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Gut Microbiome 101 – What Is It & How Does It Shape Our Lives?

Recently featured "The Gut Health Coach" by Yahoo!, Chelsea Haines has a unique way of helping high-performers heal. She doesn't claim to know best. Her mission: to remind you that you are the expert on your body, only you know precisely what you need, and you are not "crazy" for feeling how you feel.

 
Executive Contributor Chelsea Haines

You are more microbe than you are human. Currently, trillions of microbes thrive in harmony, collectively forming your microbiome. This intricate network of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms exists primarily in our gut but extends its influence to nearly every part of our body, including our skin. As a Gut Health Coach, I've dedicated my career to the gut microbiome and how, when healed, it has the power to transform your life. Let’s go back to the root of it all with understanding what is the gut microbiome? Why has the health world been in such a microbiome craze since 2007? What can we do now that we know how important the microbiome is?


young woman making a heart shape with her hands around her belly button

Welcome to Gut Microbiome 101, where I'll explain the gut microbiome, its influences, and why you should never go a day (or a single meal) without thinking about it.

 

What is the microbiome?

The gut microbiome can sound quite scary, but what system seems to rule all systems? Let's simplify it:

 

The microbiome refers to the diverse array of microorganisms that inhabit the human body. The gut microbiome, in particular, is the most extensively studied and comprises a complex community of bacteria, viruses, yeast, and fungi that live in our gastrointestinal tract. The Human Microbiome Project in 2007 thrust the Microbiome into mainstream health news.

 

Work on the gut microbiome has remained so popular and convincing thanks to its ability to control or influence everything from our immune system to our moods and what we're craving.

 

What can the gut microbiome influence?


Mood and behavior

Gut microbes can communicate with the brain through the gut-brain axis, impacting mood, stress responses, and behavior. This fact is still one of the most surprising ones to students and clients of The Gut Health Agency, especially women who find it challenging to get through their day without dealing with some type of “outburst” or “hangry” that seems to take over their entire mood and day! (Don’t worry; this is an easy fix!)

 

Food cravings

As much as factors like upbringing influence food preferences, the microbiome can equally and often more powerfully influence food preferences and cravings. The microbiome produces neurotransmitters and metabolites that affect appetite and reward pathways.


Immune system function

Up to 80% of your immune system exists in your gut. That means that your gut health directly impacts your immune system function. Microbes play a crucial role in training and modulating the immune system, including influencing responses to pathogens and autoimmune conditions. We are living in a stressed-out world. Higher levels of stress equals more inflammation. Chronic inflammation can result in autoimmune diseases like lupus, Hashimoto's, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, and ulcers. If you've experienced any of these or know of someone who has, you'll know that this directly impacts the quality of your life. The atlas of the microbiome shows us just how interconnected and holistic our microbiome works with the rest of our body. The reminder here is the control we get to have over our health and well-being.

 

Metabolism and weight regulation

A tale of nature (genes), nurture (food and lifestyle), and the gut microbiome. Metabolism, energy balance, and your likelihood of being or becoming obese (linked to various lifestyle-related diseases) are all linked to your gut microbiome. The correlation between gut and weight is undeniable. It's so vital that labs and doctors are now implementing poop transplants. A poop transplant looks like taking the poop of a healthy person with a lower BMI and transplanting it into the gut of an obese individual. That alone highlights the power of the microbes living inside every one of us.

 

Inflammation, ADHD, and chronic disease

Research shows that dysbiosis (imbalance in the gut microbiome) has been linked to chronic inflammation and various diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that disturbances in gut flora can lead to the development of ADHD and/or Autism. Certain gut microbes can metabolize medications when treating disease, affecting drug efficacy and toxicity and potentially contributing to how different people respond to different drugs used.

 

Skin health

The skin is an outer representation of the inner lining of the gut. There is even a term known as the gut-skin axis (the communication between the gut and the skin). Imbalances in gut flora potentially contribute to skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis. Improving skin health can all directly impact these conditions.


Sleep patterns

Yup, your gut buddies are even affecting your sleep at night! A dysregulated microbiome is linked to poor sleep quality and poor sleep patterns (circadian rhythm). Falling short of even one night of rest shows you how vital quality sleep is to your overall health and happiness.

 

Neurological disorders, asthma & allergies

Research suggests a link between gut dysbiosis and neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and multiple sclerosis, underscoring the power of the microbiome in brain health. The microbiome's health starts from the days inside your mother's womb and what she chooses to eat. Your microbiome health is then intensely impacted by the birthing process. Vaginal birth allows for early exposure to diverse microbes, which in turn may help equip you with a robust immune system and regulate inflammatory responses (i.e., histamine response responsible for allergies).

 

Picking a partner

We indeed become who we hang out with. Not just in nurture but because we share a microbiome with those closest to us. Considering the list of factors your gut influences and that people go as far as poop transplants to improve their gut, it should be no surprise that it comes into play when choosing a partner. More than an accumulation of your five closest friends, your partner's gut microbiome will become yours, so choose wisely.

