We tend to think of ourselves as single organisms, but the truth is that our bodies are made up of more microbes than human cells. We’re colony organisms, and modern science is only beginning to scratch the surface of those implications. The area of highest concentration for those microbes in our gut, which is called the gut microbiome. Not entirely sure what that means or how it affects your nutrition, fitness, and overall health? We’ll explore that and more below.
What Is the Microbiome?
“Microbiome” actually applies to the collection of microbes within your body, as well as those on your skin. The former is your gut microbiome and the latter is your skin microbiome. Both have an impact on your nutrition, fitness, and health.
Most of the microbes that make up your microbiome are symbiotes. That is, they work in tandem with bodily systems to the benefit of themselves and our bodies.
Harvard School of Public Health points out, “The microbiome consists of microbes that are both helpful and potentially harmful…In a healthy body, pathogenic and symbiotic microbiota coexist without problems. But if there’s a disturbance in that balance – brought on by infections illnesses, certain diets, or the prolonged use of antibiotics or other bacteria-destroying medications, dysbiosis occurs, stopping these normal interactions. As a result, the body may become more susceptible to disease.”
How Do You Test It?
As you can see from above, your microbiome can affect your health when the balance is upset. When potentially harmful bacteria – E. coli, or salmonella, for instance – begin to outnumber the good bacteria, or when the ecosystem is decimated through improper nutrition and poor diet, or disease and medications, it can lead to infections, weight gain, poor sleep, and a wide range of other symptoms. So, how do you know the health of your gut? The answer is microbiome testing.
The key to testing your gut ecosystem is a fecal sample. Usually, you’ll send a sample in a kit to a microbiome testing company. There, the sample will be analyzed using a testing method called 16s RNA ribosomal sequencing, which simply takes a snapshot of your gut bacteria’s DNA. This allows scientists to answer key questions, including:
- What types of microbes are in your gut?
- What is the level of beneficial vs. potentially harmful bacteria?
- How diverse are the types of bacteria?
- Is your microbiome normal or are there potential health problems?
- Are you receiving optimum nutrition from your diet to support gut health?
What Impact Does the Microbiome Have on Nutrition?
It is important to understand that nutrition impacts your gut microbiome, which in turn affects the nutrition that your body derives from the food you eat. For instance, a diet rich in refined carbs is ideal for destroying beneficial yeasts and leading to an overgrowth of candida, which is responsible for yeast infections. A diet poor in key nutrients allows beneficial bacteria to die off while potentially harmful bacteria proliferate to fill the gap in your gut ecosystem.
A diet lacking in key nutrients also leads to a lack of diversity within your gut. When it comes to the microbiome, greater diversity is vital for overall health and wellness. Scientists have linked poor gut health and lacking microbiome diversity with a range of health problems, including:
However, good nutrition does not just mean watching your calories and making sure you get enough fiber. Many things we take for granted today can have a negative impact on your gut health, including:
- Food additives like emulsifiers can reduce microbial diversity
- Artificial sweeteners reduce gut microbe diversity
- Even restrictive diets such as vegan and raw food diets reduce gut microbe diversity
- Gluten-free food has been linked to poor gut microbe diversity
Ultimately, your gut microbiome is key to health and fitness. A healthy gut helps you avoid dangerous conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. However, the very food that you eat could be limiting gut microbe diversity and increasing your risk of these diseases. Microbiome testing can help determine whether your gut is healthy, what strains of bacteria are present, and then help you extrapolate how to improve microbiome health.