The importance of the gut microbiome for health and wellbeing
Having chatted with many hundreds of guests who have come to our retreat in Spain from all over the world I have concluded that, if our digestive system is content, we are content!
We have known for a long time that diet is one of the most important factors in determining our health, but for a variety of reasons most doctors only turn to diet (or lifestyle) change as a last resort. The good news is that compelling research on the gut microbiome in recent years is forcing the health industry to reconsider. The use of anti-biotics and even the fundamentals of “germ theory” (the basic view that bacteria / viruses are “bad”) are having to be reviewed and re-written.
Some of the mechanisms of disease in the body (e.g. high cholesterol and heart conditions) are reasonably well understood and have led to drug-based interventions (more on this later). However, some chronic diseases (e.g. autoimmune diseases) are still not well understood. This is partly because many scientists have overlooked something crucial – the gut microbiome.
What is the gut microbiome?
There are hundreds of bacteria and other tiny micro-organisms that live in our intestinal tract and make up our “gut microbiome”. The gut microbiome is crucial in helping us to digest our food, but we now know that they are important in many other mechanisms in the body. For example, there are neuro-transmitters in the gut (produced by the bacteria) that communicate with the brain directly.
The food we chose to eat is a hugely important determinant of the makeup of our gut microbiome. As our emotional states determine much of our relationship with food, it is reasonable to suggest that the gut microbiome is also a key link between our psychology (mental health) and our physical health.
What do the scientific studies say?
Everyone’s gut microbiome is different and is as unique as a fingerprint. The landmark finding in recent years in this area is that the more diverse your gut microbiome is, the healthier you are.
Scientists now believe that our gut microbiome appears to influence many things – even our body type, our emotions, and potentially our personalities.
Having low biodiversity in the gut is linked to low levels of resilience to stress and inferior brain development for babies and young children. A diverse gut microbiome improves our immune system function and the mass and density of muscles and bones in the body.
Broad spectrum anti-biotics and many other drugs have a significant impact on the gut microbiome. Most broad-spectrum anti-biotics will wipe out the biodiversity in our gut, which – in addition to creating antibiotic resistance – is one reason why doctors have now reduced their widespread use. At La Crisalida we encourage the use of pre- and pro-biotics after medical intervention to help your gut microbiome to recover. Find out more about pre- and pro-biotics by exploring Lisa’s article here.
Some of the most remarkable findings have shown that “faecal transplants” (yes, it is what it sounds like!) from those with a diverse gut microbiome to those with an illness, can reverse the illness almost immediately! “Drugs” are also currently being tested and developed based upon selective microbes that can help us improve either our physical or mental space.
The importance of diet and lifestyle for a healthy gut microbiome
Although we are a long way from determining exactly how our diet affects our microbiome there is now no doubt that our diet has a huge influence on our gut microbiome and our associated health and wellbeing. See below for some of the most recent important scientific discoveries for our gut health.
- The amount of fibre in our diet is linked to microbes which produce chemicals (called butyrate) known to prevent cancer. People who eat lots of fruit and veggies (which contain lots of fibre) tend to produce more of this chemical. Those who have lots of meat in their diet do not.
- Meat-eaters also have high levels of bacteria which are associated with inflammation of the gut.
- Too much sugar has been associated with bacteria in the gut which negatively affect the brain and in particular memory function.
A diet high in a variety of fruit and veggies is associated directly with a more diverse gut microbiome. The good news is that those that switch to a higher fibre diet can change their microbiome with all the associated benefits almost immediately. Interestingly, for those who promote the Mediterranean diet red wine has been associated with a diverse gut microbiome too!
Our lifestyles also have been shown to shape the microbiome in our gut. Specific factors include whether you have pets (babies who grow up with pets tend to have a more diverse microbiome than those who do not), where you live, who you live with, how much exercise you do and even your hobbies!
Conclusion: prevention is better than cure
The gut microbiome is a hot topic in the scientific community today but the significance of a good and varied diet and lifestyle in promoting gut health cannot be ignored. We believe in the common sense approach that for health “prevention is better than a cure”.
At La Crisalida we provide an environment for you to reset the diversity of your body’s microbiome naturally through using diet and lifestyle. We provide you with a plant-based diet rich in variety and high in fibre together with a supportive exercise programme to help you boost your overall health and well-being. If you are interested in joining us drop us an email at info@lacrisalidaretreats or contact us via a booking form.
To your health and wellbeing.
About the author
- John is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. He is a life and success coach, Transformational Coach and a master trainer in NLP. He leads our life makeover programme as well as overseeing the retreats.
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