To the rejoicing of guts everywhere, 2023 might not be the year of the glazed bacon doughnut.
Half of the U.S. population has resolved to eat healthier in 2023, Statista reports. So out with the doughnuts, and in with the apples. But how many of these healthier eaters, we wonder, have also resolved to get to know their gut microbiomes?
The gut microbiome is in charge of how our diet affects our health. It does this through a vast collection of organisms – trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi – that serve as an internal assembly line, breaking down and sorting the nutrients passing through the intestines.
You Are What Your Microbiome Eats
When you feed the microbiome with fruits, vegetables, fermented foods, and fiber, it’s happier. These foods support the microbiome’s population of “good” bacteria, which ensure regular digestion and overall health. The microbiome also contains potentially harmful bacteria, but the good bacteria can coexist peacefully with them – as long as balance is maintained.
Feed the microbiome a diet heavy in processed meals, fried foods, red meat, and refined sugars, and that balance can be thrown off and contribute to a wide range of health issues.
How the Microbiome Works, and How You Can Help
The gut microbiome’s job is to tell the cells in the intestines when to better digest certain foods in order to maintain stability, making it a key regulator of the immune system.
When the balance of harmful microbes is high, the whole body reacts in a number of ways. Here are five key signs that the microbiome is in distress, with suggestions of how to help it get better.
Stomach upsets – Gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation typically signal that the gut microbiome is out of harmony. A change in diet may trigger these symptoms as well as food intolerances, which disrupt the microbiome’s ability to break down nutrients. Keep an eating diary to narrow down foods that trigger discomfort. And while eating, chew slowly and thoroughly to help break down food.
Weight fluctuations – Some of the gut bacteria manage how many calories are extracted from food, so a lack of diversity in the microbiome can contribute to weight gain and loss. In addition to keeping a food diary, ensure you are getting some exercise. Research has shown that physical activity can enrich the diversity of gut bacteria and can help maintain its balance.
Skin problems – If you notice that after eating certain foods you experience skin flareups, including rosacea, eczema, and acne, it could be due to a microbiome imbalance. In addition to eating foods rich in fiber, such as leafy vegetables and whole grains, stay well-hydrated (but limit sugary, caffeinated, and alcoholic beverages). Water supports the gut’s good bacteria and benefits the skin.
Fatigue – The gut microbiome also generates most of the body’s serotonin, which carries messages to the brain that influence your mood, memory, body temperature, and sleep, among other functions. The gut-fatigue relationship goes both ways – sleep plays a role in a well-functioning gut microbiome. Therefore, sleep deprivation can contribute to digestive problems.
Autoimmune conditions – Because the microbiome regulates the immune system, an unhealthy balance of the bacteria can result in autoimmunity. This is when your immune system attacks your body because it can’t tell the difference between healthy cells and harmful ones. Inflammatory bowel disease, Type 1 diabetes, and arthritis are common autoimmune conditions. If you experience a lot of stress, seek ways to alleviate it. Stretching, meditating, and spending time with a pet will help.
When to See a Gastroenterologist
If you or someone you know persistently experiences any of these signs, a doctor is in order. The gut microbiome is a complex system and a major player in your overall health, so some of these symptoms could signal other illnesses.It’s best to play it safe and make an appointment for an exam.
During a typical exam, the doctor will visually check the abdomen for abnormalities, feel for masses, listen to bowel sounds, and may perform a rectal exam. Tests, such as X-rays or stool exams, might be ordered.
The gastroenterologist may also advise a change in diet – a perfect suggestion for resolution season. When it comes to eating better in 2023, listen to your doctor, but also listen to your gut. Here’s to better health the entire year!
To learn more about the gut microbiome, visit our blog on the topic. If you’d like to request an appointment, you can do so easily online.