Are there times that your digestion just doesn’t seem to be working quite right? You may be bloated and constipated, or you may be experiencing diarrhea more often than not. Not only is it annoying to have suboptimal digestion, but it can be painful too!
To add to it, poor digestion can interfere with nutrient absorption. This can affect your body’s ability to use all the vitamins and minerals you are consuming.
BUT we have good news! You don’t have to struggle with poor digestion forever. Focusing on your gut microbiome can enhance your digestion and improve other health issues you may be struggling with.
What Is A Microbiome And What Makes It Up?
A microbiome is an environment made up of trillions of bacteria that interact together. There are beneficial strains, as well as harmful ones. They play a role in digesting food, regulating our immune system, and producing vitamins.
Everyone has a combination of these bacteria and our goal is to keep them balanced. However, when dangerous bacteria start to flourish and overtake the “good bugs”, complications arise. You have a skin microbiome, an oral microbiome, and what we are talking about today, which is your gut microbiome.
What Role Does Our Microbiome Play In Digestion?
A healthy microbiome allows your body to absorb and produce optimal nutrients. Certain strains of bacteria help turn undigested fiber into useful chemicals for the body. While there are small amounts of bacteria in your small intestine, where most of your food is digested, most of your microbiome resides in your large intestine. This is where digested food is then fermented.
A healthy microbiome can also keep our gut lining strong, preventing leaky gut and inflammation that comes along with that. Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG are bacteria strains that play a role in the production of proteins that help protect your gut barrier.
The Microbiome Impacts Other Bodily Systems
The microbiome doesn’t just affect what happens in our gut. The state of our gut can also
impact our moods and behavior through mood-affecting chemicals like serotonin. There is a brain-gut connection that suggests that they can affect one another. When our gut is healthy, our brain and mind are more likely to be healthy. This means that a healthy gut can help with anxiety, depression, and other mood and emotional disorders.
A healthy microbiome also impacts the state of your immune system. Since it’s estimated that 70% of your immune system resides in your gut, it’s vital that you focus on your gut to help your immune health and, ultimately, your overall health.
That’s not all. Imbalances in your gut bacteria can also contribute to vitamin B deficiency, autoimmune disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, cystic acne, eczema, food allergies, food sensitivities, and numerous other issues.
What Can Affect The Quality Of Our Gut Microbiome?
Environmental factors significantly impact our gut microbiome. Some things can increase the good bugs while other things increase the bad bugs. Here are some things that can disrupt your microbiome balance, contributing to poor digestion and poor health outcomes.
- Antibiotic usage
- High sugar intake
- Consumption of processed foods
- Mode of how you were delivered (cesarean or vaginally)
- If you were breastfed or bottle-fed
- Toxin exposure
You can see how lifestyle factors are the main contributor to our gut health. This is good news though! Even if you aren’t living the healthiest life currently, there are things you can change today to promote a healthy microbiome.
What Are Ways To Improve The Microbiome?
Eat a Diverse Diet
When you eat a variety of foods (especially those high in plant-based prebiotic fiber), you are adding in different types of bacteria to your gut. It’s vital that we have a wide array of bacteria because they all play different roles within the gut and body. A diverse microbiome is a healthy microbiome. If you are eating the same processed foods every week, it’s likely that your bacteria diversity is low, leading to suboptimal functioning. Research suggests that a change in your diet can start altering your gut microbiome within just 24 hours! If that’s not motivating, I don’t know what is! So start eating an abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables to get that diversity up. Fermented foods are also a great addition that help support a well diverse gut microbiome! These can include, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and some yogurts.
It seems as though environmental toxins are everywhere. They are in our household cleaners, beauty products, clothes, kid toys, food, and water! We are seeing more bisphenols, heavy metals, phthalates, and pesticides in our daily lives. This is very concerning because these toxins can play a role in wiping out beneficial bacteria as well as enhancing the dangerous bacteria. These bacteria strains can lead to damage in the gut mucosal barrier, cause an increase in chemicals found to promote cancer, and can even alter immune responses to vaccinations.
Practice Stress Management
Chronic stress has been shown to influence the gut microbiome, causing dysbiosis, which leads to a number of health problems. Because strong emotions can affect digestion and the gut through the brain-gut connection, it’s important to be able to control those negative emotions. Stress not only changes your gut microbiome, but it can slow down digestion, allowing bacteria to cross the gut barrier and increase inflammation. To help promote good digestion and beneficial bacteria to flourish, mindful, stress management practices are highly encouraged. These can include yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, or even a simple walk outside in nature.
Antibiotics do a great job of wiping out harmful bacteria. However, antibiotics can’t decipher harmful bacteria from the good. This causes antibiotics to wipe out both your good and bad bugs. The issue with this is that this allows room for the dangerous bacteria to flourish once the antibiotic treatment ends.
Antibiotics are necessary in some situations, but many times they are overprescribed. Make sure antibiotics are your last option before accepting them from your doctor. If you do have to take antibiotics, take probiotics with them. By doing so, you can help your gut environment fill up with the good bacteria as soon as possible as well as decrease the side effects of antibiotic-induced diarrhea.
You also want to watch out for hidden antibiotics. These can be found in conventionally raised animal products and farmed fish. The level of antibiotics in a steak can do significant damage to your gut flora, so it’s vital that you opt for grass fed and wild caught animal products that are not raised with antibiotics.
If you want to optimize your digestion and gut microbiome, get in contact with in2GREAT Functional Medicine Clinic in Kansas City. They offer a number of services, including functional lab testing, to see if your body contains heavy metals, toxins, harmful gut bacteria, and more. You can contact them by filling out their contact form or giving them a call at (913) 308-0174.