Simply put, our microbiome is the unique ecosystem of trillions of microbes that include bacteria (both healthy and harmful), fungi, parasites and viruses that inhabit our intestinal lining and colon. Our microbiome is determined first by our DNA, and we are exposed at birth when we make our way through our mother’s birth canal and then again through her breast milk (1). As we grow and develop, many factors such as our diet, genetics and environment shape our individual microbiome.

Our microbiome plays several roles within our body. The microbes are active, not passive in their relationship with their host (aka YOU!) (2). The gut microbiota plays a regulatory role in anxiety, mood, cognition, and pain which is exerted via the gut-brain axis (2). Yes, you read that right! The state of your microbiome plays a huge role in the state of your mental health. The healthy bacteria in your gut actually produce the neurotransmitters that are needed to maintain a stable mood (2). Important neurotransmitters GABA, Serotonin and Dopamine are all produced by our gut bacteria and play a vital role in regulating our mood. Furthermore, emerging research in the microbiome field is pointing to evidence that the brain is arguably the most susceptible organ to be affected by an imbalanced gut (2).

This is mind-blowing information for those suffering from anxiety, depression, brain fog etc. Somewhere along the line in my Holistic Nutrition training, I heard the quote “where there are gut issues-there are mental health issues” and this emerging research certainly speaks to that. Now I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw in the disclaimer that of course not everyone suffering from mental health issues is also suffering from dysbiosis, but I think it’s worthwhile for all of us to examine the state of our microbiome because of its far-reaching effects on both our physical and mental health.

Let’s look at a few more areas that our microbiome affects:
1. Our digestive health.
When the harmful bacteria in our gut begins to outweigh the helpful bacteria, we reach a state of imbalance called dysbiosis. Eventually, our small intestine has a much more difficult time breaking down and absorbing the food that we consume which can lead to constipation. In other cases, the gut lining becomes extremely irritated and inflamed which can lead to diarrhea. As the microbes attempt to break down the food matter in our gut, they produce the byproducts, methane and hydrogen. When dysbiosis is present, this process ramps up and overproduces these gases, which leaves us feeling bloated and gassy. In more extreme cases, when dysbiosis is severe enough or goes unchecked for a long period of time, researchers have linked it with conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Inflammatory bowel disease (3).

2. Our Immune System
In recent years, immunological research has evolved from a lymphoid tissue-centric view, to the understanding of our microenvironments as a determinant of our immune response (4). Simply put, we used to think that our immune health revolved around our Lymphatic System but new research points to the microbiome as being JUST AS IMPORTANT to our immune response. When operating optimally, the immune system and microorganisms contained within it interweave the innate and adaptive immune responses in a dialogue that selects the appropriate response to invasion. (3). When the microbiome is compromised or in a state of imbalance, it is unable to mount the appropriate response to threats such as bacteria & viruses which results in us getting sick. In more severe cases, emerging research draws a possible connection between a long term dysbiotic state and the progression of autoimmune diseases (5).

3. Our Food-Allergy response
Is it just me or have you also noticed the increasing rate of allergies (food and otherwise) among friends, family, and colleagues? The incidence of both food allergies and allergic diseases has increased dramatically over the last fifty years, particularly in developed countries (6). This 50-year time period has seen vast improvements in sanitation, increased antibiotic use and stark dietary changes which are all lifestyle factors that have the ability to alter our microbiome (6). Throughout my education in Holistic Nutrition, there were many times that we discussed the “Hygiene Hypothesis”. This hypothesis implies that children with older siblings and children living on a farm or in a rural area have a much lower rate of allergy diagnosis. And the reason for this? Because they were exposed to more microbiota in their environment at a young age which allowed for their microbiome to adapt and adjust accordingly! It can also be noted that children growing up in rural settings have less exposure to things like hand sanitizer and antibiotics, both of which are associated with a weak microbiome. As referenced previously in this article, our digestive health is dependent on the state of our microbiome. Therefore, it is easy to draw the correlation between a weak microbiome resulting in poor digestion of our food, a subsequent inflammatory response in our gut and an ensuing allergic response.

I hope that this sheds some light on the many reasons it is SO important to consider your gut health. I’ve touched on just 3 or 4 of the symptoms associated with an imbalanced microbiome, but the list is lengthy! If you find yourself with any of the above symptoms/issues and you would like to figure out if your microbiome is in optimal working order, let’s chat! I would love to discuss how we can get rebalance your gut bugs and get you back to feeling like your best self!

2. Mohajeri MH, Brummer RJM, Rastall RA, et al. The role of the microbiome for human health: from basic science to clinical applications. Eur J Nutr. 2018;57(Suppl 1):1-14. doi:10.1007/s00394-018-1703-4
3. Tamboli CP, Neut C, Desreumaux P, Colombel JF. Dysbiosis in inflammatory bowel disease. Gut. 2004;53(1):1-4. doi:10.1136/gut.53.1.1
4. Belkaid Y, Hand TW. Role of the microbiota in immunity and inflammation. Cell. 2014;157(1):121-141. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2014.03.011
5. Xu H, Liu M, Cao J, et al. The Dynamic Interplay between the Gut Microbiota and Autoimmune Diseases. J Immunol Res. 2019;2019:7546047. Published 2019 Oct 27. doi:10.1155/2019/7546047
6. Plunkett CH, Nagler CR. The Influence of the Microbiome on Allergic Sensitization to Food. Immunol. 2017;198(2):581-589. doi:10.4049/jimmunol.1601266

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