Payal Patel, PharmD, IFMCP
“All disease begins in the gut” – Hippocrates
Any platform aiming to support health would be incomplete without recognizing the immense significance of this quote by Hippocrates. As research continues to pour out of the vast realms of science, we continue to learn more profound information on the role of the digestive system as it forms the foundation of robust health. One aspect of gut health which continues to connect many pieces of the wellness puzzle is the evolving world of the microbiome. Our digestive tract houses a complex network of bacteria, fungi and other organisms which interact with the environment and each other to support the function of digestion…this is network of organisms is what you often hear referred to as the gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome influences many aspects of health and disease. An imbalanced microbiome, also known as dysbiosis, can contribute to conditions such as autoimmune diseases, hormone imbalances, mood disturbance, obesity, to name a few. One of the most obvious and direct impacts on the gut microbiome comes from the food we consume. A healthy, well-balanced diet which is suitable for your unique needs can be the cornerstone for nourishing a diverse and rich microbiome.
Functions of the Gut Microbiome
- Metabolism: The microbiome interacts with our digestive tract in numerous ways to support production of signaling chemicals like hormones and fatty acids. These signaling chemicals are involved in maintaining metabolic processes which resonate throughout the body and can lead to important biological outcomes.
- Immune system development: The lining of the digestive tract often forms the first line of defense in protecting the host and ensuring a regulated response to danger signals. A healthy microbiome allows the intestinal lining to perform its protective role by creating an environment where harmful invaders are removed, but also ensuring that healthy self-tissue is not attacked. It is a fine balance which can be altered in an unfavorable direction when a favorable microbial environment is disrupted.
- Gut-Brain Axis: The microbiome is involved in bidirectional communication with the brain to influence brain development and behavior. These impacts on mood and neurological effects occur through a combination of hormonal, physical and neurological pathways.
- Nutrient synthesis: The gut microbiome is key in shaping the biochemical profile of our diet. For example, nutrients such as some vitamin B and vitamin K are made as a result of metabolic activity of the gut microbiome.
- Genetic expression: The gut microbiome contributes to our metabolism by contributing enzymes which can not be encoded by our genetic material. This emphasizes the significance of maintaining a healthy microbiome to support optimal genetic expression and minimizing disease development over our lifespan.
So how do we actually maintain a diverse and beneficial microbial balance in our gut? The answer lies within our dietary choices. Numerous dietary factors contribute to supporting a rich gut microbiome. Some of the obvious choices include the need for balanced fiber (soluble and insoluble) and protein to supply building blocks for enzymatic processes. However, diving deeper into the research indicates the subtle and powerful role of polyphenols and phytonutrients in nourishing microbial robustness as well. We will be addressing these important aspects of nutrition in various posts throughout our journey into personalized nutrition.