by Dr. Will Cole
As a functional medicine practitioner, I talk a lot about gut health because this is a core focus of health and the place (according to Hippocrates) where all disease begins. And yet, it isn’t a glamorous subject. I’m often reminded that discussing bowel movements is not normal, when I ask my patients about them and get giggles, blushes and embarrassment as a response.
But the truth is, your microbiome – the trillions of bacteria in your gut and on your skin – can tell you a lot about your health, so it’s a subject worth talking about, and understanding. Gut health is also a huge area of active research right now, and the subject of some of the most cutting-edge discoveries happening in health care today.
What’s that you say? You’ve just got to know more about your gut? Sold! Here are nine mind-blowing facts you need to know about your microbiome, including what it is, what it does, and most importantly, how it directly relates to the state of your health right now:
1. Your microbiome is enormously vast.
Your microbiome is made up of approximately 100,000,000,000,000 (that’s 100 trillion) living microbes. One trillion dollar bills laid next to each other would extend from the earth to the sun and back with many miles left to spare. Do that 100 times and you start to get at least a rough idea of what’s living inside of you.
2. It’s immensely complex.
With hundreds of known diverse bacterial species and many more still unknown, the bacterial diversity of your microbiome is an important part of your health. The more diverse your microbiome, the better your health potential tends to be, and that diversity comes from exposure to the down-and-dirty world, including not just the foods we eat (and how clean they are) but the dirt we work in outside, the animals that we play with, and the very air we breathe. Even how and where you were born! All these things determine the richness and diversity of your gut garden.
3. You are more bacteria than human.
Your gut contains 100 trillion bacteria. Compare that to the 10 trillion human cells in your body, you are, in fact, 10 times more bacteria than human, if you are going by cell count! In addition, the genes of your microbiome bacteria outnumber your own by 100 to 1!
4. It’s the foundation of your health.
Many seemingly unrelated health problems are now being linked to underlying gut problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Read my previous article here for the full list of health problems associated with microbiome dysfunctions.
5. It holds the majority of your immune system.
If you find yourself feeling chronically sick and run down, be sure to check your microbiome health. A staggering 75 to 80 percent of your immune system is produced in your gut! It’s no wonder that many immune issues, including autoimmune diseases, may be linked to hidden gastrointestinal problems.
6. It influences many aspects of your health.
You may now be thinking, “I don’t have bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or IBS, so this doesn’t apply to me.” But you don’t have to have gut symptoms to have gut problems. The majority of underlying gut problems don’t have noticeable GI symptoms, but show themselves through systemic effects that manifest in other parts of your body.
Three gut problems that can be asymptomatic in the gut but affect your health elsewhere are:
7. It is your second brain.
An amazing 95 percent of your happy neurotransmitter serotonin is made and stored in your gut! For this and for the reason that the gut and brain are directly connected through the vagus nerve, medical literature actually refers to the gut as the “second brain.”
This gut-brain axis connection is something we look at very closely in functional medicine. For example, anxiety and depression have been linked to lower levels of Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum bacterial strains in the gut. It always amazes me what bacterial and yeast problems I find in the lab results of patients not coming in for gut problems but for brain problems like depression, anxiety, and brain fog. To have a healthy brain, you need a healthy gut.
8. It affects your weight.
I’ve talked to countless patients who have struggled with weight gain since they were little kids. Now, some research suggests that the gut might be the missing link to chronic weight-loss resistance.
One study published in the scientific journal Nature found that weight gain was associated with bacterial imbalances, specifically higher amounts of the bacteria Firmicutes. Another 2015 study found that adults with metabolic syndrome who took a probiotic supplement showed improvements in their triglyceride levels and other risk factors for heart disease.
9. Your diet can influence your microbiome.
A recent study found that polyphenols from foods such as blueberries, coffee, and extra-virgin olive oil play a significant role in the prevention of degenerative diseases by improving your microbiome environment. This is the power you wield with your fork!
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.
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