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Journey Around Your Gut Microbiota

drawing of gut with small plates of different types of food

Why is the health of your gut microbiota important, and how can you maintain balance?

Why, you ask? Well, it's become increasingly clear in recent years that there's a significant connection between the types, quantity, ratio of microorganisms in our intestines and the functioning of our bodies, both physically and mentally. It's a mutually beneficial relationship, but it comes with its conditions.


Here's the good news: You're never alone, even when you might feel lonely. Inside and on your body, millions of tiny creatures are watching your every move. Your relationship with them starts at birth and influences everything from what you eat to what you crave, and even how you feel. It might sound intense, and in some ways, it is. On the flip side, it's a true team effort. When everything goes well, the close connection with the billions of microorganisms in our skin and intestines is a real win-win game. Of course, maintaining this requires effort, and not everything is under your control.


💡 Approximately 10,000,000,000,000 (that's 10^13) microorganisms, weighing around 1.5-2 kilograms, live on our skin, in our oral cavity, and in our digestive tract.


What is Gut Microbiota?

Gut microbiota refers to the collection of microorganisms in the colon, specifically the bacteria and other microorganisms on the intestinal mucosa. The type, quantity, and ratio of microorganisms in your intestines have a direct impact on digestion, immune system function, and overall health and well-being. They play a crucial role in the digestive process, breaking down and absorbing nutrients, and defending against harmful (pathogenic) microorganisms.


What's What?

The microbiome refers to the genetic information communicated by the microbiota, in other words, the microorganisms that populate the digestive system. The microbiota, on the other hand, is the collective name for the various microorganisms living in harmony with our bodies.


The composition of our gut microbiota is the result of various factors, including genetics, mode of childbirth (vaginal birth is generally more favorable in this regard, though there are situations where a C-section is life-saving and the right choice), breastfeeding, diet (we'll talk more about this), environmental influences, current illnesses, and any medications received for them.


Just like our fingerprints, everyone's microbiome is unique, but its composition is not constant—it constantly changes. This is why you need to pay continuous attention to it.


drawing of intestines with cartoon bacterias around it

How Does Gut Microbiota Affect Your Health?

Gut microbiota participates in the breakdown of fibers and other complex carbohydrates that the human body cannot digest on its own. This process results in short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and other beneficial substances, contributing to the health of the intestinal wall, digestion, and overall health maintenance.


A healthy gut microbiota supports the proper functioning of the immune system and provides defense against harmful microorganisms. So, in winter, it's not enough to protect yourself from the cold with scarves, hats, and gloves; you also need to internally guard against infections.


You've probably heard a lot about the "gut-brain axis" lately. One crucial aspect of this is that the condition of the gut microbiota can influence mental health. Compounds produced in the gut can directly affect brain function and, consequently, your mood. Balancing your gut microbiota can play a role in managing conditions like depression and anxiety. This emphasizes the importance of maintaining the balance of your gut microbiota for both your physical and mental well-being. It's not just about paying attention to a fiber-rich, balanced diet to avoid physical illness but also to feel mentally and emotionally "okay." With so many things beyond your control, what you eat, drink is largely within your power.


Now, onto the most exciting part: a healthy gut microbiota can help maintain or achieve a healthy body weight and optimal metabolism. In simpler terms, if everything is in order inside, it's easier to reach and maintain your ideal shape (which may not necessarily align with the standards portrayed on social media). Of course, happiness is not solely about the number on the scale, but the negative effects of overweight and obesity need no further emphasis.


food which are good for microbiota: legumes, fruits, vegetables, etc

What Can You Do for Your Gut Microbiota Balance?

Now that you're curious about what you can do for your gut microbiota, let's discuss how to pamper, care for, and protect it.


1. Eat properly! Consuming fiber-rich vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and foods rich in pro- and prebiotics can help support the health of your gut microbiota.

  • What are probiotics? These are live microorganisms, beneficial bacteria, that can contribute to maintaining the balance of gut microbiota. Examples include live-culture yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables (kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut).

  • What are prebiotics? These are substances (mostly fibers) that serve as food for beneficial bacteria (probiotics), promoting their growth and reproduction in the colon. Examples include Jerusalem artichoke, onions, legumes, millet, oats, whole wheat, green leafy vegetables, blackberries, and bananas.


2. Use antibiotics wisely! Antibiotics, especially broad-spectrum antibiotics, can harm and eliminate not only harmful but also favorable microorganisms. Only take antibiotics if recommended by your doctor, and follow the dosage instructions. Do not stop taking the medication halfway; complete the course to avoid inadequate healing and the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.


3. Find the right stress management method for you! Chronic stress can have negative effects on gut microbiota. Various relaxation methods and stress-reducing activities can help maintain balance.


4. Rest and sleep enough! Both the quantity and quality of sleep matter!


salad with brewer's grain on top on a blue plate on wooden table



As you can see, everything is interconnected. Your gloomy mood might be an indication that you haven't eaten well, and the balance of your gut flora is disrupted.


In the next part, we'll delve into how fibers influence the health of gut microbiota.


In the meantime, read the first part of the series: What's the Buzz About Fiber?







 

Judit Schmidt is a dietitian, health educator, and workplace well-being program manager. She engages in prevention, education, and background work related to health, well-being, and nutrition. Through article writing, blogging, editing, proofreading, and creating professional texts, she conveys knowledge on nutrition, health, and well-being. Additionally, she conducts informative presentations for companies and schools, with a focus on disease prevention and creating a balanced, sustainable diet. Her motto is "the sunny side of food." Judit presents her profession and works in a personal, occasionally humorous style on various social media platforms under the name Youteefool.

 

Her website: www.schmidtjudit.hu

Facebook: Youteefool

Instagram: Youteefool




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