High-fat or high-sugar diets can affect these bacteria and alter your body clock too.
- In case of bodily stress, like a burn injury, the gut bacteria can take a hit within a day.
With these facts, it is understood that diet has a major impact on the composition of our gut microbiome. This fact has a great value for dietary strategies to manipulate the gut microbiome, especially during disease. Some prebiotic-containing foods are whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, garlic, bananas, onions, asparagus, and seaweed.
Digestion and other roles: The rent they pay
Some bacteria get to work very soon after birth. One of the first occupants of our gut microbiome, Bifidobacteria, helps in digesting the healthy sugars in breast milk which are important for growth. Some bacteria help in digesting fibres.
This may help prevent weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and the risk of cancer. The gut microbiome can also influence our immunity by communicating with the immune cells. About 70% of the immunity stays in the gut in the form of these microorganisms!
Gut microbiome: Our second brain!
Have you ever had a gut feeling to do something? Or experienced butterflies in your stomach? These experiences clearly demonstrate the link between the gut and the brain. The microbes that live in our gut make certain chemicals that affect how your brain works.
Some of these chemicals are butyrate, propionate and acetate which are grouped together as Short-chain Fatty Acids or SCFAs. These SCFAs affect brain function in a number of ways, such as reducing appetite.
Gut dysbiosis: When the good bacteria are under attack
Our poor little hardworking bacteria work day and night to keep our digestion and immunity going. But sometimes, they fall prey to the bad bacteria and the gut balance gets disturbed. This condition where the natural bacterial colonies are out of balance is called dysbiosis.
Gut dysbiosis can lead to:
● bad breath
● upset stomach
● rash or redness
● having trouble thinking or concentrating
Some effects of dysbiosis, such as stomach upset, are temporary and mild. In many cases, your body can correct the imbalance without treatment. You may need some prebiotic or probiotic supplements to treat dysbiosis.
Thus, it is clear that we have a very intimate and strong connection with our gut microbiome. It is also vividly impacted by our diets. So watch what you eat to keep your gut residents happy!
1. The microbiome. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/. Accessed on 10 June 2021.
2. Slavin J. Fiber and prebiotics: mechanisms and health benefits. Nutrients. 2013;5(4):1417-35.
3. Leeming ER, et al. Effect of diet on the gut microbiota: Rethinking intervention duration. Nutrients. 2019;11(12):2862.
4. Staying healthy – Feed your gut. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/feed-your-gut Accessed on 25 June 2021.
5. Dysbiosis: Test, Treatment, and More Available at https://www.healthline.com/health/digestive-health/dysbiosis Accessed on 25 June 2021.