SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – There are prebiotics, probiotics, and gut microbiome. The health of our gut has been a hot topic lately, but what does it all mean?
Our health expert, Karen Owoc, is here to decipher these terms and tell us why our gut health affects our overall health.
What is Gut Microbiome?
Basically, gut microbiome is home to all the bacteria in your digestive tract. We have 10 times more microbial cells than human cells.
3 Key Functions of the Gut Microbiome
- PROTECTS against infection.
- STRENGTHENS the intestinal barrier.
- NOURISHES with nutrients, vitamins, and energy. The bacteria in your gut help break down food into nutrients and vitamins (produce B vitamins, vitamin K, fatty acids) that your body can use.
When Microbiome is Out of Balance:
You have good bacteria and bad bacteria in your gut and staying healthy means keeping them in balance – or in “equilibrium”.
The good bacteria help keep the bad bacteria from multiplying and going out of control.
When the microbiome is out of balance, this results in:
- Decrease in microbial diversity
- More pathogenic bacteria
- Greater risk of opportunistic infections
Too much of the bad bacteria can result in a “malfunctioning gut”, which is linked to:
- Inflammatory diseases
- Gastrointestinal disorders
Bacteria stop growing when they’re “not fed” (run out of food).
What Should You Feed Your Bacteria? (Probiotics vs Probiotics – What’s the Difference?)
Probiotics are good bacteria for your gut and found in food. They can help stay in equilibrium and may help strengthen the immune system (ease allergy symptoms) and improve gut health (ease irritable bowel syndrome).
Probiotic sources include:
- Foods with live bacterial cultures, i.e., lactobacillii and bifidobacteri (yogurt, kefir, and aged cheeses)
- Fermented plant foods, i.e., kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, kombucha, pickled vegetables (e.g., onions, gherkins)
Prebiotics boosts the growth of microbiota. Think of fiber. Foods most beneficial to gut microbiome are those that contain dietary fibers (a large class of non-digestible carbohydrates).
Prebiotics ferment (degrade) fiber.
Prebiotics are found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, such as:
- Bananas, onions, garlic, leeks
- Asparagus, artichokes, soybeans
TMAO – The Blood Biomarker for Heart Attack, Stroke, and Death Risk
TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide), a compound measurable in the blood, is formed when bacteria in the gut digest nutrients abundant in red meat, egg yolks, high-fat dairy, fish, poultry.
A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that elevated levels of TMAO:
- Increased risk of death by 63%
- Increased risk for a major cardiovascular event by 62%
Vegetarians have the lowest levels of TMAO with chronic meat-eaters having the highest levels.
Other studies have found links between TMAO levels and heart failure and chronic kidney disease (CKD).
What Influences Gut Microbiome?
You get your gut microbiome from your mother at birth, but it can be influenced by the food you eat and by your environment.
Diet plays a major role in keeping gut microbiota healthy (balanced).
- Birth mode
- Breast vs formula feeding
- Antibiotics – kill ALL microbes!!
- Diet and nutrition
- Exercise and physical activity
- Age – less diversity, starts to decline, less stable
The Takeaway: Feed your good gut bacteria by eliminating highly processed foods that are generally high in fat and/or sugar. Eat lots of nutrient-dense and fiber-dense foods for a healthy gut and thus, a healthy body.