Microbiome 101: A Guide To Greater Gut Health
Humans are host to a flourishing community of bacteria on and in their bodies. Most commonly referred to as the microbiome, the majority of these microorganisms live in the large intestines. In a healthy body, these microbes coexist and play a key role in a variety of important functions. When the balance of the microbiome is disrupted, however, overall health can be affected. Because toxins, diet, and other factors can negatively impact gut health and healthy microbe populations, it’s important to make sure we’re doing our best to support this unique system. (1)
What Is The Microbiome?
The network of microorganisms inside the body--specifically the one in the intestines--is often called the gut microbiome.
There are trillions of microorganisms in the gut that include bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses. With over a thousand different species, these microbes perform many functions. Though a small number are harmful, the majority provide essential functions that support the body’s health. Not only do they stimulate the immune system, break down food, and create essential vitamins, they may also play an important role in mood, neurological and brain health, hormone balance including estrogen metabolism, and fighting certain diseases, among other critical benefits. (1-4)
Why Gut Microbiome Health Matters
Because the microbiome plays a variety of key roles in the body’s overall health, an imbalance can have negative results. For example, helpful and potentially harmful bacteria are able to coexist in a healthy microbiome. If there’s an imbalance, harmful bacteria could overrun the helpful ones, causing infections and leaving the body more susceptible to other health problems.
Additionally, microbiome diversity varies widely between individuals, with stark differences seen between demographics like age, geographic region, and many other factors. A variety of influences can change the microbe population in the gut including DNA from microorganisms passed on from the mother through the birth canal and through breast milk; environmental exposures, and specifically, diet.
Microbiome diversity is becoming a key marker of health and longevity. Some people may have acquired a robust microbiome, while others may struggle with food sensitivities and stomach problems due to a lack of good bacteria. Making sure the microbiome is healthy can have numerous benefits on overall well being. (3)
Common Symptoms Of An Unhealthy Gut Microbiome
Since the microbiome plays a key role in overall health, an imbalance can result in a variety of symptoms. Signs of an unhealthy gut are varied, but there are some common areas where an imbalance of gut bacteria -- called gut dysbiosis -- is most noticed.
- Digestive problems Regular symptoms of bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn can all indicate gut dysbiosis. For example, patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) were shown to have a lower diversity of healthy gut bacteria than healthy individuals or were missing certain types of bacteria. An unbalanced microbiome may have trouble processing food and eliminating waste. (5, 6)
- Autoimmune conditions. When the microbiome is out of balance, systemic inflammation can result. This can lead to autoimmune disorders, such as type 1 diabetes, where the immune system attacks healthy cells. (6)
- Fatigue, and sleep problems. There is a documented link between the gut and the brain. Serotonin, a hormone that affects both mood and sleep, is primarily produced in the gut. An unbalanced microbiome, then, could be contributing to insomnia, poor sleep, and chronic fatigue. (5)
- Obesity and related conditions. Research shows that obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes are associated with low-grade inflammation that may result from an unbalanced microbiome. Restoring gut health may reduce obesity and help individuals maintain a healthy weight. (7)
How To Restore The Microbiome
We now have a better understanding of what the microbiome is, how it works, and what can go wrong when it’s not functioning properly. But what causes this unbalance in the first place, and how can the microbiome be restored?
A Healthy Diet And A Healthy Microbiome Go Hand In Hand
Research shows that a “Western” diet, high in refined grains, sugar and fat, is linked to a decrease in good bacteria in the microbiome, and an increase in pathogenic bacteria.
On the other hand, including plenty of fiber-rich and plant-based foods has shown to support healthy microbes and positively affect gut health. Many fiber-rich foods act as prebiotics, or food for beneficial microbes. When these microbes break down fiber, they create short-chain fatty acids that decrease the pH in the intestines. A lower pH prevents harmful bacteria from growing and disrupting the microbiome balance. (7)
A Clinical-Grade Detox Can Help Balance The Microbiome
As we have seen, a healthy gut is important in supporting overall health. Toxins, pollutants, pesticides, and over-prescribed antibiotics can all help destroy good bacteria in our guts. One dangerous group of pesticides, for example, is found on produce, in household products, and in the environment. Called organophosphates, these have been shown to affect gut bacteria and the lining of the gastrointestinal tract--which contributes to a leaky gut.
In order to safely and effectively remove these toxins from the body, using natural binders should be the first step in restoring the microbiome.
