Keeping your microbiome happy for your physical, emotional and mental health

Do you know that you are a walking bacterial colony?  There are 100 trillion bacteria residing in and on your body. Your cells are outnumbered by the bacteria in the ratio of 1:10. Your microbiome collective genes are 100 times more than your own genes. These bacteria are everywhere on your body –  skin, gut, genital and other mucosal surfaces.

Are all bacteria harmful to health?

For a long time, bacteria were considered as harmful and responsible for all the major epidemics in the world. Indeed, there are bad bacteria just as there are good bacteria that are vital for your physical, emotional and mental health. The modern medical science is recently rising up to the beneficial impact of microbes on human health. Various studies have shown that microbiome helps in digestion of food, absorption of essential nutrients, protection of the body from pathogens, and production of serotonin. They also work in many other subtle ways to help you to fight diseases and restore balance in the body.

The more diverse the gut bacteria the better

The diversity of gut flora is vital for your health and is determined at the time of birth.  After spending nine months in the sterile environment of mother’s womb, your body particularly your gut starts getting colonized by the bacteria. Infants born through the birth canal are lucky as they get a coating of friendly microbes from their mother at birth. Breastfeeding further helps in the development of microbiome as bacteria travel through mother’s milk to the child’s gut. Children who are born through c –section and are also bottle-fed are doubly deprived of this opportunity of building a diverse microbiome and face a 25 percent increased risk of developing obesity, asthma, immune deficiencies and inflammatory bowel disease later in life. Also, an introduction of antibiotics early in life further weakens the diversity of microbes and it sometimes takes months to regain the same diversity of microbiome.

Food you eat determine your gut bacteria

The quality and composition of your gut microbiota are determined by the food you eat.  People with different food habits have different gut flora. Fermentable fiber-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and nuts increase the number of beneficial gut flora. On the other hand, a diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, red meat and processed foods cause an abundance of gut flora that is responsible for increasing inflammation in the body.  This means that food you eat determines the bacteria you grow in your gut and these bacteria, in turn, determine which gene to turn on or off. A disturbance in gut flora is associated with various diseases such as diarrhea, diabetes, obesity, atherosclerosis, colitis, Crohn’s disease, and even autism.

Gut bacteria and Mental Health

Further, your gut bacteria influence your mood and behavior. It is said to be your second brain. Your intestine is physically linked to your brain through the vagus nerve that sends signals in both directions. Your gut has around 100 million neurons and is capable of functioning independently of the brain. Ninety percent of the serotonin, a natural antidepressant is produced in the gut and only ten percent is produced in your brains. Serotonin plays an important role in regulating mood, appetite, and sleep. This means that microbes in your gut communicate with the brain and play a significant role in the formation of your emotional behaviors. The remedy for your bad mood, depression and mental health may actually lie in your digestion!

Gut Bacteria and Innate Immunity

Microbes are also central to your innate immunity. The intestinal microbiome is a signaling hub that integrates environmental inputs, such as diet, with genetic and immune signals to affect your metabolism, immunity, and response to infections. Many diseases are said to be linked to aberrations in the communication between the innate immune system and the gut microbiota.

Therefore, in order to lead a healthy life, you have to maintain a healthy and diverse microbiome. You need to eat not only for your palate but for the bacteria in your gut. Try and keep your bacteria happy with your food and lifestyle choices for therein lie the secret of your good health and longevity.