What is Your Microbiome, and How Can You Support It?
In recent years, the healthcare industry has widely used the term “microbiome.” While you may be familiar with the word, you may have questions about what exactly it means and why it matters.
Keep reading to learn more about the microbiome and why supporting it is essential.
What is the Microbiome?
The microbiome refers to the collection of trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that reside in your body. Some of these microorganisms are beneficial, while others can be harmful. Your microbiome is primarily located in the colon of your digestive tract but is also found on your skin.
The microbiome is so important because of the many ways it impacts your health.
Some of the Important Roles Your Microbiome Plays Include:
- Promoting proper digestion and absorption of nutrients from the foods you eat
- Strengthening your immune system by fighting off harmful pathogens
- Helping to regulate your body’s inflammatory response
- Supporting a healthy weight
- Helping to protect against various diseases and health conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, and more.
- Helping to produce certain vitamins, such as vitamin B12 and vitamin K
- Influencing your brain function and mood, including things like autism, epilepsy, and depression via the gut-brain axis
However, the ability of your microbiome to support these functions depends on its health. A healthy microbiome has a diverse array of bacteria and other microorganisms. It needs the proper balance between helpful and harmful organisms. Not having enough beneficial bacteria can lead to a condition called dysbiosis, which can cause many diseases.
Tips For Supporting A Healthy Microbiome:
Many factors influence the health of your microbiome. Below are some action steps you can take to support a healthy microbiome.
☑ Get Plenty of Probiotics
These live, beneficial bacteria support your microbiome by balancing out the mixture of helpful and harmful bacteria it contains, which keeps it healthy and strong. They also can help prevent inflammation in your gut, which may otherwise lead to disease and intestinal problems.
Probiotics are found in fermented foods and beverages like yogurt with live and active cultures, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, and tempeh. In addition to food sources, you can take probiotic supplements, which provide a larger quantity of bacteria. It’s essential to choose a high-quality, high potency probiotic that contains various types of bacteria to reap the most benefits.
☑ Eat a Variety of Plant Foods
Plants provide fiber and many important plant compounds that have been shown to increase the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Research proves that the more diverse your diet, the healthier your microbiome will be. Many types of plants also serve as prebiotics, which provide fuel to probiotics to help them work effectively. (You can read more about prebiotics, including where to find them, in this post)
☑ Avoid Overuse of Antibiotics.
Antibiotics work by killing off bacteria in your body that can cause illness. While they play a super important role in recovering from bacterial diseases, taking them does have side effects, especially for people who take them often or in large doses. Many types of antibiotics kill beneficial bacteria in addition to the harmful kind, which in turn can harm the microbiome.
Taking antibiotics often can also cause antibiotic resistance and weaken your immune system. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that at least 30% of antibiotics prescribed in America are unnecessary, so it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor before agreeing to take them.
☑ Limit Your Sugar Intake.
Eating too much sugar can negatively affect many parts of your body and health, including harming your microbiome. Research shows that a high sugar diet alters the bacteria in your gut, changes the way your metabolism works and increases low-grade inflammation throughout your body. This can have many adverse health effects.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting no more than 10% of your calories from added sugars, which would equal about 200 calories or 50 grams per day for someone eating ~2,000 calories. (You can read more about how sugar impacts your body and receive tips for reducing your sugar intake while still satisfying your sweet tooth in this post.)
☑ If You’ve Just Given Birth, Aim to Breastfeed for at Least 6 Months.
A baby’s microbiome begins developing even before birth but continues to form throughout life. Breast milk provides nearly endless benefits to a baby, including being a source of natural pre and probiotics to nourish a child’s microbiome. Many studies have shown that formula-fed infants have a less healthy microbiome compared to those who are exclusively breastfed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding your baby for the first six months of life, then continuing complimentary breastfeeding along with solid foods through the first year or longer. If you are unable to breastfeed, donor milk may be an option.
☑ Manage Your Stress.
Having too much stress of any kind contributes to an imbalanced microbiome, along with many other negative health conditions. This is why managing stress is crucial for just about every aspect of your health. Natural ways to manage stress include getting enough sleep, prioritizing self-care, talking to loved ones and/or a professional counselor for support, and setting boundaries in your life.
☑ Exercise Regularly.
You probably don’t need more reasons to move your body, but promoting a healthier microbiome is another. Studies show that exercise increases the number of beneficial bacteria in your gut and improves overall microbial diversity. Thankfully, you don’t have to do long gym workouts to experience the benefits of exercise. All types of movement, both big and small, can add up and make a difference in your health. Try choosing activities you enjoy and start small while gradually working up to longer or more intense exercises with time.
Your microbiome is a vital part of your body and has a big impact on your health. There are many actionable steps you can take daily to support a healthy microbiome, and they don’t have to involve drastically changing your lifestyle. For more information about gut health and what you can do to support it, check out this post.