How can bacteria be helpful to our gut? There is such a thing as good bacteria, and they keep the digestive system healthy. Keep reading to find out more.
In this article:
- What Is the Microbiome?
- BIOHM’s Leading Research of the Microbiome and Mycobiome
- Common Bacterial Strains in the Gut Microbiome
- How Do You Know if Your Gut Is Normal?
- How to Improve Gut Health
Do You Have a Healthy Gut Microbiome?
What Is the Microbiome?
When someone talks about “the microbiome,” they’re likely referring to the microorganisms that live in our gut. In fact, the human body is home to a number of different microbiomes.
We find unique and important colonies in places like the mouth, vagina, skin, and lungs. In pregnant women, even the placenta has its own microbiome, expanding our understanding of how an infant’s microbiomes are formed.
The gut microbiome — the most “popular” biome of the moment — is a complex ecosystem of bacteria and fungi. Some of these microorganisms are critical for our health and survival, while others are pathogenic and cause issues.
Others are helpful in certain quantities but are opportunistic little buggers that can become pathogenic when given the chance to take hold.
I’m looking at you, Candida.
In order to keep the bad bacteria in the microbiome from developing into a disease or two, a balance must be established in your gut. Research on the human microbiome’s pathogens can help us understand what causes a disturbance within the digestive system.
BIOHM’s Leading Research of the Microbiome and Mycobiome
When I started researching microbiomes decades ago, I was looking primarily at bacteria. It wasn’t until 2010, when my team and I identified a native fungal community in the mouth, that we started to turn our attention to the fungus among us. (#dadjoke)
I coined this new frontier the “mycobiome” and began uncovering its role in our health and disease.
As an extension of my research, I also launched the BIOHM Gut Report, a gut mapping tool that shows people the contents of their gut and makes recommendations on how to better balance the microbiome for optimal health. It comes in a kit with detailed instructions.
Though it’s common for people to have different microbiotic makeups and still remain healthy, there are a few commonalities that we’ve witnessed at BIOHM as we’ve mapped thousands of client’s gut reports.
With the BIOHM Gut Report, we look at six main bacterial phyla — Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria, Fusobacteria, Euryarchaeota, and Verrucomicrobia — and one major fungal phylum, Ascomycota.
While there are many more strains, we’ve found studying these gives us the clearest picture of what’s going on in the gut and around the body.
Also included in the report are recommendations for your ideal diet, lifestyle changes, and supplements needed to improve gut flora.
Common Bacterial Strains in the Gut Microbiome
So, how can bacteria be helpful to the microbiome?
You may have heard about Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium, as they’re the most commonly added strains in commercial yogurt. Turns out, that’s for a good reason.
As part of the Firmicutes and Actinobacteria families, these two strains are heavy hitters that have very important jobs.
Lactobacillus is anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic. It also inhibits pathogenic bacteria by producing anti-microbial substances, while Bifidobacterium helps to improve the gut mucosal barrier (goodbye, leaky gut!) and increases anti-inflammatory processes.
What is leaky gut? This digestive condition is also called increased intestinal permeability and it allows toxins to leak into the body through a weakened intestinal wall.
When we see a low level of Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium in a report, there’s a good chance the person has some systemic inflammation going on. A low number of these strains also indicates low diversity in the gut, a significant finding, as a high level of diversity generally equates to better health.
In healthy guts, we also see a positive correlation between higher levels of Bacteroidetes in relation to lower levels of Firmicutes. High amounts of Firmicutes indicates obesity, while decreased levels of Bacteroidetes are associated with irritable bowel disease.
When Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes are challenged with antibiotics, the pathogen C. diff (a strain of Firmicutes) can take hold causing severe diarrhea and abdominal pain. Increased levels of C. diff also increase the risk of IBS and colorectal cancer.
Interestingly, Lactobacillus is also a strain of Firmicutes, which illustrates how “good” and “bad” can exist within the same phylum.
It really is all about balance.
One of the biggest red flags we see is a high level of Proteobacteria, including strains like E. coli. Elevated Proteobacteria levels are a sign of imbalance and a marker for gut dysbiosis and potential disease.
Unfortunately, we see a large number of people with high levels of Proteobacteria.
How Do You Know if Your Gut Is Normal?
Doing the BIOHM Gut Report helps in figuring out the microbial makeup of your gut. But you’ll still figure out if something’s wrong with your digestive system by a general ill feeling.
Even without getting your microbiome mapped, your body speaks to you in the language of symptoms, so tuning in to what it’s saying can give you clues to whether or not your gut bugs are living in harmony.
If you’re dealing with any type of regularly occurring abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, constipation, or smelly gas, that’s a warning sign that something is off. In a healthy gut, these things should happen infrequently.
Carrying excess weight, surgery, and pregnancy can also all mess with your microbiome, as can stress and lack of regular exercise. Your glucose levels, lactose tolerance, and cholesterol level affect the function of your gut microbes.
What you eat obviously plays a big role, too. Eating a traditional Western diet high in processed carbs and sugar and low in good fats and fiber contributes to an imbalance and paves the way for pathogenic strains to take hold.
How to Improve Gut Health
The good news is the fungal and bacterial species in our digestive system can be influenced to function better. Yet this can only happen if you are willing to change your lifestyle, diet, and exercise regime.
Overall, there are some general guidelines that nearly everyone can benefit from. To balance your gut microbiome:
- Stop smoking. Cigarettes contain chemicals and free radicals that may cause gastrointestinal inflammation, peptic ulcer, and other digestive diseases, as noted in a study.
- Eliminate artificial sweeteners. Opt for natural sweeteners instead like honey, agave, coconut sugar, or stevia, to name a few.
- Avoid antibiotics, except in the case of an emergency. Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria of all kinds, that means both good and bad bacteria are eliminated, disrupting the healthy gut balance.
- Increase your daily intake of plant-based foods. Eating food from plants not only provides you with natural fiber, but it also limits the intake of toxins and chemicals.
- Add a quality fish oil supplement. Omega-3 fatty acids help diversify the strains in your microbiome.
- Get good quality sleep. REM sleep helps the brain relax and heal the body.
- Incorporate movement and exercise at least three times a week. Exercise may offer relief to digestive issues and it also helps with overall health.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. Excess fat changes the microbiota in your gut, causing digestive problems and, in turn, your body’s immune response.
- Add a pre- and probiotic that includes both bacterial and fungal strains. BIOHM offers both prebiotic and probiotic supplements to promote a healthier microbiome and mycobiome.
- Eat naturally probiotic foods like fermented sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, natto, and yogurt. Fermented food gives you a lot of probiotics without the added chemicals that seem to be in every food source nowadays.
Learn this new first total approach to gut health from BIOHM Health:
At BIOHM, I continue to publish new research and am constantly learning more about the important roles the microbiome plays, including how it affects our mental health.
Today, we know that a diverse set of bacteria and fungi, in proportionate numbers to one another, is one of the best ways to stave off uncomfortable symptoms and chronic disease.
Do you want to know more about how bacteria can be helpful to your microbiome? Give us a shout out in the comments section below.
To find out what’s living in your gut microbiome, check out our Gut Report. When you send in a sample, our certified nutritionist will give you a set of customized recommendations to optimize and diversify your gut flora.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 22, 2018, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.