What can we do to help maintain a healthy microbiome?
The gut microbiome is the totality of microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi, and their collective genetic material present in the gastrointestinal tract.The gut microbiome is a diverse and fascinating aspect of the human body. The microorganisms that reside here can act as an interface between what you eat, how you feel and how you look. With the increase in information available to us it has become clear that health issues can arise linked to damage to this microbiome. Here are some ways in which you can promote balance between protective and harmful bacterial communities and support your microbiome.
1. Increase dietary fibre
What you eat and your gut health are very closely linked, with foods high in refined sugars and saturated fats promoting the growth of harmful bacteria(1). On the other hand, foods high in fibre (non-digestible carbohydrate) encourage the growth of protective bacteria in the gut(2).
Fibre rich foods include:
- Wholegrain bread, oats, barley and rye
- Fruit such as berries, pears, melon and oranges
- Vegetables such as broccoli, carrots and artichoke
- Peas, beans and pulses
- Nuts and seeds
2. Reducing stress
Numerous studies have been done on the relationship between the gut and the brain or the ‘gut brain axis’. The gut microbiota is known to be capable of producing neurotransmitters which influence how we think and feel. As a result, poor gut health can make us feel stressed3. Furthermore, the reverse is also thought to be true in that chronic stress prevents your body from properly digesting food. Consequently, gut health is poor(4).
3. Take live cultures
These improve the levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut, helping to rebalance and harmonise the microbiome.
4. Only taking antibiotics when prescribed
Antibiotics have been shown to disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut(5). Therefore, it is important to only take these medications when prescribed by a health professional. Furthermore, taking live bacteria alongside antibiotics may help reduce antibiotics side effect and prevent the disruption of your microbiome.
5. Drink alcohol and caffeine in moderation
Alcohol irritates the digestive tract and can alter bacterial balance(6). Caffeine increases stress hormone production and can cause gut symptoms in some people(7). Therefore, reducing your intake of these can help promote a happy gut.
- T. Sen. Diet-driven microbiota dysbiosis is associated with vagal remodelling and obesity. Physiol Behav. 2017 May 1; 173: 305–317.
- Jill A. Parnell Prebiotic fibre modulation of the gut microbiota improves risk factors for obesity and the metabolic syndrome.
- Dinan TG, Cryan JF. The Microbiome-Gut-Brain Axis in Health and Disease. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2017 Mar;46(1):77-89.
- Oxford Journal, 2000, 'The stress response and the hypothalamical adrenal axis: from molecule to melancholia' QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, 93(6):323-333
- Ianiro.G, Antibiotics as deep modulators of gut microbiota: between good and evil. Gut. 2016 Nov;65(11):1906-1915
- Helander, H. F, Fandriks, L. (2014) Surface area of the digestive tract - revisited. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology. Vol 49: 6
- Nishitsuii K. Effect of coffee or coffee components on gut microbiome and short-chain fatty acids in a mouse model of metabolic syndrome. Sci Rep. 2018 Nov 1;8(1):16173