What is the Gut Microbiome?

We all have a unique set of microbes in our “gut” (specifically our small and large intestines) which creates our own personal microbiome. Microbiomes are made up of trillions of invisible microorganisms like bacteria, fungi and viruses. Its make-up is largely determined by your health as a child. Your microbiome begins to form when you are exposed to microbes in the birth canal and through your mother’s breast milk.

As we grow older, our microbiome changes along with our environment, medications and diet. Environmental exposures that have a negative impact on microbiomes include air pollution, antimicrobials, chronic stress, diet, heavy metals, pesticides and pathogens. s

The Role of Pro and Prebiotics on Gut Health

Gut health featured imageProbiotics are good live bacteria and/or yeasts that are naturally found in the body. The main role of probiotics is to maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria versus bad bacteria which can help the body fight off infections and improve immunity. Probiotics can be consumed through supplementation and are found in certain foods. Probiotic supplements have shown to help treat and/or prevent various gastrointestinal issues and conditions, vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, and skin conditions like eczema. Probiotic and fermented foods include: yogurt, kefir, some cheeses, kimchi and sauerkraut. 

Prebiotics are compounds naturally found in certain carbohydrates that help to feed the healthy bacteria in the gut. The prebiotics serve as food for the probiotics and help stimulate growth and activity of these beneficial bacteria. This happens through a process called fermentation. Prebiotic containing foods include whole grains, legumes, tomatoes, bananas, onions, garlic, asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes. To keep a healthy balance of good bacteria, it is important to include both probiotic/fermented foods and prebiotic foods in the diet on a daily basis.

How Diet Affect Your Microbiome

Since many types of “good bacteria” like to eat specific types of fiber-filled foods, it’s recommended to eat a wide variety of plant-based foods. The different fibers in plants help keep your microbiome diverse. 

Higher fiber-filled vegetables and fruits such as spinach, broccoli, kale, squash, apples, bananas and berries will make your microbiome very happy. Other plant-based fiber sources including nuts and seeds also contain unsaturated fats, and these have been shown to be healthy for your microbiome as well.

Eating healthy animal proteins such as eggs, fish and chicken versus processed meats such as bacon, sausage, pepperoni also has a benefit.

Further Research

Despite the expansion of microbiome research over the last 15-20 years, researchers are hoping to learn more through large population studies. The relationship between bacterial strains, dietary patterns and the environment is very complex, and more research needs to be done.

HHHN - Improving Gut Health


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Hudson Headwaters Health Network

Hudson Headwaters Health Network is a nonprofit system of 21 community health centers providing primary care to more than 7,400 square miles of the Adirondack North Country and Glens Falls region. The network serves all of Warren County and parts of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Saratoga and Washington counties.