- Posted: 11/12/2019
The Vast Microscopic World of the Microbiome
By Christina Unger FNP-BC, 200 hr RYT
Did you know you have an entire universe of living organisms that reside in your digestive tract? The gut microbiome is composed of trillions of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoans that play a starring role in the function and development of our digestive system.
History has taught us that culturally diverse communities are stronger and more resilient. The same is true for the community of microbes in the gut. Microbial biodiversity is an indicator of a healthy gut. Many disease states have been associated with dysbiosis, a state of microbial imbalance. Dysbiosis has been correlated with neuropsychiatric diseases such as autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia, autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory diseases such as Crohns, Ulcerative Colitis, and Clostridium difficile infection, allergic diseases and skin conditions, irritable bowel syndrome, antibiotic associated diarrhea, obesity, and cancer.
Microbes in the gut digest foods and produce nutrients, anti-inflammatory substances, amino acids, neurotransmitters,and vitamins used by the host. Bacteria manufacture short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that are used as fuel to power colonocytes. The microbiome is intimately involved in the development of the immune system that helps us delineate “self” from “non-self” and participates in the immune response to fight pathogens. A number of studies have revealed an association between probiotics and psychological symptoms which may lead to the use of psychobiotics to treat mood disorders.
Each of us has a unique microbiome that is influenced by and changes with diet, environment, illness, and medications. From the time we are born, we see changes occurring in the living microscopic universe in our gut. For example, a child born by Cesarean section has microbes that resemble skin flora, whereas a child born vaginally has a microbiome similar to the mother’s vaginal flora.
There are many ways we can improve our gut microbiome. Exercise can effect the bacterial diversity and functioning of our gut. The vagus nerve is a bidirectional highway of communication between the enteric nervous system or “second brain” in the gut and the brain. This communication is vital in maintaining a state of balance or homeostasis. Yoga and meditation improve communication between the brain and the enteric nervous system and improve vagal nerve tone and circulation. Not only does yoga improve blood circulation to the gut, it strengthens muscular support of the internal organs, and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which helps promote digestion and relaxation. Yoga provides a pathway to reduce anxiety and stress creating a happy home for the gut microbiome.
Probiotics are live or attenuated microorganisms that alter the gut microbiome. Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. Probiotics in the food we eat and over the counter formulations can be used to manipulate the microbiome. Fermented dairy products such as Greek yogurt ,certain cheeses, and buttermilk contain probiotics. Other fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi are also a source of probiotics. There are multiple over the counter probiotics with varying species and numbers of bacteria. Keep in mind that everyone’s microbiome is unique and what is helpful for your gut might not be helpful to someone else!
Prebiotics are food for the probiotics. They act as fertilizer for the micobiome. Indigestible fiber found in different fruits, vegetables, and starches are prebiotics that promote the growth of “good bacteria”.
So remember to practice yoga and meditate along with eating diverse diet that includes plants, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to keep your microbiome universe happy and strong. For more information on the microbiome, visit https://irp.nih.gov/catalyst/v21i6
In the Yoga for Gut Health on Wednesdays at 1 p.m., we explore topics related to digestive health. There is a short discussion followed by a Hatha Flow class with breathing and asana practice that will help practitioners develop a healthy relationship with their body, mind, and gut.