Do you know the health benefits of a healthy gut microbiome? From better mood and sleep to weight management, here’s how to boost your gut health
A healthy gut is essential to digestion – though you already knew that.
It’s been the health buzz word of the decade, so you’ve probably heard all about your gut microbiome and the trillions of microbes that live in it.
In fact, as the scientists are just discovering, the impact of our gut microbes extends far beyond what we typically think of as ‘gut health’ and into almost every aspect of our wellbeing, affecting not just nutrient absorption and digestion, but also our immunity, mood, sleep, appetite and even our weight.
‘It’s hard to think of an aspect our health that our gut microbiome may not potentially impact,’ says GP Dr Chris George, director at the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine.
A healthy microbiome is one with lots of bugs and huge amount of diversity
‘Our gut microbes are basically our second gene pool and play a role in a huge number of diseases, either making us more vulnerable or protecting us against them.
‘Our gut microbiome may be implicated in a variety of conditions right the way from obesity to Parkinson’s disease’.
‘A healthy microbiome is one with lots of bugs and huge amount of diversity, so lots of different types. That’s what’s associated with best overall health’.
So it makes sense that we should want to keep our gut microbiome in tip top shape.
How do we make sure our gut microbiome is diverse and healthy?
- First, you need to eat a highly varied diet and one that’s filled with plants, at least 30 different types a week.
- Second, eat the rainbow, colourful fruit and veg contain lots of polyphenols that feed our ‘good’ gut microbes.
- Third, try fermented foods like kimchi or a fermented probiotic like Symprove, that contains live bacteria and has been proven to reach the large intestine.
There are also a number of things on the no-go list, when it comes to your microbiome.
‘A poor night’s sleep and being stressed or certain medications, like antibiotics can cause a negative change in the microbiome,’ says Dr George.
‘And other drugs like proton pump inhibitors which are often prescribed for people with reflux, can increase the risks of poor microbiome, with long-term use. And a poor diet with lots of processed foods will also negatively impact it’.
Of course you can’t always avoid antibiotics, but the key is to get your microbiome back in shape as quickly as possible, with lots of veg and possibly top up with a good probiotic as insurance policy.
This will help prevent dysbiosis, when the variety of bacteria are reduced and the ‘bad’ bacteria can run amok, causing issues, like IBS.
So what are some of the other lesser known health benefits of keeping your gut microbes healthy and varied?
Healthy gut benefit #1 Improved immunity
A recent study, published last month, caused a sensation by showing that a plant-based diet is highly protective when it comes to Covid, reducing the risk of severe complications by an astonishing 73 per cent.
The research, published in The BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health, showed that people whose diet is high in plant fibre are not only less likely to catch Covid in the first place, they’re less likely to end up in hospital or die if they do get infected.
Since one of the benefits of a plant-based diet is healthy gut microbiome, it seems likely that our gut microbes are increasing our immune defence against it, say experts.
People who eat more plants and fish have a lower odds of getting severe covid
‘It’s really important to have a healthy gut microbiome and not just because it helps with our digestion, but also because it’s linked with immunity, which has been really important this past year in terms of Covid,’ says Dr George.
‘People who eat more plants and fish have a lower odds of getting severe covid. We understand from recent research that a variety of plants is the best way to a healthier gut microbiome.
‘Plants contain fibre which tends to be the best substrate for microbial growth. So diets that are high in grains, vegetables and legumes increase the gut microbiota, which are fundamental to immunity and can have a huge impact when it comes to fighting infections’.
Healthy gut benefit #2 Weight management
A healthy gut microbiome will even help you keep your weight in check, since the diversity of bugs is linked to both appetite and metabolism.
More than a decade ago scientists discovered that obese mice seemed to have less diversity amongst their gut microbes.
What’s more adding gut microbes from obese mice to thin mice caused them to gain significant amounts of weight.
negative changes in the gut microbiome can affect those hormones and influence what or how much we eat
More recently, research published in January, by an international group of scientists, revealed strong links between a person’s gut microbes and obesity and type two diabetes.
