I found out what a gut microbiome is this summer. The information and concept of gut health fell into my lap following a semester full of Crunchwrap Supremes, frozen hashbrowns, espresso shots, and so much toast. My stomach was pleading for help by the end of my freshman year and I don’t doubt I was the only one based on the placement of my bed right against the shared wall to the communal bathroom.
So what is a gut microbiome? Do you have one? Do I have one? What’s all the fuss about it?
According to the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, our gut microbiome is made up of small microorganisms called microbiota that are located in our small and large intestines. Our network of microbiota is completely dependent on the microorganisms we were exposed to as infants from our mother’s birth canal and breastmilk, but are altered after childbirth based on our environmental exposures and dietary choices.
A healthy gut microbiome is exposed to healthy and harmful microbes, but usually is perfectly balanced to break down hard-to-digest compounds like carbs and dairy. If you are taking bacteria-killing medicine like antibiotics or not eating enough probiotic foods to nurture the gut bacteria, they will be unable to work together to synthesize foods into amino acids and vitamins, therefore making you more susceptible to illnesses and weakening the immune system. The gut will also break down potentially toxic food compounds and be able to protect from pathogenic organisms entering the body through spoiled food or water.
Now that the science talk is out of the way and we can see the connection between your gut bacteria and immune system we can get into the fun stuff. What can you do to heal your microbiome? I was posed with the same question this summer and found the gateway drug that is probiotic foods. Probiotic foods have live bacteria, usually from a fermenting process that can help balance out your healthy gut bacteria. First, it started with a simple purchase of a jar of kimchi, a fermented cabbage, and it has progressed to me slamming down kombuchas with every meal.
If you wake up with that dreaded tummy grumbling, lack consistent bathroom visits, or just have the urge to get your belly in check, upping your intake of probiotic foods to heal your gut flora may benefit you as it has me. I’m not a scientist but I do know cracking open an ice-cold GT Dave’s Mystic Mango kombucha following a weekend full of greasy pizza slices and brightly coated Red 40 chips gets me feeling right. I still haven’t learned the healthy balance between destroying my insides with gas station candy runs and restoring my gut health like Instagram health influencers, but I think my insane intake of sauerkraut is doing something. No more early morning nausea and dunking my head in a toilet bowl to calm my gut, probiotic foods have been doing it for me.
So next time you are feeling the wrath of some greasy burger from Saturday night, don’t be afraid to head to the co-op for some kombucha or maybe even a jar of pickles to keep your gut microbiota soothed.