How to Optimize Your Gut Microbiome for Overall Health


Aditi S., Contributing Writer from BASIS Independent Silicon Valley

Image via Harriet Noble/The Observer

A microbiome contains trillions of microorganisms, which include bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses. In a healthy person, these microorganisms co-exist peacefully. The greatest population of microorganisms can be found in the human body’s large and small intestines, which is called the gut microbiome.

Each person has a unique microbiome, which is influenced by your diet, DNA, social interactions, and environment. The microbiota support the immune system by breaking down potentially harmful food with digestive enzymes and produce vitamins and amino acids. This, in turn, produces important neurotransmitters like serotonin, which regulates functions like sleep and mood. To support our mental and physical health, it’s important to nurture the microbes living all over our body.

Your diet plays a large role in determining the types of microbiota that live in your microbiome. Research has shown that a high-fiber diet can boost microbes. Rather than taking supplements, it’s more beneficial to eat a variety of foods that already contain prebiotics, which are consumed by microbes. Some fiber-rich foods that you should consider adding to your diet are fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains like oats. Probiotic foods contain live microbiota that can benefit your microbiome and reduce inflammation based on research conducted by Dr. Justin Sonnenburg, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University. This includes fermented foods like yogurt, pickled vegetables, kefir, tempeh, kombucha, kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut. If you are looking to strengthen your gut microbiome, it is important to slowly incorporate these foods if you haven’t already. Remember, life is short, so don’t restrict yourself from eating foods that you love, just remember to also eat more fiber-rich foods to nourish your gut!

Dr. Megan Rossi, a researcher and dietician at King’s College in London, has found that those who eat around 30 different plant-based foods weekly have stronger and more diverse gut microbiomes. Having diverse gut microbes can help increase resilience to infection, boost mood, and mediate a balanced blood sugar. Research has shown that there can be adverse effects for those with a lack of diverse microbes. Dr. Andrew Huberman, a professor of neurobiology at Stanford University, explains that low diversity in microbes has been associated with obesity, autoimmune diseases, and cardiometabolic conditions. Research has also shown that this dysbiosis, or imbalance in the gut microbiome, is linked with health concerns like obesity, diabetes, celiac disease, and eczema.

Another part of nourishing your gut is taking time to enjoy your food. Many of us are in a rush and don’t sit down to really taste our food. When eating, make sure to chew slowly to properly digest your food. Research has shown that this practice improves digestion and satisfaction.

Another determinant of the health of your microbiome is sleep. According to Dr. Andrew Huberman, the gut microbiome is in tune with stress levels. Therefore, having quality sleep every night is essential for stress management and, in turn, gut microbiome health.

Researchers have made all of these discoveries in the past few years, and new things are frequently being discovered. What research has shown, though, is that small changes to your diet and lifestyle could immensely benefit your mental and physical health. By investing time into bettering your mental health, you are making a strong impact on your overall health.

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