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A Healthy Gut Microbiome: How to Create One and Why You Should
Fact Checked by Dr. Jonathan Jacobs, MD, PhD
In this article about creating a healthy gut microbiome:
- The Gut Microbiome: A Quick Overview
- A Balanced and Healthy Gut Microbiome: A Swiss Army Knife for Better Health
- Advancement In Tech = More Insight Into How to Improve the Gut
- What We’ve Learned
- The Big Picture
- How a Healthy Gut Microbiome Impacts Health
- Prebiotic Fiber, Resistant Starch and Real Food
- Always carry your Swiss Army Knife
The Gut Microbiome: A Quick Overview
Your gut microbiome is an enormous colony of bacteria, symbiotic fungi, and even viruses that live inside of your digestive tract, mainly in your colon.
Many of these microscopic organisms are constantly working to benefit your health, but it’s not an easy task. There’s an ongoing battle of good bacteria vs bad bacteria in the gut, and the result of these battles can determine many aspects of your overall health. (1)
But in general, the good bacteria help regulate:
- your immune system 🩹 (2)
- your mood 🤪 (3)
- your digestive system 🤢 (4)
- your metabolic system 👬🏾 (5)
- and your heart health ❤️ (6)
They can make hormones that influence our mood, and they have to potential to signal to the brain to feel happy, sad, angry or calm. (7) They can turn down the immune system to reduce inflammation, or they can turn it up to increase inflammation. (8) They can even lower blood sugar. (5)
In short, when your gut microbiome is strong, your health is strong.
This means that when we achieve a healthy, balanced gut microbiome, we become healthier. The key is to first identify which aspects of your health you want to improve, and then determine the best way to harness the power of your gut microbiome to support that outcome.
The good news is that creating a healthy gut isn’t as difficult as you may think. Because beneficial bacteria feed off of the fiber that we eat, we have the power to support a healthy gut microbiome by consuming certain foods, supplemental fibers, and adhering to a generally healthy lifestyle. (9)
A Balanced and Healthy Gut Microbiome: A Swiss Army Knife for Better Health
There are certain ways to manipulate specific aspects of your health:
- Cardiovascular exercise can help strengthen your physical fitness and heart.
- Resistance training can make your skeletal muscles stronger.
- And wearing sunscreen can protect your skin from UV rays.
But have you ever seen one of those Swiss Army Knives? You know the kind — these miraculous little multi-tools that fit a knife, can opener, a pair of scissors, nail file, toothpick, tweezers, pliers, and a corkscrew in your pocket. They fold up into something that’s less than a few inches long, and fan out into a dazzling array of options for getting you out of any jam that you might need a tool for
Your gut microbiome functions in the exact same way when it comes to your health.
Since it plays such a crucial role in so many functions in your body — including your immune system, heart, brain, metabolic, and digestive health — your gut microbiome can positively or negatively affect pretty much every part of your body.
- Blood sugar issues? Creating a healthy and balanced microbiome can stabilize blood sugar. (5)
- Battling depression? Emerging evidences suggests it’s possible that the pursuit of a healthy microbiome can mean improvement in your condition. (7)
- Struggling to lose weight? Making sure your gut microbiome is as balanced as it possibly can be has been shown to reduce obesity. (10)
- Dealing with irritable bowel syndrome or leaky gut? Healthy levels of beneficial gut bacteria can help mitigate symptoms of IBS and other digestive issues. (11)
- Grappling with an overactive immune system? Your gut microbiome plays a critical role in strengthening and balancing your immune system (29).
Advancement In Tech = More Insight Into How to Improve the Gut
In the past several years, astounding advancements in science and technology have allowed researchers to better understand the gut microbiome in ways they couldn’t before.
This technological explosion has led to massive breakthroughs in understanding the roles of specific strains of bacteria within the gut microbiome. This includes identifying why and how these microbes directly impact specific areas of health.
What this means is that we can target certain microbes and encourage their growth.
What We’ve Learned
Microbes live in the gut.
There are trillions upon trillions of microscopic entities that live and work together inside your gut, and when they are properly nourished, they make you healthier. (12)
When you have a healthy gut, filled with a diverse collection of strong bacteria, the good guys are constantly working on your behalf to keep you healthy. They’re always vanquishing the bad guys and creating a thick wall to your intestinal lining — which keeps any harmful bacteria from leaking into your bloodstream. (1, 13)
What we eat changes which microbes live in the gut.
