Our body is more than the cells and organs we typically think of; it is home to trillions of microscopic organisms, called microbes. Microbes live on and inside us. They’re on our skin and in our mouth, nasal passages and lungs. They’re also found throughout our digestive tract, which is commonly known as the gut. Those microbes that live in our gut form the gut microbiome. While different types of microbes make up the gut microbiome, the one that we know the most about is bacteria. People have known about bacteria for centuries. Historically, all bacteria were thought to be bad and something we needed to get rid of. Importantly, research has now shown that most of the bacteria in our gut are harmless, and many actually help support wellness.
Gut bacteria perform a variety of important functions in our bodies. For example, they help break down the food components the body can’t digest and produce important nutrients, like vitamins. They also help support immune system health/function. New and ongoing discoveries suggest that the gut microbiome may play a key role in supporting both respiratory and digestive health. Scientists are also investigating how the gut microbiome may affect energy, mood, sleep, and body weight.
Everyone has a unique gut microbiome. The composition is affected by many factors, including how we were born (naturally or by caesarean), whether we were breastfed, our lifestyle, where we live, our health status, age and the medications we take, like antibiotics. What we eat and drink is a key factor affecting our gut bacteria.
The pivotal role of the gut microbiome for health has raised questions about what is the optimal, or healthy, gut microbiome. Currently scientists don’t have all the answers; however, they do know it is important to maintain a diverse gut microbe community that works together to support health. Food can help support our gut microbiome, via fiber, probiotics, and prebiotics.
The overall gut microbiome community is relatively stable, though changes constantly occur. Much the same way that people move in and out of countries – while some residents might change, the culture of the country does not. External factors like diet, exercise, and sleep can influence and alter the composition of the microbiome on a daily basis.