Updated: Jun 15
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about optimizing gut health and the gut microbiome. But what exactly is the gut microbiome? And how do you support a healthy gut microbiome?
What is the Gut Microbiome?
The gut microbiome is a vast collection of different bacteria and other microscopic life forms that naturally live within our digestive system. There are trillions of these microbial organisms within us all that we can collectively call our gut microbiome, also known as our gut flora. In fact, there are more of these microbial cells in our bodies than we have human cells (40 trillion vs 30 trillion).
These microbes aren’t living here by random - we have evolved to have a mutually beneficial relationship with the microscopic organisms living in a healthy gut microbiome. These healthy gut flora directly impact our health, and when they fall out of balance, they can lead to various health complications.
The gut microbiome and health
Many people hear the word “bacteria” and automatically believe that they are unhealthy. However, this couldn’t be more false!
Much of the bacteria living within us is actually beneficial, whether it is by helping to prevent opportunistic infections and overgrowths or by breaking down and extracting nutrients from our food, or by producing vitamins and short-chain fatty acids for our bodies to use.
Think of the gut microbiome as a fingerprint; each of us has a uniquely composed microbiome. Science is now learning more about how these differences impact our health and our lives.
There are about one thousand different species of bacteria that live within our guts, each with a different role to play. Some species can benefit our health, while others can negatively impact our health.
The composition of the gut microbiome can impact many things, including:
Overall digestive health
Ability to gain or lose weight
Brain health and mood
Blood sugar control and diabetes
Bone and joint health
An unhealthy microbiome marked by dysbiosis (imbalance) and high inflammation can contribute to:
Type 1 diabetes
Brain disorders (Alzheimer’s, dementia)
Infertility and complications in pregnancy
Allergies and food sensitivities
Bone and joint deterioration
Gut microbiome testing with the GI-MAP
One of the best ways to assess the health of your gut microbiome is to utilize functional lab testing with the GI-MAP (Gastrointestinal Microbial Assay Plus) test. The GI-MAP is a comprehensive test that reveals your personal microbiome composition along with markers for inflammation, intestinal health, and immune function.
The analysis of your microbiome may also reveal pathogenic infection (bacteria, viruses, parasites), imbalances of bacteria (dysbiosis or overgrowths), and whether there are antibiotic-resistance genes present. Knowing the state of your digestive health is the first step to customizing a treatment protocol that will allow you to reach your health goals. Order a GI-MAP test with me to get started!
How to improve your gut microbiome
Taking care of your gut microbiome is of the utmost importance. There are many things you can do to ensure a healthy gut microbiome, including eating a healthy diet and reducing stress.
Healthy gut microbiome diet
Eating healthy is the first step to supporting your health and your gut microbiome. Consuming anti-inflammatory foods while cutting out inflammatory foods is the key to keeping your gut flora healthy.
Make sure to load up on fresh vegetables and fruits along with herbs and spices, which are packed with antioxidants and other gut-healing nutrients.
Probiotic-rich food can also help to populate your digestive tract with healthy bacteria:
Also focus on consuming prebiotics, which are indigestible fibers that feed your healthy flora:
Inflammatory foods to limit or avoid include:
Refined vegetable oils (corn, canola, soybean)
Refined carbs and processed grains
Foods and beverages with added sugars
Unhealthy trans fats and hydrogenated oils
Foods/ingredients you are allergic or sensitive to
For more guided nutrition assistance, schedule an appointment with me to get individualized recommendations based on your GI-MAP test and health history.
Reduce stress to improve your microbiome
Chronic stress negatively impacts our health in many ways. Stress can impact every step of digestion and can potentially lead to dysbiosis and overgrowths within our gut microbiome. This can lead to digestive symptoms, decreased immune function, and increased inflammation throughout the body, which can result in further health complications down the line.
Some ways to tackle stress within your daily life include:
Making time for exercise/movement throughout the day
Deep breathing exercises
Yoga and stretching
Getting enough good quality sleep
Setting boundaries and learning how to say “no”
Finding time for hobbies and relationships with friends and family
The bottom line
Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is the key to long-lasting health. If you’ve heard the quote “all disease starts in the gut” - you now understand how and why.
Our gut microbiome is responsible for regulating or supporting many functions within our bodies, and keeping the good gut bugs in balance can help to prevent the development of chronic disease.
If you have symptoms of digestive distress, poor immunity, mood disorders, or just want to know more about the state of your digestive health and microbiome, order a GI-MAP test through me so I can help design your treatment protocol based on your individual results.