The human digestive system is home to millions of microbes, including different strains of bacteria and fungi. They share a symbiotic relationship with us. This means that unlike other microbes that cause health issues, these strains actually benefit us. They constitute the gut microbiome which is important for digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Now that we know what is gut microbiome, let us understand how it benefits us and how we can increase its population.
Primary Benefits of Human Gut Microbiome
Most of the human gut microbiome resides in a small pocket of the large intestine. This area is called the cecum. Of the different kinds of microbes that reside in the cecum, the populations of bacteria have been studied the most. In fact, there are close to 1000 species that inhabit the large intestine, helping the process of digestion each day. Not just that, they also give you several other health benefits such as:
1. Better Development in Your Early Years
A study published by Norwegian researchers showed that gut bacteria play a very important role in helping babies grow faster. Their study showed that the human gut bacteria composition in infancy determined the rate of development as well as the health of the individual in the later years of life.
This can be attributed to the function of the earliest strains of bacteria that develop in the gut known as bifidobacteria. It helps in digesting breast milk and using up the healthy sugars in it for better growth and development.
It is very important to breastfeed children for at least six months to help them develop healthy gut bacteria. Studies show that children who are breastfed have higher levels of bifidobacteria in comparison to the ones who are mostly bottle-fed.
2. Improved Digestive Health
This is the most important function of the gut microbiota. They are responsible for the digestion of fiber that you consume each day. With a better breakdown of fiber, the food that you consume moves through the digestive tract easily. The result is better absorption of all the nutrients that you consume and overall improvement of your gut health. These microbes are also useful in the production of certain vitamins, primarily Vitamin B and Vitamin K which you need for several metabolic processes.
A healthy population of gut microbes is also responsible for preventing common issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Some strains of the human gut microbiome also prevent disease-causing pathogens from attaching themselves to the walls of the digestive tract. They are also beneficial in maintaining the integrity of the cell membrane of your digestive tract, helping prevent conditions like leaky gut syndrome.
3. Better Heart Health
The gut microbiome also has a role to play in heart health. A study conducted on 1500 individuals showed that these microbes manage the levels of triglycerides and good cholesterol levels in the body. Some unhealthy species of microbes in the body increase the production of TMAO or trimethylamine N-oxide. This is responsible for increasing artery blockages, putting you at risk of heart attacks.
On the other hand, certain microbes like Lactobacilli, reduce the levels of bad cholesterol which prevent these conditions. For this reason, doctors advise the use of probiotics to keep your heart healthy.
4. Improved Immune Response
A lot of research has been conducted to suggest that the human gut microbiome strengthens the immune system. When your body is attacked by a pathogen, it produces an inflammatory response. If the inflammation prevails even after the pathogen has been eliminated, it can lead to many health issues.
Gut bacteria help prevent chronic inflammation by balancing the inflammatory response of your T-cells. This protects the cells and tissues of your intestines from any damage while helping the immune cells destroy the disease-causing pathogens effectively.
5. Management of Blood Sugar Levels
Studies have shown that the level of gut microbiota drops significantly just before the onset of Type 1 Diabetes. There is also a surge in unhealthy microbes in the gut during this period. By maintaining a healthy gut microbe population, this can be prevented.
Studies also show that the bacteria in our intestines are responsible for the breakdown of sugars. Some sugar molecules are hard for our digestive tract to break down. This is when the bacteria in the intestines jump into action, easing the process. Break down of sugar and Balanced assimilation help maintain healthy blood sugar levels, eliminating the risk of developing Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
6. Helping Prevent Obesity
One of the primary strains in the gut microbiome called A.muciniphila is considered to be the key in developing new ways to treat obesity and certain metabolic disorders. Studies show that lower levels of these bacteria in the mucus lining of the intestines increases the chances of obesity.
A study conducted on mice with a low A.muciniphila population in their gut showed that giving them probiotics reduces the risk significantly. Additionally, the ability of the gut microbes in digesting fiber improves the digestion and utilization of the nutrients in our food. They also help in reversing fat mass and preventing insulin resistance, helping you manage your weight effectively.
7. Brain Health Benefits
The chemicals that are responsible for transmitting messages across the nervous system are called neurotransmitters. Some of the most important neurotransmitters, like serotonin, are produced in your gut. The human gut microbiome aids the production of these neurotransmitters. This helps you manage stress and also controls the transmission of messages through your nerves.
There are many studies that suggest that a host of health issues stem from poor gut health. Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome could be the key to ensuring better metabolism and preventing these conditions. Add a variety of foods in your diet, including fresh produce rich in fiber to boost the microbiome. It also helps to consume foods that are fermented. Prebiotics, which stimulate the development of these microbes, are highly recommended. Some common examples of these foods are yogurt, bananas, whole-grains, and apples.