We’ve talked many times on this blog about the gut microbiome, it’s effects on different functions within the body and different ways to maintain the microbiome. But why, exactly, is it important to have a healthy gut microbiome?
Before we delve right in, let’s refresh ourselves on what the gut microbiome is. The gut microbiome is the collection of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live within your digestive system. There are trillions upon trillions of microbes that exist within you at any one time, across approximately 1000 different species of bacteria. Fun fact, the microbes within the gut are estimated to weigh between one and two kilograms.
The gut microbiome has an incredibly important role across a wide range of different functions in the body, such as:
The immune system is the critical link between gut bacteria and it’s influence on health and disease. Whilst there is still a long way to go in understanding the complex relationship between the intricacies of the gut microbiome, studies have shown that having a diverse range of bacteria within the gut microbiome helps to maintain a healthy immune system, and importantly, maintain a balance between ‘reaction’ and ‘tolerance’ within the immune system. Our gut microbiota is constantly communicating with the body’s immune system to ensure good bacteria can thrive in the body, and that bad bacteria is eradicated.
The gut microbiome and mental health are very closely intertwined. Whilst there are differing schools of thought as to the impact the gut microbiome has on the mind, what is known is that there is a direct communication line between the brain and the gut, commonly known as the ‘gut-brain axis – which many nutritional psychiatrists assert is the crux for managing conditions such as depression and anxiety for many people. Research is still in it’s infancy in this area, but there is definite validity to the concept of ‘gut feelings’.
The bacteria within the digestive system can play a role in determining how easily you put on (or lose) weight. Specifically, your gut bacteria can play a role in determining which nutrients your body absorbs, and how energy is stored in your body. Take fibre for example – whilst the body can’t break down fibre, the probiotics (good bacteria in the gut) can do so. The ability of probiotics to break down fibre into a digestible form for the body to use can lead to feelings of satiety, which in turn, can assist with weight management.
There is a definite reason why the gut is quite often referred to as the ‘second brain’. The gut microbiome plays an important role in maintaining our overall health.