What Is The Gut Microbiome And How Does It Affect Your Health?

If you've been scrolling for health and wellness content in the last couple of years, you've likely heard of the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is made up of the trillions of microorganisms that reside in our gut, and scientists have been speculating for years that a healthy gut microbiome could be the key to a healthy body and mind in general. The gut has a major impact on our overall health, and can be influenced by a huge range of things, from how we eat and exercise to how we handle stress (via Nature).

The microorganisms that can be found in the gut aren't just bacteria: They are present, of course, but it also contains fungi, parasites, and viruses. Probiotics, foods or supplements containing these microorganisms, have become more popular in recent years as people try to optimize healthy gut bacteria and decrease the amount of unhelpful gut microorganisms. Prebiotics—foods that feed the good microorganisms—have also become more popular (via Harvard).

The gut microbiome can weigh up to two kilograms, and the more diverse the microbiome is, the better health a person is likely to have. From our genetic makeup to the air we breath to what we eat, our microbiome is unique and constantly being shaped and reshaped by our current lifestyle (via Medical News Today).

What does the gut microbiome do?

Because it exists in our gut, you might think that the gut microbiome is only related to how we digest certain foods, and struggle with others. But the gut microbiome doesn't just control digestion: It can also boost the immune system as well as your brain health. An unhealthy microbiome can lead to problems with digestion, stomach issues, and a decrease in general health (via Healthline).

Depending on what bacteria are regularly residing in large quantities in your gut, you may be at higher risk of type 2 diabetes or heart disease if you have certain bacteria that negatively affect your metabolism. You may also have certain bacteria that lead to inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis — or you may have a better array of bacteria that protect you from that disease (via WebMD).

How can you optimize your gut microbiome? Start with diet. "If you want to foster 'good guy' bacteria over 'bad guy' bacteria, research evidence demonstrates the best way is to exercise and eat a diet that has the appropriate dietary fiber, unsaturated fat and low sugar, which will encourage the growth of those particular species of bacteria," Bruce R. Stevens, a professor of physiology and functional genomics, told the American Heart Association.