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gut microbes basics blog

Gut Microbes & Your Health: The Basics

Your health depends on factors like diet, genetics and your lifestyle choices. But, an important driver of health actually comes from within your own body. Microbes lining the digestive system affect multiple aspects of our health, from obesity and regulation of the immune system to heart & mental health. 

THE BASICS:

Our gut is home for trillions of microbes, collectively known as the gut microbiota (GM), a population that has as many cells as those found in our body1and harbours 100 times more genes as our own genome2. More than 2,000 species of these microorganisms live in your digestive system, starting with your mouth and esophagus all the way down to the linings of your stomach, intestine and colon3. Most of them, however, are located in your large intestine4

The make-up of our gut microbiota is influenced by various factors. For instance, mothers pass on some of their own microorganisms to their offspring and your genome is also known to play a role. However, studies agree that one of most important factors influencing GM composition is diet -just like the old saying: you are what you eat5. As a result, every person has a unique GM – even twins have different gut microbiome compositions6.

Rather than a quiet inhabitant, gut microbes are linked to multiple bodily processes, including the development and function of the immune system, nutrient absorption, fat distribution and even neurological functions. From a health perspective, your gut microbiota can influence conditions such as obesity, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, allergies, neurological disorders and more.

How strong is the evidence?

Most studies show clear differences in GM composition between a healthy and a sick person or animal. For example, studies using mice or humans have found strong evidence linking an unhealthy GM with obesity and diabetes7-9.  These studies have even identified specific groups of bacteria associated with specific processes, such as weight loss, calorie absorption or cholesterol levels9. Beyond obesity and diabetes, GM have been linked to mental health, cardiovascular disease and inflammatory bowel disease, among other conditions. 

For mental health, for example, multiple studies support the existence of a so-called gut-brain axis, which creates a bi-directional communication pathway between the brain and gut microbes10. In a recent study, published in the journal Nature Microbiology, researchers studied a large number of patients, searching for correlations between gut microbes and depression11. They identified two groups of bacteria, Faecalibacterium and Coprococcus, which were abundant in patients enjoying a high quality of life and no depression. Likewise, the study found that Dialister and Coprococcus were depleted in patients suffering of depression. Furthermore, the authors identified specific chemicals produced by these bacteria that might be involved with the development of depression.

Implications for your health

Diet is an important factor affecting the composition of your gut microbiome, and evidence strongly suggests that an unhealthy gut flora can influence the development of different diseases. A hearty discussion with our team of health practitioners about your eating habits and other lifestyle choices will help identify risk factors that need to be addressed. We will also employ leading diagnostic tools to characterise the current health of your gut microbiome. With this information at hand, we will work with you to create a plan based on current research12that will help you obtain and maintain a healthy gut and a much improved health.

Further Reading:

  1. Are we really vastly outnumbered? Revisiting the ratio of bacterial to host cells in humans. Cell 2016;164:337‐340. Read it!
  2. A human gut microbial gene catalogue established by metagenomic sequencing. Nature 2010;464:59‐65. Read it!
  3. A comprehensive repertoire of prokaryotic species identified in human beings. The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 2015; 15(10), pp.1211-1219. Read it!
  4. Microbial ecology along the gastrointestinal tract. Microbes and environments. 2017; p.ME17017. Read it!
  5. The composition of the gut microbiota throughout life, with an emphasis on early life. Microbial ecology in health and disease. 2015; 26(1), p.26050. Read it!
  6. Gut microbiota from twins discordant for obesity modulate metabolism in mice. Science. 2013; 341(6150):1241214. doi:10.1126/science.1241214. Read it!
  7. An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest. Nature. 2006; 444(7122), p.1027. Read it!
  8. Transfer of intestinal microbiota from lean donors increases insulin sensitivity in individuals with metabolic syndrome. 2012; Gastroenterology, 143(4), pp.913-916. Read it!
  9. Gut microbiome and its role in obesity and insulin resistance. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2019; Read it!
  10. The microbiome-gut-brain axis in health and disease. Gastroenterology Clinics. 2017; 46(1), pp.77-89. Read it!
  11. The neuroactive potential of the human gut microbiota in quality of life and depression. 2019; Nature microbiology, p.1. Read it!
  12. Transforming medicine with the microbiome. Science translational medicine. 2019; 11(477), p.eaaw1815. Read it!