There is a growing interest in gut health, and it’s not just hype. Mounting evidence suggests that gut health impacts everything in your body from your mood to your weight. In this post, I share some of the most fascinating facts about gut health.

1. Each of us has tens of trillions of microorganisms that can weigh up to 6 pounds.

We acquire much of our gut bacteria as infants when we pass through our mother’s birth canal.

2. By the fourth day after delivery, 47% of the bacteria in the gut of breastfed infants are bifidobacteria.

Bifidobacteria help digest sugars. The pH of the formula-fed newborn is higher, allowing a variety of pathogenic bacteria to grow. Breastfeeding helps restore the gut bacteria of infants that were delivered via C-Section. It protects and supports the newborn’s gut. Furthermore, it prevents the invasion of pathogens during this time. Breast-milk coats and protects the open junctions which helps aid immunity and prevent exposure to undesirable cow’s milk proteins.

3. Bifidobacteria typically make up less than 10% of the bacteria in the gut of adults.

One of the main functions of bifidobacteria in humans is to digest fiber and other complex carbs your body can’t digest on its own. When bifidobacteria digest fiber, they produce short-chain fatty acids and B vitamins and help prevent infections from other bacteria.

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4. Even a short course of antibiotics can alter your gut microbiome for up to 2 years.

The gut of healthy people can recover antibiotics treatment, but it will still lack 9 beneficial species after 6 months after a course of broad-spectrum antibiotics. Short courses of antibiotics can leave normal gut bacteria harboring antibiotic resistance genes for up to two years after treatment.

5. Supplementing with a specific strain called L. rhamnosus GG may reduce the risk of antibiotic-related diarrhea from 22.4% to 12.3%. 

Taking a probiotic during and after a course of antibiotics will help mitigate its negative effect on the gut microbiome. Moreover, L. rhamnosus may protect against various other types of diarrhea, such as traveler’s diarrhea, acute watery diarrhea, and acute gastroenteritis-related diarrhea.

6. Bacteria may influence your behavior via the 100 million neurons in our gut.

This is why your gut is known as the second brain.

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7. Less than 1% of microbes cause disease.

To cause an infection, microbes must enter your body. Microbes that cause disease are called pathogens.

Pathogens must attach themselves to their target site, multiply rapidly, and survive the attack by the host’s immune system.

8. Analysis of the gut bacteria can predict obesity with an accuracy of more than 90%.

Your gut bacteria affect your metabolism and may be linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. A study revealed that the gut bacteria of a two-year-old is associated with body mass index (BMI) at 12 years of age!

9. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects 9–23% of adults worldwide.

IBS decreases your quality of life significantly and causes symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of both. Some patients experience abdominal pain, bloating, and feeling seriously ill. Altering the gut microbiome may improve symptoms. This is done through probiotics but even antibiotics sometimes!

10. 32% of IBS patients suffer from a mood disorder and 27% have anxiety.

In the general population, 9.7% of people have mood disorders and 18.1% have anxiety. These statistics show the link between intestinal health and brain function. Remember, your gut is your second brain.

11.  A study which used Lactobacillus plantarum LP01, showed a decrease of overall IBS symptoms of 55% with treatment versus 14% for placebo.

Probiotic treatment for IBS is not extensively studied but shows some promising results. Usually, a combination of bacteria strains is more effective.

12. Your gut hosts between 500-2,000 species of microorganisms (bacteria, yeast, parasites, virus, etc.).

Humans are colonized by many microorganisms. The Human Microbiome Project was launched in 2007 to improve our understanding of the microbiota involved in human health and disease. The relationship between these microorganisms and the host (you) is mutualistic, meaning they benefit each other.

13. Your microbiome includes around 100 trillion bacterial cells.

For many years, experts said that our human to bacteria cell ratio was 10:1. In recent years, new research has set the number to 3:1 or even 1:1. The number of human cells is estimated at around 37 trillion cells. The point is, we are hosting a staggering number of microbes.

14. A healthy gut includes 400 million microbial species.

We have been able to isolate over 400 microbial species from the human gastrointestinal tract.

15. 60-80% of your gut bacteria cannot be cultivated.

This means that the majority of the species found in individuals do not match documented species. There is so much more to learn!

16. Specific gut bacteria are associated with specific functions.

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17. 72% of the gut bacteria of a newborn delivered vaginally resembles the mother’s.

When the baby is born via C-section, this number drops to 41%. This leaves more room for opportunistic organisms to invade the infant. Fortunately, breastmilk helps restore the microbiome during the first year of life.

18. By 2.5 of age, an infant’s microbiome resembles the microbiome of an adult.

The composition, the diversity and the functional capability of the microbiome of the infant have a similar profile as the adult.

19. Your gut bacteria digest much of the carbohydrate you consume.

Some types of gut flora have enzymes that human cells lack for breaking down certain polysaccharides. The lack of these types of microorganisms may explain why healing protocols like the Gaps Diet successfully improve various health conditions by removing polysaccharides. Carbohydrates that humans cannot digest without bacterial help include certain starches, fiber, oligosaccharides, and sugars that the body failed to digest and absorb like lactose in the case of lactose intolerance.

20. A different diet can shift your microbiome within 3 to 4 days.

High-fiber diets increase the diversity of your microbiome and reduce metabolic disease. To learn more about the foods that can restore your gut, read the Most Healing Foods for the Gut.

21. Your gut microbiota produces essential nutrients such as vitamin K2, B12, biotin, folate, etc.

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23. Your gut microbiota converts dietary fiber into useful short-chain fatty acids.

Some dietary fiber reaches your large intestine undigested and intact. Your gut microbiome feeds on the fiber and produces short-chain fatty acids. Short-chain fatty acids function as a primary energy source and help maintain a healthy Ph balance.

24. 60-80% of your immune system is situated in your gut.

The gut microbiota helps our immune system to create a barrier against harmful bacteria from gaining a foothold.

25. Exercise alters your gut microbiome.

A  study in humans published in 2018 that found lean, sedentary people who exercised for six weeks also developed higher levels of ClostridialesLachnospiraRoseburia, and Faecalibacteriumin their guts, but those microbes returned to baseline levels when the individuals stopped exercising. Obese individuals who started exercising had changes to their gut microbes too, but those changes were different than what was seen in lean individuals.

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26. There is a correlation between gut imbalance (or gut dysbiosis) and autism.

Children with autism have less variety than non-autistic children. They also have more of certain kinds of bacteria (e.g. Clostridia.).

27. More than 40 diseases have been linked to bacterial imbalance including depression, arthritis, IBS, and cancer.

While we do not yet have a clear picture of what constitutes a healthy microbiome, recent studies are identifying particular bacterial species associated with a healthy microbiota.

28. Gut bacteria create 95% of the body’s serotonin.

Serotonin influences your mood. While harmful bacteria can ramp up anxiety, several studies have shown that beneficial bacteria can cause anxiety-prone mice to calm down

29. The birth control pill increases your risk of IBS and negatively impacts the way your body metabolizes estrogen.

An out-of-balance gut bacteria and increased intestinal permeability (or leaky gut) may be to blame.

30. Your gut microbiome affects your sleep.

Better sleep quality is associated with your microbiome’s species richness and diversity.

31. Eating artificial sweeteners causes glucose intolerance by changing your gut microbiome.

Consumption of commonly used non-caloric artificial sweeteners formulations drives the development of glucose intolerance through induction of compositional and functional alterations to the intestinal microbiota.

Further reading about gut health

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