Long Island Registered Dietitian Explains a HEALTHY MICROBIOME
As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I work with many individuals who have digestive/gastrointestinal symptoms and disease (example include but are not limited to abnormal bowel movements (diarrhea and/or constipation), abdominal discomfort, IBS, inflammatory bowel disease, gas, and/or bloating). Others I see have inflammatory or autoimmune diagnoses. It is important to understand the relationship between our microbiome and these diseases.
Often referred to as the “forgotten organ,” the human gut microbiome and its metabolites dramatically impact human health and disease, this fascinating world of microbes that live inside the human gastrointestinal tract, with the majority residing in the colon, weighs between 1 kg to 2 kg and includes trillions of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other organisms that impact the immune system, inflammation, digestion, and more.
Like a fingerprint, intestinal microbial composition differs from individual to individual, and there are many factors that influence the composition, such as age, stress, intestinal infections, poor hygiene, alcohol, medications, antibiotics, probiotics, smoking, breast-feeding, vaginal delivery versus cesarean section, and diet.
Role of the Gut Microbiome in Health Promotion
The gut microbiome carries out a variety of functions, as follows:
- It influences the development and maintenance of the immune system
- It digests dietary fiber to produce protective metabolites for the colon
- It influences serotonin levels
- It competes with pathogenic and opportunistic microbes, maintaining the integrity of the intestinal epithelial barrier
- It exerts anti-inflammatory activity
- It creates an unlivable environment for pathogens
- It detoxifies drug and other environmental metabolites
- It synthesizes essential vitamins, such as biotin, folate, and vitamin K2
By performing all these functions, the gut microbiome and its metabolites have been linked to protection from various diseases, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, autism, neuropsychiatric disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, and most if not all autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease. Changes to the development or composition of the gut microbiome directly affect the immune system and may be a driving factor in almost every chronic inflammatory disease. This condition is known as dysbiosis.
Though scientists have not identified a “normal” or “ideal” gut microbiome, experts agree that a diverse gut microbiome is essential. Dietary factors strongly influence the composition and diversity of the gut microbiome. Researchers suggest that in contrast to the “Western diet” that is dominant in saturated fat, sugar, and animal protein, eating fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods promote microbial diversity and result in a multitude of improved health outcomes.
A healthy microbiome is highly dependent upon what we eat. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I work with patients to improve their health outcomes for chronic illnesses, digestive disorders, chronic inflammatory conditions, and autoimmune diseases through medical nutrition therapy.