The secret to a healthy gut? Mind your microbiome

In one way or another, the health of your gut affects virtually every major system in your body.

In fact, recent research suggests that not only is it directly connected to your immediate wellness, it may even contribute to a longer, healthier lifespan. But what separates a healthy gut from a gut that isn’t quite being its best self? The difference lies in the microbiome.

What is a microbiome?

So glad you asked. We like to think of it as a teeny, tiny universe living inside your gut. But, to be slightly more scientific, the microbiome is an ecosystem made up of trillions of microscopic organisms, hailing from thousands of different species, all working together to keep your essential body functions operating smoothly.

According to research, each of us is born with our own unique microbiome based on our individual DNA. And as we grow, diet, lifestyle habits, and environmental exposures all play a role in its development, and its success.

What does the microbiome do?

The central role of the gut microbiome is digestion, nutrient absorption, and getting rid of waste. But research has also shown that it has a significant influence on the development and function of the immune system, gut-brain communications, kidney function, energy levels, mood, and even weight management.

Why does it need balance?

There are all sorts of microbes living in your microbiome, some are helpful, and some are potentially harmful. When the ecosystem is balanced, these organisms coexist in peace and harmony, and their interactions help keep things in line. But when that balance is disrupted–whether by illness, poor diet, or medications such as antibiotics–the normal interactions are stopped. This breakdown in communication can negatively impact everything from nutrient absorption and digestion to metabolic and immune function.

Essentially, when your microbiome is out of balance, your body becomes more vulnerable to illness and disease.

What can you do to keep your microbiome balanced?

There’s a variety of factors that contribute to gut health, but the two most fundamental players are prebiotics and probiotics.

Probiotics are live organisms, usually specific strains of good bacteria, that directly add to the population of healthy microbes in your gut. Some of the best sources for probiotics are fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, kombucha, and kimchi.

Prebiotics are indigestible dietary fibers that feed the good bacteria in your gut, help make your microbiome habitable, and strengthen the gut barrier to prevent leakage. Prebiotics are found in foods that contain complex carbohydrates, such as fiber and resistant starch. The list is long, but some common sources include oats, quinoa, apples, bananas, asparagus, and yams.

It’s important to understand that these two components are symbiotic, which means that one cannot live without the other. A balanced microbiome requires both probiotics and prebiotics in order to thrive. But it doesn’t end there. Lifestyle choices can also have a huge impact on the microbiome, and every bit counts. If you’re looking to show your microbiome some TLC, try incorporating any of these expert recommendations:

  • Supplement your diet with quality, well-researched probiotic and prebiotic products (as with any new supplement, consider discussing with your doctor before starting)
  • Minimize your sugar and processed food intake
  • Cut back on the red meat
  • Get sufficient sleep
  • Exercise regularly
  • Make time for self-care, such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga.

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