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The Impact of Gut Microbiome on Health and Emotions: What You Need to Know

What is the Gut Microbiome?

In our gut, a plethora of fungi, viruses, and bacteria feel themselves at home. However, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, even though it might sound like it at first. All these bacteria, viruses, and fungi collectively constitute our "microbiome." 

Another term for the microbiome is the "gut flora." In our intestines, approximately 1000 grams of bacteria reside, stemming from over 30,000 different active bacterial species. Altogether, the entire microbiome accounts for about 2kg of our body weight, even weighing more than the human brain, which is only around 1.4kg. 

The more diverse the mixture of bacteria in our gut, the better and healthier our microbiome tends to be.

Numerous bodily functions are controlled and influenced through the gut. The food we eat gets processed and absorbed in the gut, but also nutrients, neurotransmitters, immune cells and hormones are also produced and utilized in the gut. For this reason, our microbiome influences not only our physical health but also our mental well-being and how we feel.

Due to the diverse effects and functions fulfilled by our gut flora, we should pay more attention to our gut bacteria and ensure that our microbiome is diverse and populated with good bacteria.

Achieve your fitness goals now through personalized guidance from your online nutrition and fitness coach. Book a call now!

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The Influence of the Gut Microbiome on Our Mental Health

The saying "you are what you eat" takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to the microbiome. The foods we eat shape our gut flora, which in turn is responsible for our mood, emotions, and mindset. 

Gastrointestinal symptoms are very common in people with mental disorders; changes in weight and appetite are observed in people with depression, and panic attacks or anxiety.

These diseases have a correlation with the occurrence of nausea, heartburn, diarrhea, or constipation. The reason for this connection is the so-called gut-brain axis

As early as the beginning of the 19th century, a doctor named John Abernethy claimed that a problem in the stomach was the root of mental disorders. However, it wasn't until the last 20 years that research in this area began to increase, leading to a growing field of study for the gut-brain axis.

In recent years, more and more studies have been conducted examining the relationship between mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorders and the microbiome. Many studies show that the overall mood of most people improves when they improve their microbiome, particularly through dietary adjustments. 

A comprehensive meta-analysis on this relationship concluded that probiotics and prebiotics could reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. 

Additionally, it was shown that a diet rich in fiber and polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids can prevent the development of symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress.

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How Does Our Gut Influence the Brain?

The gut can influence the brain through several different pathways. Molecules secreted by the microbes in the gut can penetrate the blood vessels and reach the brain directly. Additionally, the microbes prompt certain cells in the intestinal lining to stimulate the vagus nerve. Learn more about how exercising affects the brain and our mental health.

The vagus nerve is directly connected to the brain and makes up the majority of our parasympathetic nervous system. Furthermore, the microbiome indirectly activates cells in the gut that send specific hormones into the body. Since hormones strongly influence how we feel, it's understandable the connection between the gut and the brain.

Our body's own happiness hormone serotonin is produced in the gut to 95%.

The Microbiome And Diseases: Leaky Gut Syndrome

In our gut, we have a protective barrier of microbes that prevent pathogens from entering the bloodstream. If a "bad" microbiome is present, it can lead to increased permeability of the intestinal wall or damage to the intestinal epithelium. 

This condition is also known as "Leaky Gut Syndrome".

However, this term is currently still a hypothetical condition that is not recognized as a medical diagnosis. There are many diseases suspected to be the result of intestinal permeability. The reason for this is that toxins from the leaky intestinal wall can enter the bloodstream and trigger an inflammatory response in the rest of the body. 

These often chronic inflammations can contribute to:

  • Allergies

  • Diabetes

  • Arthritis

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome

  • Asthma

  • Hashimoto's disease

  • Alzheimer's disease

  • Fibromyalgia

  • and many more...

How to Detect Leaky Gut?

Symptoms of leaky gut can include frequent gastrointestinal issues such as abdominal pain, food intolerances, bloating, and digestive disturbances. However, these symptoms can also have many other explanations.

