Illustration of a microbiome

9 min read

All The Amazing Functions of the Microbiome

Posted Oct 13, 2021 Updated Mar 04, 2024

You've probably heard whispers about the all-powerful "microbiome" and its role in keeping you in tip-top shape. But let's get realwhat is the microbiome and what does it actually do for you? Buckle up, because we're diving deep into the fascinating functions of your microbiome!

What Is the Microbiome?


Trillions of bacteria live inside your 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 exist in a balance between "good" and "bad". The balance and diversity of your gut microbiota is unique to you. Factors like how you were born, where you grew up, your diet, and more can influence the health and diversity of your gut microbiota. For example, babies born by c-section in a sterile surgical environment have different gut microbiota than those born vaginally.1 Where you live also influences your bacterial diversity. For example, living in the countryside exposes you to a much different variety of bacteria than living in a crowded city. 


What Are the 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 help to:

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

Let's dive more into a few of these functions of the microbiome: 


The Gut-Brain Axis


Your gut microbiome and brain communicate with one another through a pathway of nerves called the gut-brain axis. This connection helps explain the 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. For example, a condition called dysbiosis can develop when the gut microbiota gets out of balance. Dysbiosis 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 positively impact your health.


Digestion & Healthy 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. Another reason why having a healthy gut microbiota should be a priority.


Gut Health Management


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.


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


Blood Sugar & Diabetes Risk


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


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.


How to Improve Your Gut Health


Clearly, gut health is important. But is there a way to boost your microbiome health? Yes! There are many things you can do to support a healthy gut microbiome:

1. 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. It's also important to switch things up so you maintain both a healthy and diverse eating pattern. Eating mindfully and slowly, chewing food thoroughly, and turning off electronics during meal and snack time also contribute to a healthy gut.

2. Try fermented foods

Filled with probiotics (“good bacteria”), fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and tempeh are all great foods to add to your diet.

3. Enjoy prebiotic foods & drinks

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. Pst.. OLIPOP also has prebiotic fibers! This makes it even easier to add prebiotics to your diet. 

4. Incorporate whole grains

Try adding whole-grain foods like barley and whole oats to your diet. Another benefit of eating less processed, whole-grain foods is that they also support the gut bacteria. 

5. Take antibiotics only when necessary

Lastly, another lifestyle habit to adopt to promote long-term gut health is to only take antibiotics when necessary. Antibiotics are prescribed to treat infections and can kill both the “good” and the “bad" bacteria in the gut. This can cause an imbalance and impact overall health.


The Importance of the Gut Microbiome: The Takeaway


To promote optimal well-being and health it's essential to be mindful of all the different functions and roles of the trillions of bacteria inside you. There are many foods and lifestyle habits to incorporate to promote and support a healthy gut microbiome to feel your best. Including sipping on OLIPOP, a prebiotic soda with less than 5g of sugar and 9g of fiber. 



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
Cheat Sheet
  • The trillions of bacteria that live inside your gastrointestinal tract are collectively called your microbiome, or gut microbiota.
  • Your microbiome supports your immune system functioning, helps maintain proper digestion, bolsters brain and heart health, and more.
  • Take care of your gut by eating a diverse diet filled with prebiotics, probiotics, veggies, fruits, and whole grains. 
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