Get to know your gut microbiota
What is your microbiota?
Your gut microbiota is the name given to all the microorganisms or microbes in your gut, for example, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Your microbiome is the genes of these microorganisms.
Every single one of us has our own unique microbiota. You received your first microbes when you were born, depending on whether your mother had a vaginal or cesarean delivery, either through your mother’s vaginal canal or your mother’s skin.
You are constantly coming into contact with different microbes from other people, plants, water, food, and pets throughout your life. A proportion of the microbes that enter your digestive system will survive and live in your gut, forming your microbiota. Each one of us has over 100 trillion microbes in our gut and the combination is different for every individual. The average person’s microbiota weighs 200g, the same as half a pint of milk.
If you find it difficult to imagine microbes living in your gut, it might help you to think of your microbiota as a garden. You aim to cultivate a garden with lots of different plants and flowers growing rather than a plain lawn. You are aiming for diversity which is one of the key measures of your gut health.
Why is your microbiota important?
The microorganisms in your gut provide many positive effects on your health. They aid the production of vitamins, help to regulate hormones, support your immune system and benefit your body in many more ways.
Your microbiota is strongly believed to influence your mental health as well as your physical health. Serotonin plays an important role in your mental health and more than 90% of your serotonin is located in the gut.
How can you improve your gut microbiota?
Your main focus should be on improving the diversity of your gut microbiota, which is achieved through your diet. Your diet provides the fuel for your microbiota, and microbes like to feed on “prebiotic” foods which are special fibres from plants. Good examples of prebiotics include legumes (chickpeas, kidney beans, green peas, lentils), artichokes, garlic, onions, and chicory but there are many more.
We often hear about probiotics and how they support gut health and it is important not to confuse your prebiotics with your probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial good bacteria that feed your gut microbes. Thinking again about your microbiota as a garden, probiotics are the seed and prebiotics are the fertilizer. Probiotics can be found in foods such as kefir, kombucha and kimchi but can also be taken in capsule form.
There are other issues aside from diet that affects your gut microbiota including medicines, especially antibiotics, exercise, alcohol, and stress. Regular exercise will help to improve the diversity of your microbiota.
As more research takes place our understanding of the gut microbiota will increase but all the current evidence suggests that if you follow a diet rich in prebiotics and probiotics and take regular exercise you will benefit from improvements to your physical and mental wellbeing.