Using, for example, a clinical-grade detox formula that uses proven ingredients to protect against--and reduce--toxins in the body can support the microbiome. ecoNugenics GlyphoCleanse pesticide and environmental toxin removal formula contains glycine, sodium alginate, kelp, and citrus pectin that work together to enhance intestinal barrier function and eliminate toxins from the body safely, without adverse side effects. (8-11)
Prebiotics vs Probiotics For A Healthy Microbiome
When the gut does not have a healthy balance of bacteria--regardless of the reasons why--probiotics are often seen as a great way to increase beneficial bacteria in the microbiome. Probiotics can come in the form of fermented foods--like kimchi, sauerkraut, or yogurt--or through supplements of live bacteria.
The problem is that studies show that not all probiotics work in every person. One study concluded that probiotic bacteria was only able to colonize in 60% of participants. This could be due to a variety of factors, including the pH balance of the gut, the health of the digestive system before probiotics, the strains of bacteria used, and the use of prebiotics.
Prebiotics are the food that the bacteria eat. This fiber can be found in foods such as artichokes, bananas, asparagus, oats, and apples. Prebiotic supplements can also be of great assistance, as they help prepare the gut for probiotics. (12)
Finding a formula that contains everything the gut needs can be difficult. It needs to be easy for the digestive system to assimilate, fast-acting, and contain clinically-studied, live probiotic strains. ecoNugenics ecoProbiotic hits all of these essential requirements, offering an effective way to support the microbiome and ensure the body is getting everything it needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are microbiome supplements safe?
A: Yes. There have not been any reported harms in taking pre- or probiotics, as bacteria already exist in the intestines. Common side effects may include gas, bloating, or mild stomach upset a few days after starting probiotics as the microbiome adjusts. Those with critical issues--such as patients who have just had surgery--should consult with their doctors first. (10)
Q: How does the microbiome affect health?
A: Because the bacteria in the gut microbiome play key roles in immunity, vitamin synthesis, breaking down food, and protecting the body from harmful bacteria, an imbalance can cause a variety of health problems. These can include digestive problems, autoimmune disorders, mood and sleep disruptions, and obesity. (5)
Q: Can an unhealthy gut microbiome be improved?
A: Yes, in many ways. Eating a healthy, plant-based diet--including fermented foods--can support a healthy microbiome. (5, 8)
- Robertson R. How probiotics can be good for your brain. Healthline.com. Published March 2, 2020. Accessed November 4, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/probiotics-and-brain-health
- Gottfried S. Balance your hormones by stabilizing your gut. Saragottfriedmd.com. Published June 21, 2018. Accessed November 4, 2020. https://www.saragottfriedmd.com/the-most-important-organ-for-hormone-balance-consider-the-gut-microbiome/
- The Microbiome. Harvard.edu. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/. Published August 16, 2017.
- Quigley EMM. Gut bacteria in health and disease. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2013;9(9):560-569. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3983973/
- Dix M, RN, BSN. 7 signs of an unhealthy gut and 7 ways to improve gut health. Healthline.com. https://www.healthline.com/health/gut-health. Published July 2, 2018. https://www.healthline.com/health/gut-health
- Pozuelo M, Panda S, Santiago A, et al. Reduction of butyrate- and methane-producing microorganisms in patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Sci Rep. 2015;5(1):12693. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4523847/
- Brown K, DeCoffe D, Molcan E, Gibson DL. Diet-induced dysbiosis of the intestinal microbiota and the effects on immunity and disease. Nutrients. 2012;4(8):1095-1119. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3448089/
- Sekhar R, et al. Deficient synthesis of glutathione underlies oxidative stress in aging and can be corrected by dietary cysteine and glycine supplementation.Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Sep;94(3):847-53. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.003483. Epub 2011 Jul 27.
- Yang HS, et al.Laminaria japonica Extract Enhances Intestinal Barrier Function by Altering Inflammatory Response and Tight Junction-Related Protein in Lipopolysaccharide-Stimulated Caco-2 Cells Nutrients. 2019 May 1;11(5):1001. doi: 10.3390/nu11051001.
- Carneriro R, et al. Removal of glyphosate herbicide from water using biopolymer membranes J Environ Manage. 2015 Mar 15;151:353-60. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2015.01.005. Epub 2015
- Zhan J, et al. Pectin reduces environmental pollutant-induced obesity in mice through regulating gut microbiota: A case study of p,p'-DDE. Jan 10. Environ Int. 2019 Sep;130:104861. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2019.05.055. Epub 2019 Jun 10.
- Fuller R. Probiotics. In: Colonic Microbiota, Nutrition and Health. Springer Netherlands; 1999:89-99. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/14598-probiotics