Illustration of a microbiome

15 min read

All The Amazing Functions of the Microbiome


The term “microbiome” has been touted as an important part of our health that plays an immense role in many bodily functions. However, do you know what the microbiome actually does for us when it is functioning properly? Read on to find out all of the amazing functions of the microbiome.


What is the Microbiome?


Trillions of bacteria live inside the gastrointestinal tract, as the human body contains more bacteria than it does cells. These various types of bacteria are collectively called the microbiome, or gut microbiota, and the different species and types of bacteria are known as microbiome diversity.

Much like other concepts of life, bacteria exists in a balance between "good" and "bad" types. An individual's type and amount of gut bacteria is unique based on a plethora of factors, including: how you were born, where you grew up, diet, and other lifestyle factors. For example, babies born by c-section in a sterile surgical environment have different gut microbiota than those born vaginally.1 Additionally, if you live in the country or suburbs, you’re exposed to different bacteria than those living in a city—being out in the countryside and getting dirty means you most likely experience more different types of bacteria.


Gut-Brain Connection


The gut-brain axis describes how the gut and the brain interact and influence each other, and there is growing evidence linking functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders and emotions.2 Functional GI disorders are symptoms not related to structural issues in the gut. While these symptoms are real for those experiencing them—the symptoms can be challenging to pinpoint and explain because there is nothing structurally wrong.

Researchers are studying the communication pathway between the brain and the gut to better understand how neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders are connected and how they are possibly caused by an imbalance of the gut microbiota.3

An unhealthy microbiome can lead to a host of different issues. When the gut microbiota get out of balance, in a condition called dysbiosis, it is linked to a variety of symptoms from bad breath, to an upset GI, to more serious conditions like type 2 diabetes, inflammation, anxiety, depression, and possibly obesity.4 Dysbiosis can be caused by: changes in diet, new medications, and high levels of stress and anxiety. Thus, having a “healthy” microbiome made up of a variety of beneficial bacteria can impact our health in a majorly positive way.


Functions of the Microbiome


There are thousands of different species of bacteria that work overtime to keep the body running in tip-top shape. These bacteria work to:

  • Break down food and medications
  • Help make water
  • Create soluble vitamins and amino acids to allow our bodies to function properly
  • Support the immune system and nervous system function
  • Support a healthy weight and mental health

The Gut Microbiome May Affect Your Weight


We may think of calories and exercise as must-haves if we want to support a healthy weight. However, since all of those bacteria live in your gut, they can impact how the body digests food and makes chemicals that help with hunger and fullness signals that are sent to the brain. Therefore, the gut bacteria may influence weight and having a healthy gut microbiota should be a priority.


The Gut Microbiome Affects Gut Health


Gut microbiome and gut health go hand-in-hand. A balanced and healthy microbiome in the GI tract supports gut health by working with cells in the intestine, digesting certain foods, and helping with symptoms like bloating and cramps associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).5 Having a healthy gut microbiome may help people have regular bowel movements too.


The Gut Microbiome May Benefit Heart Health


Another way the gut microbiota may benefit the body is the recent discovery that a group of gut bacteria may break down cholesterol.6 This coupled with the evidence that a healthy and diverse microbiome reduces inflammation implies that there is the potential to reduce the risk of heart disease.7


The Gut Microbiome May Help Control Blood Sugar and Lower the Risk of Diabetes


With Type 2 diabetes being the most prevalent metabolic disorder, a recent study indicates that an imbalance in the gut microbiota is a strong contributing factor.8 While the exact mechanisms to understand this connection are being studied, mounting evidence supports this link.9


The Gut Microbiome May Affect Brain Health


The gut produces most of the feel-good hormones in our body. Research indicates that almost all of the serotonin and half of the dopamine in our bodies are made in the gut. In addition, another important function of the gut and its microbes is to control inflammation – another factor that can play a role in brain health.


Improve Your Gut Microbiome


There are many things you can do to support a healthy gut microbiome.