‘The microbiome influences gastrointestinal peptides and appetite hormones like cholecystokinin, leptin and grehlin,’ explains Dr George.
‘So negative changes in the gut microbiome can affect those hormones and influence what or how much we eat’.
Scientists have even suggested that gut microbes an be ‘catching’, as research shows we tend to you pick up a similar microbiome to the other people in our household.
So it makes sense to get your gut microbes in order, not just for the sake of your own health and weight, but also for those you’re close to and live with.
‘More research is needed, but it makes sense to do everything we can to to cultivate a healthy microbiome, by avoiding processed foods and eating more fibre and fermented foods,’ says Dr George.
Healthy gut benefit #3 Improved mood
Whether it’s butterflies in our stomachs when we’re nervous, or feeling nauseous when we’re stressed, we’ve all experienced the communication between our gut and brain at some point.
‘It’s the gut/brain axis,’ explains Dr George.
‘The gut and brain are connected by a long nerve, called the vegas nerve, which carries signals from the digestive system to the brain and back. It is part of our parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for the mood, our stress response and digestion’.
95 per cent of our serotonin supply is manufactured by gut bacteria
And there’s strong science behind the idea of following your your ‘gut instinct’, since so many of our so-called ‘brain’ chemicals are manufactured in the gut.
Indeed, 95 per cent of our serotonin supply is manufactured by gut bacteria, while other neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, and GABA, which are critical for mood, anxiety, concentration and motivation are also made in our gut.
And since many antidepressants work by increasing serotonin it makes sense that improving out gut microbiome might also improve our mood.
Healthy gut benefit #4 Better sleep
Just as our mood is influenced by the state of our gut microbiome through the gut-brain axis, or ‘microbiota–gut–brain axis’, our sleep also suffers when our gut microbes are out of whack.
This connection was shown recently by research from from the University of Tsukuba in Japan, which suggests that gut bacteria may influence sleep patterns.
The scientists fed mice antibiotics which had a negative affect on the gut microbiome, for a period of four weeks. Then compared their sleep wake cycle to mice who had drunk ordinary water.
our sleep also suffers when our gut microbes are out of whack
The scientists found that not only did the antibiotic solution negatively affect the gut microbiota, with the antibiotic-fed mice displaying ten times less microbes.
It also found an impact on neurotransmitter serotonin, which was completely depleted and the antibiotic-fed mice. The antibiotic group also displayed disturbed sleep patterns.
‘Gut microbes influence serotonin which is important in the sleep/wake cycle and fluctuations in our gut microbes may affect our circadian rhythms through the vagus nerve,’ explains Dr George.
Healthy gut benefit #5 Healthy bones
Want to protect your bones from osteoporosis? Then a healthy gut microbiome could be an important first step.
Scientists believe that an imbalance in gut flora is an often overlooked factor in osteoporosis and several recent studies have found a close link between our gut bacteria and bone loss.
For example, exposing mice to bacterial infections which inflame the gut leads to bone erosion. While further research has found that introducing the probiotic, lactobacillus reuteri, that promotes gut health, can actually increase bone mass in mice.
recent studies have found a close link between our gut bacteria and bone loss
And now some small studies are finding that these benefits work for women too. One study found that the bone loss is lower for those who took a probiotic than for those who took a placebo. While another study found a corn fibre prebiotic helped stave off bone loss in post menopausal women.
Scientists now think that the reason women experiences rapid bone loss after menopause is down to the impact of oestrogen deficiency on the gut barrier and the way gut flora can indirectly influence the balance between the cells that produce bone (osteoblasts) and those that absorb it (osteoclasts).
‘The gut microbes can potentially increase bone mass and improve osteoporosis by inhibiting osteoclast proliferation and reducing bone reabsorption,’ says Dr George.
‘They basically reduce the bone resorption and actually help maintain them again’. So it makes sense to get your gut microbiome in order.
Find out more at Symprove.com