Gut Microbiome Affects Overall Health

by Dr. Hojat Askari, Founder & Medical Director, Thumb Butte Medical Center

Your entire body is the host of trillions of different bacteria and other microorganisms, most of which make positive contributions to your health.

Most of these microbes are found in your skin and your digestive organs.

The gut microbiome has been increasingly studied over the past two decades as a driver of positive function, as well as of illness. Having the right balance of the different types of microorganisms in your digestive tract, particularly the large intestine, can have a huge impact throughout your body.

Digestive health

Our beneficial bacteria produce enzymes to break down carbohydrates in plant cell walls so we can access the nutrients within, along with fiber and some starches and sugars. They produce nutrients including vitamins B12 and K and fight off harmful microbes, though problems begin to mount if the “bad” bacteria starts to outnumber the “good.”

They affect metabolism by controlling glucose, appetite and fat storage. The microbiome is believed to influence weight loss and gain, and it could be linked to colon cancer.

Heart health

Diet is so intimately tied to heart health that it’s not a surprise our gut microbiome can affect it too.

At least one large study has shown that these microorganisms, also known as microbiota, can increase levels of LDL “good” cholesterol within the body. Some unhealthy microbes create a substance known as TMAO after we eat food or take supplements containing the essential nutrient choline, including red meat, eggs and even vegetables and fruit.

TMAO has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, blood clots and related disorders.

Brain health

We feel so much of our emotions in our gut, and it turns out some of the neurotransmitters that determine how we feel mostly originate there — our gut microbiota produces 90% to 95% of the serotonin in our bodies.

Several studies have reported people diagnosed with various mental disorders have different microbes in their gut, but the cause and effect relationship still needs to be clarified.