Note: this edition of “Gut Health 101” is part 2 of an 8-part series on the microbiome.
Probably the most obvious function of the microbiome is its participation in digesting the food and drinks that you consume. If you’re unfamiliar with the microbiome, it is the colony of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa that live in and on you. Cell-per-cell, the microbiome outnumbers human cells 10-to-1, with the vast majority of them living in your large intestine! For some deeper insight on how our microbiome can influence our health, check out my last blog post and pick up this book (affiliate link). Additionally, your microbiome not only helps digest the food you eat, its composition is also influenced by it! Let’s explore the first topic on how your microbiome helps digest your food before diving into how your food influences your microbiome.
Microbiome and Digestion
You first begin digesting your food the moment it reaches your mouth. The mechanical chewing combined with the enzymes in your saliva begin breaking the food down for your body to use. Your food is further digested thanks to the enzymes pumped out in your stomach and small intestine. Yet some amazing digestion magic happens when your food reaches your large intestine.
Our general education on what happens in the large intestine doesn’t go much further than that is where water is absorbed into the body from the digested food, yet this is where some serious magic happens!
Yes, I said “magic” twice, but it really is incredible what goes down in the large intestine!
There are foods that we eat that are healthy for us, and yet we aren’t able to fully digest them ourselves. We simply lack the enzymes needed to completely digest them. This is where our gut bacteria shine. All that fiber that we’re told we need? That’s digested by our microbiome. Incidentally, with different colonizations one can become gassy and bloated after eating certain carbohydrates while others can eat them without any discomfort. Exactly what species colonize our large intestine and where they colonize is determined by many factors, some of which I mentioned in my previous post. Other factors include what we feed ourselves – and therefore feed our microbiome.
Microbiome and Diet
We’ve heard the catchphrase and hype over the “probiotic.” Those fancy pills – sometimes gummies – that have hundreds of thousands to billions of CFU (colony forming units for those who don’t remember that one section high school biology you took how many years ago). Take them for better gut health! But what does that mean? Can you really take a probiotic and overcome a poor diet?
No, not really. Diet is still king.
Think of your gut bacteria like a garden. If you give it proper soil that’s at the optimal pH, adequately water it, get it plenty of sunlight, add some fertilizer (your probiotic) and your garden will blossom with little to no weeds, pests, and easily rebounds from disease. This is your gut on a healthy, whole-foods organic diet. Change the soil so it’s acidic, you don’t water it enough, and you don’t get adequate sunlight, add some fertilizer on that and your garden still wouldn’t shine. Heck, most of the plants in the first garden wouldn’t sprout let alone flower as they would be heavily susceptible to disease. You would instead get a lot of weeds and even some invasive plants that thrive in harsh conditions. Your garden could probably survive, but it would be rather sad. That is your gut on a heavily processed, monotonous diet.
You can change the conditions of the second garden through diligent work so the plants are able to thrive. We can do the same thing with our own bodies. Change what we eat from overly-processed foods to whole fruits and vegetables. That in turn influences what your microbiome looks like. We want a diverse microbiome in order to have a healthy body. To get the diversity we need our diets must also be diverse in food – whole food that is. Think of the line from “Field of Dreams” – If you build it, they will come. If you feed your body with a healthy, diverse, whole-food diet, the bacteria needed to help digest it will come.
So let’s break this down:
- Your microbiome provides enzymes your body doesn’t produce in order to digest some of the food we eat.
- What we eat influences what our microbiome looks like.
- The healthier, more diverse foods we eat, the healthier and more diverse our microbiome is, which leads to a healthier us.
Next week we’re diving into another fascinating aspect of the human microbiome in part 3 of this 8-part series: how the microbiome helps synthesize vitamins and hormones.
This is simply skimming the surface of how your microbiome influences digestion and is influenced by diet. What would you like more details on under this topic? Let me know so I can bring the most pertinent information to you!
A small stone
Tossed by a child in a still pond
The water splashes
Ripples move outward touching the shore
The rock falls to the bottom
It joins a million others just like it
The water smooths to what it was
Did the child change the pond?
Did the stone make any difference?
Is everything just as it was before?
Even the smallest thing can make a change
That pond will never be exactly the same
Even if they cannot be seen there are changes
The water is a little bit deeper
There is a new piece of stone to join the others
Even the fish have less area to swim
Absolutely nothing is the same
If a single stone can change an entire ecosystem
What do you think a single idea could do
Once it makes its own ripples
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