The Importance of a healthy balanced gut microbiome
The hygiene hypothesis
In the last 50 years, many developed countries have successfully controlled infectious diseases by improving sanitation, using antibiotics and developing vaccines. At the same time, a rise in new diseases such as allergies, autoimmune diseases and inflammatory bowel disease have been observed in both children and adults (1). It is hypothesized that improvements in hygiene, including decreased microbial exposures in childhood, are responsible for this surge in new diseases (2). Indeed, a slew of new research is showing that imbalances in the gut microbiome – termed dysbioses – are associated with such diseases.
So, what is dysbiosis and why should you care?
Dysbiosis broadly refers to microbial imbalances in the body. More specifically, dysbiosis is most commonly reported as a condition of the digestive tract. The communities of gut bacteria in individuals with a variety of immune related illnesses, look very different to those from healthy individuals. Dysbiosis is associated with illnesses such as inflammatory bowel disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, obesity, cancer, bacterial vaginosis, and colitis.
Diet affects the composition of the gut microbiome
The complexity and diversity of the gut microbiome is different in every individual, although there appears to be a core set of species that inhabit essentially all humans. The gut microbiome is established early in life and influenced initially by genetics, birth route and geography. There is a significant difference, for instance, in the composition of the gut microbiome between infants born through the birth canal versus caesarian section. By early adulthood, the complexity and diversity of the gut microbiome is fully established.
Three approaches to a healthy microbiome
Put simply, nourishing your gut microbiome requires a three-pronged strategy:
- Feed the good bacteria.
- Bolster the good bacteria.
- Supplement the healthy products the good bacteria make.
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- Trumbo, P., Schlicker, S., Yates, A. A., Poos, M.Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, The National Academies. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein and amino acids. J Am Diet Assoc102, 1621–1630 (2002).
- Mariat, D. et al. The Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio of the human microbiota changes with age. BMC Microbiol.9, 123 (2009).
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- Frank, D. N. et al. Molecular-phylogenetic characterization of microbial community imbalances in human inflammatory bowel diseases. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.104, 13780–13785 (2007).
- Wang, T. et al. Structural segregation of gut microbiota between colorectal cancer patients and healthy volunteers. ISME J6, 320–329 (2012).
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- Samuel, B. S. et al. Effects of the gut microbiota on host adiposity are modulated by the short-chain fatty-acid binding G protein-coupled receptor, Gpr41. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences105, 16767–16772 (2008).