By: Juliana Garcia, Microbiologist & Vivante Health Microbiome Director
In our last blog post, we talked about the gut microbiome. We learned what it is, where it’s located, why it’s important, and (perhaps most interestingly) that the goal for overall health is a vast array of beneficial bacteria AND a small number of potentially harmful bacterial species that our bodies use for “training” purposes. This keeps our immune system from getting lazy or bored, targeting beneficial bacteria or, even worse, our own cells, as seen in autoimmune disorders.
So, let’s pick up where we left off…
What happens when the proportion of harmful vs beneficial bacteria is out of whack?
A microbiome that has both beneficial and harmful species provides stability. If a group gets weak for any reason then there are others to cover some of their functions. Think of a Jenga tower. If a few pieces are lost here and there, the tower can still stand. However, if too many pieces are lost in the same space, the whole thing comes crashing down. The same idea holds for the gut microbiome. Any shift from stability is referred to as dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis is often what we find with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s. It’s not one harmful culprit, but many missing key groups, which allows more aggressive bacteria to sneak in. And these aggressive bacteria can get greedy! They release toxins that change the environment to suit their own needs and can even feed on the gut lining, resulting in severe and constant gut inflammation.
What’s the right proportion of harmful to beneficial bacteria?
Research hasn’t identified an exact recipe. It seems to vary from person to person. For instance, the live bacteria responsible for the benefits of good-quality probiotics that work like a charm for you may find someone else’s gut too crowded or hostile and just pass right through.
What does appear evident is that the Western world is seeing more barren gut microbiomes than other parts of the world where physical activity and diets with higher fiber through whole fruits and veggies are more common.
The Barren Microbiome
Imagine that squishy rain forest gut we described in our last post compared to a typical suburban back yard.
Think not only of the plant growth difference but the difference in space, food, and available shelter to accommodate the species that inhabit both environments. The backyard is clearly much more limited than the rain forest. So what causes those of us in the West to end up with backyard guts instead of the lush, rain forest variety? Well, the barren microbiome can have a number of causes:
- a bug picked up from contaminated water or food
- over-prescribed or improperly used antibiotics
- restrictive dieting
- diets high in fat and sugar
- exposure to chemicals and pesticides
- saturation of antibacterial sanitizers and soaps in homes, schools and hospitals
- an accumulation of all of these things
The research is still ongoing, but regardless of the cause for a barren gut microbiome, we know there’s something we can do about it—adjust our diet!
Research shows diet plays a major role in our gut microbiome. For example, certain prebiotics and resistant starches have been shown to feed the good bacteria while decreasing sugar and eating protein and fats in the right proportions helps to keep the bad guys in check.
Read our post, The TLC Your Microbiome Needs, for more helpful tips on what you can eat and do to fuel your beneficial gut bacteria.
Remember, the Vivante Care Team is here for our members 24/7. Set up a chat with your dietitian to plan a personalized microbiome-enhancing nutrition plan tailored to your body.
About Vivante Health
Vivante Health is an innovative digital healthcare company reinventing the way chronic conditions are managed. Our mission is to fill the unmet needs of people living with chronic conditions that are invisible, neglected, or stigmatized, starting with digestive disease. Our health management ecosystem, GIThrive, empowers people—through brilliant technology and advanced science—to spend less time worrying about their digestive condition and more time living life.