The microbiome consists of approximately 100 trillion bacterial cells – ten times more than the human cells in the body. The highest concentration of bacteria is found in the gut.
There is an increasing amount of research looking at gut health and the gut microbiome now, but in 2005 when you searched on “gut microbiome” in PubMed (research papers database) there were only 55 studies, in 2010 there were 389 papers and just between Jan-July in 2015 this number had increased to 1,389. Today (March 2018) if you do the same search on “gut microbiome” there are 9437 papers and if we break it down to human studies and eliminate the animal studies there are still 5164.
Gut health affects so many aspects of health, and a healthy microbiome has been linked with a healthy immune system. Approximately 70% of immune cells are in gut.
In a 2014 review paper it was determined that: “The composition of the microbiome and its activities are involved in most, if not all, of the biological processes that constitute human health and disease, as we proceed through our own life cycle.”
The biggest impact you can have on the health of your gut lining and microbiome, is your diet.
Fortunately, there are some powerful nutrients and foods out there for improving gut health, including:
• Probiotics, which act as friendly gut bacteria in your digestive tract, killing off bad bacteria, which can cause digestive issues. Natural probiotic foods include: kimchi, sauerkraut, live yogurt, and kefir.
• Bone broth is another number one food for promoting gut health as it is anti-inflammatory.
• Fruits and vegetables, which are water-rich provide water, vital enzymes and electrolytes and they are fantastic for relieving stomach bloating. Opt for raw or cooked leafy greens, cucumber, melon, berries, celery, fennel, and fermented vegetables.
• Herbs, such as ginger, dandelion and fennel have been used for thousands of years to ease digestive discomfort. Ginger encourages the stomach to release its contents and it also relaxes the digestive tract muscles, which helps to alleviate constipation. Other herbs, such as parsley, act like diuretics and urge the body to rid itself of extra fluid.
Recognised gut health improvements include: weight loss, less bloating, improved mental health, improved immune system, less anxiety/mood swings, improvement in asthma and hay-fever, elimination of heartburn, improved sleep, reduction in menopausal symptoms and improvement in acne.
How can the microbiome be linked to genes and nutrigenomics?
Most bacteria and microbes in the gut can produce molecules that benefit, harm or have a neutral impact on health. However, the only genomic test which can determine which molecules they are actually producing is metatranscriptomic analysis.
Every living organism produces RNA molecules from their DNA. By sequencing ALL of the RNA in an individual’s stools, the living microrganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi, yeasts, parasites etc.) in one’s gut can be identified at species and also the strain level.
Identifying the microorganisms in an individual’s gut is significant, but we get even more insight when we understand their function. This is because the microbes in the gut produce chemicals, known as metabolites – these influence your wellness. Some of these metabolites (e.g. vitamin B) can have a positive impact on our health and others such as Trimethylamine N-Oxide (TMAO) can cause life-threatening conditions such as coronary artery disease (CAD).
However, by analysing the genes that your microbes express, the metabolites they produce can be identified. Thus, their role on the body’s ecosystem can be determined, resulting in the fine-tuning of your gut microbiome‘s function, which then limits harmful metabolites being produced, whilst optimising the production of the good and beneficial metabolites.
I completely believe that in 3-5 years medical practitioners will be providing personalised gut health advice and that will be routine medical practice. Also, personalised probiotics and not a one-strain-fits-all approach is undoubtedly the way forward.