Your Microbiome is hugely influential to your everyday and longterm health, and here is the thing, your microbiome is malleable, meaning it changes depending on your lifestyle and your food choices.
Your microbiome, according to microbiome scientist extraordinaire Dr. Joseph Petrosino, is important for mental health, immune health, hormone health, healthy weight and energy levels, brain function, digestive health, inflammatory levels, cardiovascular health, and more (1)!
I am loving all the new science and appreciation that is happening around these important microbes and how they influence us. We are learning more and more each day. Here are just a few ways we know the microbiome influences our health.
First, the gut microbiome is the totality of all the organisms, bacteria, yeast, fungi, in your gut as well as their genetics, in relation to you, the host. What happens to them, happens to you, and vice versa.
The crazy thing? We have more microbial cells than human cells in our body. Even crazier.. according to microbiome scientist Kiran Krishnan, new science has made it clear that these microbes control around 90% of our genes (2). Humans have around 7 pounds of influential microbes in their gut alone!
Why is it important?
Among many other important functions, our microbiome provides a barrier system, between the outside world, or the foods and substances you ingest, and the inside world, your bloodstream and your immune system. Making sure you have a robust barrier is key to your health. We want to keep out what does not belong in our bloodstream but absorb what we do need.
In particular the microbiome and the balance of microorganisms in your body influences your immune function, in fact, according to Krishnan, your immune system would not exist with out it. Your microbiome acts as watch guards to help find invaders, and then communicates via inflammatory markers with the rest of your immune system if back up is needed (so your immune system can act on invaders and keep you safe).
Another incredibly important role of the microbiome is the production of Short Chain Fatty Acids and the impact of butyrate in particular. These substances, that healthy microbes produce, directly impact your brain, your immune system, and more. (check out my short videos on feeding the microbiome to support immune health below)
Your microbiome is also key to your metabolism by helping you digest and utilize foods. We can eat the best foods in the world but we need out microbes to help us use them. In fact it helps us not only process foods but also process medications (5).
Your microbes send messages to your nervous system and can influence what foods you crave and how satiated you feel, says Krishnan. They can influence which part of the nervous system is activated, the rest/relax or fight/flight one, impacting your mood as well as cravings. In addition, studies have confirmed the influence of the gut microbiome on neurodegenerative diseases, neurotransmitters, and behavioral disorders (3).
According to health expert Chris Kresser the microbiome plays a critical role in hormone balance as well, influencing hormonal symptoms, diseases and cancers (4).
This is just the start, as we are only now starting to understand how influential our microbiome is on every part of out physical and mental health. Since your microbiome influences so many aspects of your body and your health it is worth taking care of. The crazy cool thing? It is the choices you make everyday with food and lifestyle that make the biggest impact.
When considering the health of your microbiome, it is important to
- Ingest healthy microbes to ensure diversity
- Feed the microbes in a way that promotes a healthy population
- Protect our microbiome from damage.
Ways to enhance a healthy and diverse microbiome-
- From the get go, vaginal births seed the microbiome with healthy microbes and Breastmilk feeds these microbes exactly the right foods to thrive.
- Avoid unnecessary antibiotics and medications
- Eat fermented foods like Kvass, sauerkraut, yogurt, Kimchi, or other fermented veggies to get good microbial diversity
- Eat loads of fiber, phytonutrients, and prebiotics from veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes (this is what feeds your healthy microbes)
- Sleep 7-8 hours per night
- Exercise or move your body daily
- Reduce everyday stress and learn to process stress (breath work, meditation, guided imagery, etc)
- Avoid pesticides on your food and in your life like Round Up
- Keep inflammation under control
- Play in the dirt including organic gardening
Look for more coming around the importance of the microbiome and practical steps to help you maintain a healthy balance of these incredibly influential little critters. For now, check out my videos below on 2 ways to feed your microbes the right foods.
Two microbiome scientists I love, who are doing really great research, and to keep an eye on are Dr. Joseph Petrosino and Kiran Krishnan. You can also check out the Microbiome Summit if that interests you.
AND keep an eye open for my Healthy Digestion Club coming soon!
- Romm, Aviva. (2018) Frontiers in Microbiome Research with Dr. Joseph Petrosino
- (2020) The Healthy Terrain Summit. Krishnan, Kiran. Our Microbial Terrain. The Science Of Community
- Strandwitz P. Neurotransmitter modulation by the gut microbiota. Brain Res. 2018 Aug 15;1693(Pt B):128-133. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2018.03.015. PMID: 29903615; PMCID: PMC6005194.
- Kresser, Chris. (2017) The Gut Hormone Connection.
- Jandhyala SM, Talukdar R, Subramanyam C, Vuyyuru H, Sasikala M, Nageshwar Reddy D. Role of the normal gut microbiota. World J Gastroenterol. 2015 Aug 7;21(29):8787-803. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v21.i29.8787. PMID: 26269668; PMCID: PMC4528021.
- Functional Nutrition Lab. FBS. Digestive Intensive 2018
Janel Ferrin Anderson NC FNLP PhD is a Board Certified Holistic Nutritionist, a Functional Medicine Nutritionist, has her doctorate in Natural Medicine, is a certified family herbalist and a certified yoga therapist. ‘I am dedicated to empowering women to feel their best and to take charge of their health. I help people understand what is going on in their body and how to use food and lifestyle to improve health and resilience.’