Therefore, the most reliable method for diagnosis is a blood test, combined with a stool test, which measures pre-defined values. Specialized clinics and doctors can perform these tests.

gut health

Building a Healthy Microbiome Through Good Habits

1. Nutrition

Diet is the most crucial factor in influencing the composition of the microbiome throughout your lifespan.

There are many dietary habits that can easily be adopted to nourish your gut bacteria effectively:

  • Consume sufficient fiber (approximately 14g per 1000 calories).

  • Incorporate fermented foods into your diet, such as kimchi, yogurt, or sauerkraut. These foods can improve the microbiome due to their pre- and probiotic content.

  • Eat foods rich in polyphenols, especially colorful fruits and vegetables. It's beneficial to vary your choices and not stick to the same types all the time.

  • Ensure good hygiene practices when handling raw meat and fish to avoid harmful bacteria.

  • Reduce consumption of antinutrients, as they can impair nutrient absorption. Antinutrients include gliadins, lectins, and saponins found in foods like potatoes, beans, and peas.

  • Consume sufficient omega-3 fatty acids, as they help maintain the integrity of the intestinal barrier. Omega-3 fatty acids are primarily found in fatty fish, but supplementation with algae or fish oil capsules may be beneficial.

  • Drink at least 1.5 liters of water daily, preferably without carbonation and at room temperature.

  • Allow breaks between meals to avoid continuous strain on the digestive tract. The duration of these breaks varies individually. Many people can improve their microbiome through some form of intermittent fasting.

  • Enjoy spicy foods like chili or ginger in moderation.

  • Don't drink alcohol, or only consume it in moderation (1-2 drinks per week)

  • Take supplements such as lactoferrin, L-glutamine, or omega-3 fatty acids.

  • The topic of artificial sweeteners is currently controversial. However, most studies suggest that consuming artificial sweeteners is safe as long as excessive amounts are avoided.

For in-depth knowledge, I recommend reading this Article: Macronutrient Basics | Key Facts About Carbohydrates, Fats, and Proteins

2. Avoid Medications

Especially psychotropic drugs, antibiotics, and painkillers can have a negative impact on our microbiome and destroy "good" bacteria. Of course, their intake cannot always be avoided, so it is particularly important to ensure a healthy microbiome during their use. In general, the less frequently medications are taken, the better it is for the gut flora.

3. Stress Management

Stress leads to numerous physiological changes in the body, particularly in the gut. The stress hormone cortisol affects the gut by slowing down digestion. Under stress, our body perceives digestion as energy wastage, as the focus shifts to survival. 

Stress reduces the production of mucus in the gut, which holds our intestinal wall together. This worsens leaky gut and promotes chronic inflammation. Short-term stress reactions are usually not a problem for the gut, but it becomes problematic when stress becomes chronic and cortisol remains constantly elevated.

4. Oral Hygiene

Digestion begins in the mouth, as the bacteria in our oral flora subsequently migrate to the gut. Therefore, it is important to maintain healthy gums and teeth. Adequate oral hygiene through regular dental check-ups, proper brushing, flossing, and mouth rinsing with coconut or olive oil (also known as oil pulling) can help promote oral flora. Conversely, excessive sugar consumption and smoking should be avoided.

As we can see, we have a significant influence on the health of our gut through our daily habits. Since the majority of our immune system is located in the gut (80% of all immune cells), we should definitely pay attention to our microbes and monitor our digestion in combination with our health status to intervene early and prevent diseases in advance.

Conclusion: The Importance of our Gut Microbiome

In conclusion, the gut microbiome plays a crucial role in our overall health and well-being. It influences everything from digestion and nutrient absorption to immune function and mental health. Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome through a balanced diet rich in fiber, probiotics, and prebiotics, along with regular physical activity and stress management, can lead to significant health benefits.

Understanding and nurturing our gut microbiome is essential for achieving optimal health and preventing various diseases. By making mindful choices in our daily lives, we can support our gut health and, in turn, improve our overall quality of life.

Achieve your fitness goals now through personalized guidance from your online nutrition and fitness coach. Book a call now!


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