These microbes need food to survive. Specific foods make the healthiest ones thrive, therefore creating the most beneficial results for the body. Resistant starches, in particular, feed the good strains of bacteria nicely, and promote their colonization. (14)
Microbes make compounds in our bodies.
When the microbes consume food, they release compounds into the body. When we feed our microbes generous amounts of resistant starch, they respond by digesting it (since we can’t) and in turn, they release short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). (15, 16)
These short-chain fatty acids are major players in creating better health, reducing symptoms of leaky gut by strengthening the intestinal barrier, as well as sending “healthy” signals to the rest of the body. They may also have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, and they help destroy any bad microbes trying to wreak havoc on your body. (15, 17, 18)
We can now target the improved health that we want.
For the first time in history, we know how to fine-tune our gut microbes to promote health. By supporting a healthy gut microbiome we can help strengthen digestion, prevent disease, and lose weight. (10, 12)
The Big Picture
So what exactly do we want our gut to look like?
We want a strong and diverse population of good bacteria that is always working on our behalf to maintain health. We want these bacteria to always be fighting for us, always keeping the bad bacteria at bay. This is what we would call homeostasis. (1, 19)
What do we not want to see in our gut?
Dysbiosis. This is a term that means the balance of power in the gut is teetering on the edge. The bad bacteria are winning battles and the good guys are feeling weak. When this situation arises, it causes inflammation — which is the precursor to many health problems and ultimately, disease. (20)
How A Healthy, Balanced Gut Microbiome Impacts Health
Since the gut microbiome is a Swiss Army Knife in the way it affects so many bodily functions, it impacts health in significant ways.
Some of the key markers of a highly functioning gut microbiome include:
Yes, your heart health begins in your gut.
The healthier the gut microbiome, the better your digestive health, according to research.
Science is uncovering parallels between certain species of gut bacteria and digestive diseases like celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and colorectal cancer, as well as other markers of poor gut health including leaky gut. (2, 8, 11)
One of the important functions of a healthy gut microbiome is metabolic regulation.
Your gut bacteria help control blood sugar, and can also help prevent diabetes, pre-diabetes, and obesity. In one recent study, researchers were even able to profile bacteria that regulate blood glucose levels. (10)
Prebiotic Fiber, Resistant Starch and Real Food
So, how exactly do we effectively target the gut microbiome for the best healthy results?
We can through:
- ✅ consuming specific foods and nutrients, including prebiotics and well-researched strains of probiotics
- ✅ getting enough sleep
- ✅ exercising regularly
But the clinically proven, long-lasting approach to a healthy gut?
Prebiotics are a type of carbohydrate that feed the good bacteria and ferment in the gut. (21)
And there is one specific type of super-powered prebiotic fiber that we’ll focus on here, namely, resistant starch.
Resistant starch can’t be digested, so it moves through the digestive system down to the colon in a state that’s ready for the gut to feast on.
This is where the magic starts to happen. After the good guys eat resistant starch, they produce SCFAs like butyrate and these short-chain fatty acids, in turn, create improvements in health. (15, 22)
Some of the benefits that have been observed in those who eat resistant starch are:
- Blood sugar regulation (23)
- Weight control (24)
- Better digestive function (28)
- Reduced inflammation (25)
Some of the most common foods that contain resistant starch are:
- Green bananas and raw plantains 🍌
- Cooked and cooled white rice 🍚
- Raw potato starch 🥔
Resistant starches help keep you feeling full (26) — and as an added benefit for anyone looking to control their carbohydrate intake — they don’t affect your carb count since they can’t be digested! (27)
Always carry your Swiss Army Knife
Ever been out and about and needed a tool but didn’t have it with you?
It’s so frustrating to own what you need but not have access to it when you really need it.
Which is why you have to focus on keeping your gut microbiome at its strongest at all times.
Gut health isn’t a one-and-done scenario — you’ve got to keep feeding the good bacteria the right foods to keep them healthy and happy. That way, they’ll always be there when you need them most.