You may not know it, but some of your best friends are germs. There are over 100 trillion bacteria, fungi, archaea and viruses colonizing your gut right now. They’ve formed a cozy community, known as your gut microbiome, that’s quietly working on your behalf to aid digestion, fight off infection, and keep you healthy.
When things go wrong
Most of these microscopic guests are harmless, but every now and then certain strains can become unruly by growing too populous in number. This leads to an imbalance in gut flora, which can not only trigger a flare up of GI symptoms, but may also contribute to digestive conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. And it doesn’t stop at gut health. From obesity to anxiety and even chronic fatigue, researchers are finding a plethora of conditions linked to the gut microbiome.
So, what can you do keep a balanced microbiome?
Studies show 3 key factors help shape and maintain harmony in the human microbiome: (1) genetics (2) medication and (3) diet. We can’t do much about the first factor; genes are pretty much up to chance. And depending on health conditions, we may not be able to do much about the second. But we can do something about the third. Diet is the only thing we have 100% control over.
According to this article in the BMJ medical journal, the following habits help support a balanced microbiome:
- Eating a range of fibers. This is probably the best way to maintain a healthy population of gut bacteria. A nice variety of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains is key.
- Consuming prebiotics and probiotics. Species like lactobacillus (commonly found in yogurt) and bifidobacterium (commonly found in kefir, kombucha, and yogurt) are thought to help gut-friendly microbes thrive. However, the jury is still out on how effective probiotics are at interacting with our own gut flora.
- Avoiding sugar substitutes. In animal studies, sugar substitutes like sucralose, aspartame, and saccharin have been shown to negatively impact gut microbiome, disrupting balance and bacterial diversity.
Does it really work?
Yes! Changes to the gut microbiome can happen after just a few days of changing diet. In one study, after just five days of switching from animal-based proteins to a plant-based diet, major improvements in the microbiome were found.
It is possible to keep your gut happy and healthy. By feeding it what it needs and cutting back on ingredients that contribute to bacterial imbalance, you can ensure the microscopic critters in your GI tract have what they need to thrive. The tips above are a good place to start, but there’s plenty more you can do. Getting a good amount of sleep, exercising, and practicing stress reduction techniques like yoga and meditation are also related to better gut health. And here’s the best news: Every little bit helps. Start small and build on it.
About Vivante Health
Vivante Health is an innovative digital healthcare company reinventing the way chronic conditions are managed, starting with digestive disease. Our all-in-one digital gut health program, GIThrive, empowers people—through brilliant technology, advanced science, and on-demand expert support—to improve digestive health, while lowering cost of care. Learn how employers and health plans are saving money with GIThrive.
GutCheck: Let’s see what you’re made of…™
In 2019, Vivante Health added GutCheck, the at-home microbiome test kit, to our GIThrive all-in-one digestive health program. Research shows bacterial diversity in the gut is linked to better health and symptom control. But everyone’s gut ecology is different—there’s no one-size-fits-all fix. Achieving a balanced microbiome requires a personalizedapproach, and the first step is a microbiome analysis.
GutCheck results are simple, relatable, and easy to understand. We compare results to healthy averages and give members simple, actionable tips for improvement. GutCheck is an illustration of Vivante Health’s innovative approach to health and wellness.