 

Some are more serious, and some are more fun. Still, these points show the multifaceted impact of the gut microbiome on various aspects of health and well-being, highlighting the interconnectedness of the body's systems. We can no longer deny that the body needs to be treated holistically—i.e., as a whole. The next question is ensuring we have the happiest and healthiest microbiome possible.

 

Controlling our fate, ways we can influence the gut microbiome

The name of the game for the microbiome is diversity. We want as many different types of good microbes as possible. We also want a lot of each kind, enough to tip the balance in favor of the good microbes reigning over the harmful ones. The excellent news for us is that we have so much power in the health and composition of our microbiome. Several factors can shape the composition and diversity of the microbiome, including:

 

Diet

What we eat directly impacts the health and diversity of our microbiome. Each time we open our mouths to eat, we get a chance to heal or harm our gut microbiome. Our dietary choices profoundly influence the types of microbes that thrive in our gut, as I mentioned earlier in our article on The Magic Plate Method. Diets rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and fermented foods promote a more diverse and balanced microbiome. Conversely, diets high in processed foods and saturated fats disrupt the balance.

 

Lifestyle

Stress, sleep patterns, exercise, and exposure to environmental toxins can impact the microbiome's composition and function. When choosing what to eat, it turns out that HOW we eat might be just as important as what we eat. Environment and having a clean home and space can be just as important as a clean gut for this holistic approach to gut health.


Medications

Antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), painkillers, and other medications can alter the microbiome by selectively killing off certain microbes or disrupting microbial communities. Taking a look at the ingredients of your medications and adding a functional approach (asking why you might be feeling something in the first place) before just popping a pill is a vital step here. Medications can be life-saving; the answer isn't always avoiding medications, but adding probiotics while taking those medications and continuing to treat root causes can create a holistic approach to healing for good – rather than just managing symptoms for life.

 

Genetics

While genetics play a role in determining an individual's susceptibility to certain diseases, they also influence the microbiome's composition to some extent. Gene testing has revolutionized how we can be treated. It's important to note that while genetics play a part, that role is far smaller than the role we have with daily lifestyle factors, diet, etc. It serves us to be informed, but only so that we can mitigate the risks that might come with those genetic factors through lifestyle and diet interventions.

 

Now that you know your daily choices yield more power than your genetics, let's conclude with five actionable ways to nurture a healthy gut.

 

Nurturing a healthy microbiome


1. Eat a balanced diet

 

Prioritize whole, unprocessed foods rich in fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics. Incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, grass-fed quality animal products, and fermented foods into your diet. We want to empower you and not overwhelm you. We originally released this for the holiday season, but The Magic Plate Method can be used at every meal and snack to make it more microbiome-supportive.

 

Stay active

Regular physical activity has been shown to positively influence the composition of the microbiome, so aim to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. As little as 10 minutes in the morning can be enough to change your state, get your lymphatic system flowing, and provide some of the benefits exercise has to offer.

 

Manage stress

Chronic stress can disrupt the balance of the microbiome, so practice stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or spending time in nature. While we recommend this, it isn't often practiced in today’s busy world. Schedule it and prioritize this time as much as you do your job.


Limit antibiotic use

While antibiotics are sometimes necessary to treat bacterial infections, they can also have unintended consequences on the microbiome. (They kill bacteria – both the bad AND the good!) Use antibiotics cautiously and only when prescribed by a healthcare professional. Your healthcare practitioner is your partner in health. Don't be afraid to ask for alternatives; if you take an antibiotic, take extra care to repopulate the gut with good microbes during and after use. Steps 1, 2, 3, and 5 of this article, plus a high-quality probiotic thrown in the mix, can massively help. You can also access my Free Post-Antibiotic Protocol by clicking here.

 

Get plenty of sleep

Prioritize good sleep hygiene (consistent bedtimes, no phones before bed type of hygiene) to support overall health and microbial balance. Having enough and aiming for quality is already a great place to start.

 

I know these "simple" aren't easy with the fast pace of life. I recently created a guide for high performers that might help make this feel more accessible. We can see the little guys (microbes) living inside us as allies or enemies. If you nurture and support these microbes, you'll set yourself up for optimized health, performance, and longevity. We can no longer ignore the research. Now, it's time for us to use that potential power and implement some of these steps!

 

If you are interested in seeking a genuinely holistic approach to gut health, using the gut-brain axis with trauma-informed coaching, book a Gut-Check call with one of TheGutHealthAgency.com experts today to see if what we offer is precisely what you’re looking for.


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info

 

Chelsea Haines, Gut Health Coach

Recently featured "The Gut Health Coach" by Yahoo!, Chelsea Haines has a unique way of helping high-performers heal. She doesn't claim to know best. Her mission: to remind you that YOU are the expert on your body, only you know precisely what you need, and you are not "crazy" for feeling how you feel. Her expertise stems from personally healing autoimmune disease paired with formal degrees in psychology, gut health, and mindfulness. She’s the Founder of The Gut Health Agency, where a team of health coaches & Registered Dietitians merge health coaching with clinical testing for increased patient compliance and lasting habit change ‒ a needle-moving combination not otherwise seen in the gut health space.

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