There is a unique connection between the human body and microbial life. There are about ten times more microbes (like bacteria and fungi) in the human body than there are human cells. Microbes in the gut (the gastrointestinal tract), especially, play a unique role in the metabolism, immunity, and incidence of disease in humans.
Diet has an influence on gut microbes and by connection- health. Maintaining a healthy gut microbial environment through diet is preventive for a range of diseases including irritable bowel disease, and colorectal cancers.
What are Microbes?
The term ‘microbes’ refers to microorganisms of different types including bacteria, archaea, viruses, and small eukaryotes (like fungi). Microbes can cause disease and also prevent it. They are living all over, including soil, water, surfaces, and certain foods.
Microbes and the Human Body
Microbial communities are found all throughout the human body. These are found on our skin, hair, in our mouth, and virtually all parts of the body exposed to the outside. The digestive and respiratory tracts are technically external (exposed to the outside) and are covered in microbial cultures.
Microbial communities provide protection, nutrition, and influence the function of the human body. It is therefore important to keep healthy levels of good microbes in the body to promote health and optimal function.
Microbial functions in and on the human body include:
- Protection against Infection
- Stimulation of the Immune System
- Drug Metabolism
- Food Digestion
- Absorption of Nutrients
- Excretion of Waste
Diet and the Gut
Diet plays an important role in keeping a healthy gut. Microbial life in the gut can differ drastically between individuals based on their diets. The microbial cultures from someone following a plant-based diet will differ from someone following an animal-based diet.
Microbial life can also change in response to changes in diet. If a vegan was to undertake an animal-based diet the microbial life will change accordingly.
While it is still early to give precise diet advice to influence health through gut microbial cultures, some general trends are noticeable. For example, a diet rich in animal fat and protein seems to favor bacteria associated with cardiovascular disease (1). While plant-based diets do not.
How to Keep a Healthy Gut
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps create a healthy gut. This is not to say that you must stop eating meat when you don’t want to, but to make sure to eat veggies. Insoluble fiber found in many plant foods help ease bowel movements and reduce inflammation. It is also true that eating lots of fruits and vegetables can be preventive for colorectal and other types of cancer.
Probiotics may also help maintain a healthy gut and microbial cultures. These make competition with bad bacteria over territory (the gut) and can prevent them from getting a foothold and causing an infection.
Long-term and short-term dietary choices influence health in complex ways. The relationship between diet, microbes, and the gut is only one of many examples. It is therefore important to get your questions answered by a nutrition consultant, dietitian, or physician.
The best way to maximize health and get results is to address diet and nutrition and all its contributing factors. Talk to our staff at Santa Cruz Core to set up a series of consultations in with our Integrative and Functional Nutritionist today.
“Impact of Diet and Age on the Gut Microbiota – The Human Gut Microbiome and Your Health.” Coursera.org, University of Colorado, Boulder, www.coursera.org/learn/microbiome/lecture/tgnBZ/impact-of-diet-and-age-on-the-gut-microbiota.