Written By: Brittani Kolasinski (BHSc Nut, Adv.Dip NutMed)
Our microbiome is the home of many different strains, a colony if you will of many types of bacteria. The largest amount of these are found within our guts, more specifically within our colons (the farthest part of the gastrointestinal tract). It may or may not surprise you to know that we are in fact more bacteria cells than we are human cells! Even our genes are out-numbered, in comparison to the vast number of bacterial cells that we host. These tiny bacteria friends of ours can be in excess of 1 trillion. With this in mind it is now redefining how we view our own human bodies and with the research being conducted we are still only just scratching the surface on what we know about their functions and effects on human health. What we know so far will be highlighted in this article, with some practical tips on how to maintain and optimise your microbiome… Prepare to be amazed and simply marvel at the wonders of your microbiota!
Whole body effects
Our microbiomes are the dictators of so much of our biology, closely linked with our metabolism, immune system, our brains and so much more! Referred to as our gut-brain axis is the link between the microbiome and our nervous system. It is known to effect our moods, behaviours, even playing a role in the development of neuro-degenerative conditions such as autism, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
If I were to ask you where you think the largest number of immune cells lived would your first guess be the gut? Maybe not, but that is the honest truth. The gut houses the largest number of immune cells. There is a complex interaction between bacteria cells and immune cells. They communicate with each other, creating harmony. They can impact respiratory function, how we respond to vaccines and even the progression of autoimmune diseases.
Gut bacteria can increase the number of T-regulatory cells, these are immune cells which help to attenuate inflammation as well as display calming effects on the immune system.
Communicating by way of the vagus nerve, either from the brain to the gut, or from the gut back to the brain and gives us a bit of an explanation as to why we experience the fluttering in our stomach when nervous, or the nausea we experience when stressed or anxious. When we perceive stress however it also effects our digestive capacity, making nutrient absorption somewhat limited. Our hydrochloric acid is also reduced in the stomach making the breakdown of proteins and other food products more difficult which can result in IBS type symptoms – altered bowel habits, bloating and discomfort as well as impaired cognition - that ‘foggy headed’ feeling coupled with fatigue & lethargy. On top of that, serotonin, responsible for feelings of happiness and which also impacts on bowel motility is predominantly produced in our guts, by our microbiome. In fact a whopping 95% or so is produced in the gut!
Fibre – ‘The Forgotten Nutrient’
Our microbiota are directly influenced by what we feed ourselves, as it will in turn result in feeding them. So, although our microbiome may be dictators of our biology, we ultimately hold the reigns with how we supply the fuel for them to flourish.
Fibre is ideally what they require, it is recommended that we consume 28g of dietary fibre, however with our western diets, a high majority of us are only getting about half of this.
Fibre is somewhat of a forgotten nutrient, although it doesn’t provide much in the way of caloric energy for the body, it does provide our microbiome with the energy it needs to produce the positive effects within the body. The bacteria ferment the fibre we eat, providing short chain fatty acids, as well as other immune-modulating compounds.
A lack of fibre can promote inflammation due to the impact on the immune system, meaning that our bodies may be kept in a hyper-inflamed state. Inflammation is the driver of almost ALL disease states, from asthma, arthritis, obesity, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and depression making it vital that we incorporate a high majority of anti-inflammatory foods in the diet and restrict the inflammatory ones (more on this in a later blog post…).
Not only does it promote inflammation but a low fibre diet will also starve the bacteria in the gut, which then results in these bacteria feeding of the carbohydrates in the mucin which lines our gastrointestinal tract, gradually weakening this barrier and allowing particles that are to be eliminated be reabsorbed into the blood stream, further wreaking havoc. This is what is known as ‘leaky gut’.
A typical western diet is rich in carbohydrates and fats which are absorbed further up in the GI tract, mainly in the small intestine. Due to their simple nature and lack of fibre makes them more readily absorbed, meaning that they will not reach the colon where our microbiome lives. By consuming complex carbohydrates and a variety of fibres from wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and lentils, we can ensure that the fibrous parts of the plants will reach our gut bugs and give them the sustenance they need to thrive.
Of course, like with most things; variety is key! Eating seasonally is an easy way to achieve this diversity. Including different vegetables, fruits, beans, peas, wholegrains (whole wheat, oats, rice, quinoa, millet, barley, rye etc) meaning across the year you will be filling yourself with all types of fibre. This ensures a variety of different strains of bacteria, all of which will provide a different effect and benefit for the body
Yes, fruits, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains are carbohydrates, but they are not to be feared! However, with the mounting research coming out about the negative effects of processed carbohydrates; sugars & packaged foods, it’s understandable that we than associate ALL carbs with this group of ‘bad guys’ and avoid them. But in reality, it is about educating ourselves on which types of carbohydrates are of benefit to us and which are to restrict. This is where visits with a nutritionist can be of great benefit, to provide you with an individualised diet suitable to you, to educate you on what to eat, when to eat it and how to prepare it and how exactly it will benefit you. To empower you and work alongside you to enhance your health and wellbeing.
Consultations are available with myself and can be booked online
Yours in health,