Your gut microbiome consists of trillions of microorganisms that lie in the gastrointestinal tract. This includes thousands of species of bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses. Together, these microorganisms weigh as much as 2-5 pounds and have a profound impact on your health.
The microorganisms in your gut play a variety of roles, some of the bacteria have a positive effect on your health and some of them have a negative effect. The key is to increase the good bacteria and reduce the negative bacteria so that you can support the healthy function of your gut and the rest of your body. When the microorganisms in your gut are out of balance, it’s referred to as dysbiosis.
Your gut flora helps to regulate immune function, produce nutrients like vitamins and short chain fatty acids, influence hormones and can also have a significant impact on your mood. For example, gut bacteria produce over 95% of serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter that your brain relies on for mood support!
Diet, lifestyle and medications can all play a role in the microbiome. Notably, stress, poor diet and medications like antibiotics can have a negative impact on your microbiome by reducing the diversity of bacteria and reducing the ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria, leading to dysbiosis. On the other hand, there are many things you can do to positively affect your gut microbiome and in turn, improve your overall health.
Here are the top 5 things you can do to improve your gut microbiome:
- Eat a large variety of plant based foods. This includes herbs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes. The bacteria in your gut are all different and require different nutrients to thrive. By eating a wide variety of foods, you will provide the nutrients and fiber necessary for you good bacteria to thrive.
- Eat plenty of fermented foods including kimchi, kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut. These foods are high in probiotics or good bacteria, and can impact the overall health of your microbiome.
- Include prebiotics in your diet. The prebiotic fibers promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut since the bacteria in your gut feed on prebiotics fibers. Prebiotics can be found in foods like chicory, inulin and Jerusalem artichokes.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners. Studies have shown that these sweeteners can negatively impact your gut flora by increasing the type of bacteria associated with disease.
- Manage your stress – deep breathing, meditation, long walks and exercise can all help to reduce your stress. This is really important since high levels of stress have been shown to increase inflammation in the gut. This can have a significant impact on the overall health of your gut and can contribute to dysbiosis.
Dr. Rahima Hirji, ND
Naturopathic Doctor, Clinic Co-Owner
Sage Naturopathic Clinic