Inside each of us is a collection of microorganisms as unique as a fingerprint, which forms our microbiome. Determined by everything we are exposed to in day-to-day life, our microbiome is a fundamental component of health with the power to influence mood, digestion, ageing, cognitive function and heart health. Given the huge potential impact our microbiome can have on our overall health, it’s not surprising that our food choices have a significant impact on the way it grows and develops.
The gut is perhaps the most widely-known of all the microbial communities in our bodies, as well as one of the largest. We know that large quantities of processed foods can be bad for our waistlines, but few people realise the impact they can have on the diversity of bacteria in our gut. Studies have shown that just ten days of eating highly processed foods can cut gut microbiome diversity by 40%. The good news is it responds directly to what we eat – what feeds us feeds our microbiome – so making gut-conscious food choices is a simple and effective place to start when it comes to looking after your overall microbial health.
A healthy gut incorporating a wide range of varied bacteria can help to support the immune system, provide nutrients to fuel our cells and prevent colonisation by harmful bacteria and viruses. Eating a wide range of whole foods helps to promote the growth of good gut bacteria. In particular, foods rich in fibre such as vegetables, grains and beans have been shown to feed a positive gut environment. Fibre directly feeds gut bacteria, as it is broken down in the large intestine where most of our gut microbiota are housed. With most of us eating just 18 grams per day as opposed to the recommended 30 grams, increasing our fibre intake should be a priority for both our gut and overall health. Choosing a high-fibre, low-sugar breakfast cereal (such as muesli), snacking on nuts and seeds and switching to wholemeal or whole wheat carbohydrate options all contribute to making sure we get the fibre we need.
Taking a scientifically-backed prebiotic or probiotic supplement is another straightforward step that can help support the microbiome via the gut. In the past, most probiotics have been developed to help with immunity and digestion, but thanks to recent scientific developments targeted probiotics can be created to specifically benefit individual health concerns. The products found on OptiBiotix Online contain award-winning prebiotic and probiotic ingredients, SlimBiome® and LPLDL®, which have been developed to support known functions of the microbiome, helping to promote weight and cholesterol management.
Things to avoid
Recent studies have shown that eating red meat as our main source of protein can increase the risk of heart disease as a result of how it affects bacteria in the gut. Scientists found that when gut bacteria feed on certain nutrients during digestion, in this case from red meat, they produce the cardiovascular risk-increasing compound trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). In people who ate red meat as their main source of protein for one month, levels of TMAO were up to three times higher than those who primarily ate white meat or meat alternatives. Limiting red meat intake can, therefore, help to proactively protect our heart health by reducing the amount of TMAO our gut bacteria produce.
As well as what we eat, it is important to remember that our gut bacteria are influenced by everything we put in our bodies. It can be tempting to ask the doctor for antibiotics when we feel under the weather, and of course, they’re important medicines in treating a wide range of infections but taking them when we don’t really need them can be harmful to our gut health. Given they work by either killing bacteria or preventing them from multiplying, it’s perhaps not surprising that antibiotics can cause our good gut bacteria to decline. A recent study conducted by a team of researchers led by the University of Copenhagen reported that when a four-day course of antibiotics was given to otherwise healthy subjects, it caused an almost complete eradication of gut bacteria. Even six months later, not all of the bacterial species originally present had recovered. By being informed, and taking antibiotics only when really necessary, we can avoid these long-term negative effects on our gut health.
Each individuals microbiome is unique, so the ways in which different substances affect us can vary. We must, therefore, listen to our bodies, take the time to check in with our gut and make adjustments depending on how we feel. By making smart choices and taking a proactive approach to gut health, we can support our bodies, feel better and live healthier.