If you are at all interested in health, you’ve likely heard about the importance of the gut microbiome. Microbiome is the word used to describe the microorganisms (bacteria, yeast, viruses, parasites) present in a particular environment, one of them being the digestive tract but also the skin, respiratory tract, and urinary/vaginal tracts. It is becoming clear that our overall health is influenced by the microbiome, which is why it is so important to have a healthy digestive tract and microbiome. There are a lot of recommendations on the internet about what is best for your gut and the microbiome: More fiber, probiotics, fermented foods, prebiotics (the food for the gut bacteria), and specific diets. However, it is not as simple as a recommendation that you get from the internet or a friend. Each person is different and requires different methods to promote a healthy gut.
There are a myriad of health conditions that are related to an unhealthy gut and microbiome including arthritis, autoimmune diseases, rashes, acne, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, mood disorders, autism, and more. With mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression, it can be a result of low serotonin production. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter which is responsible for appetite, mood, sleep, and relaxation, is produced in the gut. In fact, 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut, not in the brain. Serotonin is produced by certain cells of the digestive tract, but it has been found that these cells are influenced by having the right types of bacteria in the gut. Thus, anytime there is anxiety or depression, it is important to address the microbiome. In regards to autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, it has been found that these people have what we call a leaky gut. When the cells of the digestive tract do not attach tightly to each other, undigested food can enter the blood stream and this can cause the immune system to become overactive, leading to autoimmunity. Leaky gut has several causes, one of them being an imbalanced microbiome. If you have any of these conditions, it is important that you address the health of your gut and microbiome.
You may be wondering how you could have an imbalanced microbiome. One of the main reasons that your microbiome becomes imbalanced is diet. Eating too many sugary or processed foods can feed the wrong types of bacteria as well as yeasts. In addition to diet, antibiotics, stress, and heavy metals also play a part in causing an imbalance of the microbiome. While antibiotics can be necessary sometimes, even a single course of antibiotics can kill a large amount of the good bacteria in the gut, allowing the bad bacteria and yeasts to thrive. It is said that it can take 2-3 years to rebuild the microbiome after a single course of antibiotics. Another factor disrupting the microbiome is constant stress in our lives. The hormones secreted in stressful times allow the microbiome to become imbalanced. Lastly, a lesser known cause of yeast overgrowth in the body can be an excess of heavy metals. When I am working with a patient who can’t seem to overcome a yeast overgrowth problem, I will investigate heavy metal intoxication. In regards to your health, I encourage you to evaluate whether any of these factors may be causing an imbalanced microbiome.
Each person is different and requires different steps to heal the gut. While fermented foods may be great for someone who is trying to increase the diversity of his or her gut flora, they can be problematic for someone who has a histamine intolerance. Prebioitic foods such as onions, garlic, asparagus, jicama, yams, and Jerusalem artichokes can be great for those who are wanting to feed the good bacteria in the colon, but they can cause uncomfortable symptoms for those who have SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). Thus, it is important to have an individualized plan to bring your body back into balance. I encourage you to find a doctor who can help you navigate your way to a healthy digestive tract and microbiome so that you can have optimal health.