Why is the gut microbiome so important to overall health?

Your gut is full of billions of different microbes and bacteria that keep your overall health in check. While the word may normally have a negative association in most people’s minds, the bacteria contained within your gut — known collectively as your gut’s microbiome — actually help maintain your health. In this guide, we are going to highlight exactly what your gut microbiome is, what it does for your body and why it is so important for sustaining your overall health and wellbeing.

What is the gut microbiome?

Your gut microbiome is located in your large and small intestines and contains all of the good microbes that your body needs, including certain bacteria, viruses, fungi and yeasts.

These all come from the various foods and drinks we consume on a daily basis, with any that survive the stomach acid moving into the intestinal tract and your gut’s microbiome.

Ideally, the healthier the gut microbiome is, the better you’ll feel. But factors like your diet, any medications you take and illnesses you pick up can all impact it in a negative way.

What does the gut microbiome do?

The gut microbiome offers many important functions within the human body. These often include:

  • Supporting your digestion and helping you absorb nutrients
  • Aiding the immune system and controlling how your body responds to an infection
  • Producing essential vitamins and metabolites (a substance that is made or used when your body breaks down food or tissues to help create energy)
  • Helping to maintain your gut barrier’s integrity

The importance of the gut microbiome

With so many important functions, it will come as no surprise to hear that your gut microbiome plays a significant role in your overall wellbeing.

One of the most important functions of your gut microbiome is its ability to support homeostasis in your body — a self-regulating process that allows you to maintain internal stability and ensure all the necessary systems in your body function as they should (regulating things like your temperature and blood sugar levels).

Put simply, without a healthy gut microbiome, achieving homeostasis can be a lot easier said than done.

For instance, there is a strong relationship between certain health conditions and an imbalance in your gut’s number of micro bacteria. This includes:

Sometimes, if your gut microbiome is unbalanced and damages the function of your immune system, it may even lead to autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and rheumatoid arthritis.

Since neurotransmitters are created in your gut, there is even thought to be a link between gut health and mental health. This is sometimes called the ‘gut-brain axis’. Research is still being carried out, but it is thought that an unbalanced microbiome may influence mood and mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

How does the gut microbiome affect your health?

Your gut microbiome can influence your overall health in a number of different ways.

One example of this is the impact it can have on maintaining your immune system. When working efficiently, your gut microbiome produces certain vitamins that work with your immune system to fight off infections. When there is an imbalance, your gut will be unable to produce these vitamins and, therefore, your immune system will be weakened.

Inflammation can also be impacted by the health of your gut microbiome. Some of the bacteria in your microbiome produce chemicals like lipopolysaccharide which can cause inflammation when they enter your blood.

Having a disrupted gut microbiome can lead to excessive inflammation — something that has been hugely associated with particular diets. A study published back in 2021, for example, found that people who ate more plant-based foods and fish had lower levels of the bacteria that can cause inflammation.

Your gut microbiome also communicates with your brain in many ways and is a key factor in the production and modulation of neurotransmitters. The main neurotransmitters that your gut microbiome produces include serotonin and dopamine — both of which are associated with mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

Weight gain and loss can be attributed to your gut microbiome too. In one study, researchers found that people who had more of a group of bacteria called Prevotella in their microbiome lost weight and body fat much more easily when consuming a calorie-restricted diet. It’s not fully understood why this is the case, but there is a strong suggestion amongst scientific experts that the microbiome plays an important role.

A healthy gut microbiome can also support your body when harvesting energy from food and ensuring that all the nutrients are absorbed. Therefore, if you have compromised gut health, you may experience more fatigue and lethargy than usual.

Signs of an unhealthy gut microbiome

If you are worried that you might have an unhealthy gut microbiome, there are some key signs that you can look out for. These can include:

  • Digestive problems such as bloating, diarrhoea and constipation or food intolerance
  • A weakened immune system — you may get ill frequently and take longer to recover
  • Heartburn or acid reflux
  • Problems with your mental health such as anxiety and depression
  • Skin conditions such as eczema and acne
  • Sleep disturbances and fatigue
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss

How to improve your gut microbiome

There are some great ways to improve your gut microbiome and optimise your overall health. Here are some of our top tips:

  • Eat a diverse, well-balanced diet that is rich in fibre
  • Incorporate probiotics and fermented foods into your diet — this creates a healthy mix of microbes in your gut and can help restore your microbiome’s balance
  • Reduce and manage your stress levels with relaxation techniques — stress can change the numbers and diversity of the bacteria in your microbiome
  • Avoid excessive use of antibiotics as this can cause some parts of your microbiome to decrease and others to overgrow, affecting your overall balance and leading to issues like antibiotic resistance

Your gut microbiome is essential for your overall health and any changes or disruption to it can have a huge impact on how you feel. However, there are a number of effective ways to enhance your gut microbiome and prioritise your overall health and wellbeing.

If you are experiencing health problems that could be related to your gut microbiome, get in touch with our expert team at OneWelbeck. We can help you get to the root cause of your symptoms and create a personalised treatment plan for you.