The Role of the Gut Microbiome

By Justine Friedman.

There is an ever-growing field of research emerging regarding the importance of our gut and general health. The human gut microbiome is made up of resident bacteria (microbes) that live in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). This microbiome plays a significant role in metabolism, nutrition, physiology, and immune function. The fine balance of this environment is therefore essential in avoiding the disease states that can arise as a result of imbalance, and mood disorders.

Factors such as stress, antibiotic use, poor diet, over consumption of alcohol, infection, disturbed sleep patterns, and certain co-morbidities can contribute to imbalance in the bacteria of the gut.

It was previously thought that these brain chemicals were solely produced in the brain, but research has now shown that 95% of serotonin production occurs in the gut. Dysbiosis of the gut microbiome leads to decreased serotonin production and the knock-on effect of lower mood, anxiety, and depression.

Gut bacteria feed off the food we eat so the first step, therefore, is making changes to our daily diet.

So how do we achieve balanced gut function to maintain optimal health? Here are some steps to support a healthy gut microbiome:

  • Increase your intake of fiber-rich foods: vegetables, fruits, and wholegrain carbohydrates.
  • Reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates.
  • Reduce intake of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory’s (NSAIDS).
  • Include fermented foods in your diet.
  • Take a probiotic supplement.
  • Reduce stress levels and include regular exercise in your lifestyle.
  • Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Reduce alcohol intake to less than 2 units a day.
  • Reduce processed and fast-food consumption.

Justine Friedman is a clinical dietician licensed in South Africa and Israel. Justine is managing the Belong Beating Cancer together group – Diet, Nutrition & Cancer

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