  • Eat a diverse range of foods: Choose a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables and whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and 100% whole wheat bread. Add lean protein like chicken and fish and round out meals and snacks with heart-healthy fats such as avocado, walnuts, and olive oil. Eating mindfully and slowly, chewing food thoroughly, and turning off electronics during meal and snack time all contribute to a healthy gut.
  • Eat fermented foods: Filled with probiotics (“good bacteria”), fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and tempeh are all foods to eat more of.
  • Eat prebiotic foods: In simple terms, prebiotics are indigestible starches that act as fuel for gut bacteria. Add garlic, onions, and leeks to meals. Other fruits and vegetables containing prebiotics include slightly under ripe bananas , chicory root, dandelion greens, and asparagus.
  • Eat whole grains: Another benefit of eating less processed, whole grain foods is that they also support the gut bacteria—add whole-grain foods like barley and whole oats to your diet.
  • Drink OLIPOP: While OLIPOP tastes like the soda you grew up drinking—it is a better-for-you drink that supports gut health with plant fiber, prebiotics, and botanicals, making it a healthier version of soda pop.
  • Take antibiotics only when necessary: A lifestyle habit to adopt to promote long-term gut health is only to take antibiotics when necessary. Antibiotics are prescribed to treat infections and can kill both the “good” and the “bad “bacteria in the gut and can cause an imbalance and impact overall health.

The Importance of the Gut Microbiome


To promote optimal well-being and health, being mindful of all the different functions and roles of the trillions of bacteria inside you is essential. There are many foods and lifestyle habits to incorporate to promote and support a healthy gut microbiome to feel your best.


Sources

  1. Coelho, G., Ayres, L., Barreto, D. S., Henriques, B. D., Prado, M., & Passos, C. (2021). Acquisition of microbiota according to the type of birth: an integrative review. Revista latino-americana de enfermagem, 29, e3446. https://doi.org/10.1590/1518.8345.4466.3446
  2. Güven, B., Gülerman, F., Akyüz, E., & Aydın, G. (2020). Emotional dysregulation in adolescents with functional gastrointestinal disorders. Arab journal of gastroenterology : the official publication of the Pan-Arab Association of Gastroenterology, 21(1), 24–27. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajg.2020.02.002
  3. Thursby, E., & Juge, N. (2017). Introduction to the human gut microbiota. The Biochemical journal, 474(11), 1823–1836. https://doi.org/10.1042/BCJ20160510
  4. Abenavoli, L., Scarpellini, E., Colica, C., Boccuto, L., Salehi, B., Sharifi-Rad, J., Aiello, V., Romano, B., De Lorenzo, A., Izzo, A. A., & Capasso, R. (2019). Gut Microbiota and Obesity: A Role for Probiotics. Nutrients, 11(11), 2690. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11112690
  5. Pozuelo, M., Panda, S., Santiago, A., Mendez, S., Accarino, A., Santos, J., Guarner, F., Azpiroz, F., & Manichanh, C. (2015). Reduction of butyrate- and methane-producing microorganisms in patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Scientific reports, 5, 12693. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep12693
  6. Kenny, D. J., Plichta, D. R., Shungin, D., Koppel, N., Hall, A. B., Fu, B., Vasan, R. S., Shaw, S. Y., Vlamakis, H., Balskus, E. P., & Xavier, R. J. (2020). Cholesterol Metabolism by Uncultured Human Gut Bacteria Influences Host Cholesterol Level. Cell host & microbe, 28(2), 245–257.e6.
  7. Al Bander, Z., Nitert, M. D., Mousa, A., & Naderpoor, N. (2020). The Gut Microbiota and Inflammation: An Overview. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(20), 7618. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17207618
  8. Arora, A., Behl, T., Sehgal, A., Singh, S., Sharma, N., Bhatia, S., Sobarzo-Sanchez, E., & Bungau, S. (2021). Unravelling the involvement of gut microbiota in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Life sciences, 273, 119311. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lfs.2021.119311
  9. Sharma, S., & Tripathi, P. (2019). Gut microbiome and type 2 diabetes: where we are and where to go?. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry, 63, 101–108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2018.10.003
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