Many people have been talking about the gut microbiome lately. It’s become a topic that’s more and more talked about in health and wellness communities. It’s important to have a healthy microbiome in order to protect your overall health, and the microbiome seems to have a lot of influence on many different parts of your body.
What is the microbiome, exactly? What’s the link between your microbiome and health? How can you check if you have a healthy gut microbiome?
What is a gut microbiome?
The gut microbiome consists of trillions of microorganisms (microbes) that live in your digestive tract. These microbes are mostly bacteria, but there may also be other types of organisms, including fungi. Astonishingly, estimates indicate that there are ten times as many microbes in your gut as there are human cells.
Most people are used to thinking of bacteria as being dangerous to our health. It’s true that some bacteria can cause infections, and can be very damaging or even fatal. However, there are other bacteria that actually have benefits for your health. The organisms in your microbiome provide you with a range of health benefits, and they’re crucial for your body’s function.
You provide a home for these trillions of organisms inside your body. In return, they help you. A healthy microbiome benefits you in a number of different ways, from helping with digestion to keeping you safe from infections.
Everyone has a unique mix of species in their microbiome. Different species behave differently, and can have a different influence on your overall health. Some species can produce health benefits, while others are associated with a higher risk of disease.
Where is the gut microbiome located?
The gut microbiome is primarily located in the intestines. When you hear someone mention the “stomach microbiome,” they’re really referring to the bacteria in the intestines. The stomach itself is very acidic, and bacteria have a hard time growing there.
The large intestine holds the greatest number of bacteria, with fewer of them present in the small intestine. In the early part of the small intestine, the enzymes of digestion generally prevent the growth of bacteria. The large intestine is the most hospitable to bacteria, and most of the gut microbiome lives there.
What is the role of the gut flora?
The gut microbiome function in the body is very complex, and researchers are still working to understand all of the different ways that these microbes influence our health. Some of the main roles of the gut microbiome include:
Metabolizing specific nutrients
Making vitamins, including vitamin K
Processing certain drugs
Keeping your gut lining healthy, so that it’s able to prevent harmful substances from entering your bloodstream
Helping the immune system function properly
Protecting you against pathogens, which are bacteria that can cause disease
The functions of the microbiome are currently the subject of many scientific studies, and our understanding of the microbiome is evolving rapidly. It appears that the balance of species in your microbiome is important in the function of your whole body. Various substances produced by your microbiome can influence various body systems.
Research has linked imbalances in gut bacteria to a huge range of different conditions, including:
Inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
Type 2 diabetes
Atopic diseases (eczema, asthma, and allergies)
Autism spectrum disorder
There may be many more conditions that the gut microbiome can influence. It will take many more years of research to determine all of the ways that the gut microbiome is connected with the health of other parts of the body.
Why gut health is important
The importance of microbiome balance for your overall health is becoming more and more clear. Researchers are continuing to find new ways that the microbiome influences almost everything about your health. If you’re looking to protect your health and longevity, then it’s important to consider the health of your microbiome.
You can get a test to determine the balance of microbes in your gut. This requires a stool sample, which is then sent to a lab for testing. You can ask your doctor to order the testing for you, or order your own home testing kit directly to your house. Either way, you’ll generally need to take your own stool sample at home.
You’ll get a report about the various species that were found in your intestine. Keep in mind that this is a rapidly evolving field, and researchers are still working to discover what a healthy microbiome looks like and which species are most beneficial. However, many people want to know as much as they can about their gut health, especially since research can take years.
Keep in mind that the microbiome can change rapidly, in response to factors such as what you’ve eaten recently. A single microbiome test provides only a small snapshot of the complexity of your microbiome. Some people choose to do the test a few different times, to get a more complete picture. If you choose to change your diet or other aspects of your lifestyle, you may want to test again in a few months to see how the change has affected your microbiome.
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