Gut Check | Monday, April 5, 2021
Gut Check: The Influence of the Microbiome
The microbiome is essential to our overall health. But what exactly is it and how can you ensure you’re taking the right steps to support your microbiome? SGNA spoke with Liz Kennard, RDN, CHWC, a health promotion specialist at Beaumont Service Center, on what you can do to optimize your overall health.
What is the microbiome and why is essential to health?
The microbiome is the collection of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi, yeast, etc.) that live inside and on our bodies. We are continually learning about the incredible effect that the microbiome has on our health. In fact, the DNA in these microbiomes has more influence on our health and well-being than our own human DNA.
The majority of the microbiome exists within our gastrointestinal (GI) tract and plays a huge role in our overall health. Within the GI tract, these gut microbes provide a few key functions: protecting the gut lining, preventing leaky gut, helping to digest new and different foods (something that humans would not be able to do without their help), etc.
The microbiome also helps to support our immune system, nutrient synthesis, nutrient absorption and the production of certain neurotransmitters like serotonin, which plays a crucial role in stabilizing our mood, feelings of well-being and happiness.
How is the microbiome connected to brain health?
Almost every component to brain health you can think of — from mood to stress, resiliency, intellectual function, cognitive power, memory, executive function and even things like appetite control and food cravings — are all under the influence of the microbiome. Many researchers are now calling the gut the “second-brain,” indicating the crucial role that the microbiome plays on brain health.
Are there foods that best support the microbiome?
The best way to support a healthy microbiome is to ensure that we have an abundance and high variety of different microbes. This requires us to eat an abundance of fiber in our diet and a wide variety of different food sources of fiber.
A large research study called the American Gut Project has concluded that in order to optimize the microbiome, we should ideally consume at least 30 different types of plants (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and even herbs and spices) each week. Prebiotic rich foods like chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic, onions and asparagus are the best fuel to feed the microbiome. A compound called polyphenols — found in many plant-based foods like grapes, dark chocolate, berries, beans, nuts and red wine — also seems to play an important role in feeding the microbes that support our health and, at the same time, killing off the microbes that are harmful to our health.
What other things can help optimize our microbiome other than diet?
Other things that we can all do to support our microbiome are things like getting quality sleep, regular exercise, avoiding unnecessary use of antibacterial products (that kill off the good microbes) and getting outside daily.
Liz Kennard, RDN CHWC, is a health promotion specialist at Beaumont Service Center