When it comes to our health and wellbeing, we’re all getting better educated and more aware of how each piece of the body’s intricate puzzle fits together. One of the most prominent areas on the rise is gut health – how the trillions of bacteria that make up the gut microbiome form a delicate system that relies on an optimal balance and awareness of how our ‘good’ gut bacteria can influence key areas of the body, such as the immune system, mental health and wellbeing – even how well we sleep.
A great measuring stick of how gut health is climbing the agenda for consumers around the world is its increasing coverage in mainstream media. Recently, news publication The Guardian hosted a gut-focused article, ‘Unlocking the ‘gut microbiome’ – and its massive significance to our health’. The feature takes a closer look at how the gut microbiome, sometimes referred to as ‘the control tower of the body’, can influence or support various areas of physical and mental wellbeing. The Bimuno team recommends reading the article for an overview of what is understood about gut health today. Click here to read the article in full.
Below, you’ll find several key learning points from the article, along with further insight and context. So, when looking towards the fundamentals of gut health, what’s key to understanding the importance of good gut bacteria?
“Your gut microbiome weighs about 0.2kg and is bigger than the average human brain. It’s a bustling community of trillions of bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses, containing at least 150 times more genes than the human genome. We are filled to the brim with microbes, which form microbiomes on our skin, in our mouths, lungs, eyes, and reproductive systems.
These have co-evolved alongside us since the beginning of human history. But the gut is the largest and most significant for our short- and long-term health. It is massively complex, and its residents vary enormously from person to person.”
The gut is taking centre stage as we look towards how best to support all-round physical health. The reason for this is that science is uncovering just how influential the community of microbes can be. Inside the gut microbiome are trillions of bacteria, some are particularly beneficial to the body, while others are not. When we talk about ‘gut health’, it is often this balance that we are referring to. The composition of bacteria in the gut is mostly stable through our lifetime but can shift and change as a result of factors such as lifestyle, environment and diet. In fact, your gut microbiome is as unique to you as your fingerprint!
“Lots of things that people don’t think about […] are very clearly modified by your gut microbes. Appetite and ability to digest food are modified by gut microbes. The key finding recently is the link with the immune system. Basically, the gut microbiome is controlling it, sending signals, because most of your immune system is in your gut”
The gut health field is fast-paced, and we are always learning more about how the complex gut microbiome can support key health areas. Two of these areas that capture attention are mental health and wellbeing, as well as immunity. You may think of the brain and the gut as two completely isolated systems of the body – but they actually have a very important connection. In a bidirectional relationship known as the ‘gut-brain axis’, the gut is able to send signals to the brain and receive them in return. Likewise, our mental health is believed to influence the wellbeing of the gut microbiome. From butterflies in the stomach to that familiar ‘hangry’ feeling, if you’ve ever wondered why emotions are so closely tied to the gut, the key is the gut-brain axis. Click here to learn more about the gut-brain axis.
The immune system is another important area of study. It may come as a surprise, but although we usually first picture white blood cells as the body’s natural defences, around 70% of the immune system actually resides in the gut. The good bacteria in the gut, which we often aim to increase the levels of, support the body in different ways. Certain types can play an important role in helping to protect the body from potential threats. As well as helping to strengthen the intestinal wall that stops potential pathogens from entering further into the body, through the gut-brain axis, our gut microbiome can influence how the body responds to these threats. While studies are ongoing, there is evidence to suggest that a healthy and balanced gut microbiome could play a key role in supporting immunity. Click here to learn more about the gut microbiome’s connection to immune health.
“Microbes need about 30g of fibre a day, but the average intake in the UK is just 10-15g.”
Fibre is an important nutrient for the body – but there is a growing public health concern known as the ‘fibre gap’. It’s recommended that adults take in 30g of fibre per day (including 5g of prebiotic fibre), but studies published on behalf of Public Health England show that just 9%1 of adults in the UK are reaching this intake. Prebiotic fibre (sometimes called Dietary Fibre) is a particular type of fibre that nourishes good gut bacteria. All prebiotics are fibre – but not all fibre is prebiotic! Naturally, diet has a key role to play in supporting gut health. Prebiotic fibre can be found in a wide variety of foods, including leafy green vegetables, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, shallots, bananas and wholegrains. Looking to give your good gut bacteria a helping hand? Be sure to check out our recipe page, where we compile delicious recipes to inspire mealtimes – full of important nutrients to support gut health.
“The microbiome is like a convergent science – you have to be an ecologist, a geneticist, a bioinformatician, a clinician and an epidemiologist, to try to make sense of it.”
An important point to finish on – the gut is an extremely complex system, connecting with many different areas of health. As research progresses, we’re getting a fuller and more rounded picture of how the bacteria in our gut shape the body’s wellbeing, but we’ve only scratched the surface of how good gut bacteria could support health. There is more to uncover in terms of how all the puzzle pieces fit together, but a key focus at present is whether changing our gut microbiome composition could be an approach to managing certain conditions in the future. More study is required to understand the true extent but it is becoming clear that there are benefits to a well-supported and thriving gut microbiome.
Looking to learn more about the gut? On the Bimuno website, you’ll find plenty of articles and resources that take a closer look at the gut, including the various areas of physical health that it’s believed to influence and the ways we can support the good gut bugs that are so important.
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