Our gut microbiome is our most important human organ. This complex ecosystem of bacteria, viruses, fungi, archaea, and bacteriophages has been called the conductor of the immune-neuroendocrine system, home of the immune system, and even the second brain. In fact, the gut microbiome’s role in human biology is so widespread that scientists from nearly every specialty are checking for potential health solutions within the gut. With chronic diseases on the rise across the world, the gut microbiome is now front and center in this epidemic.
It’s Time To Redefine Our Relationship With Bacteria. Our relationship with bacteria is a complicated one. While most bacteria that live in and on us work in harmony, we only ever seem to hear about bacteria when they cause a devastating outbreak.
From the bubonic plague, which is caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria, to food recalls caused by various Salmonella strains, history is full of occurrences where bacteria have wreaked havoc and caused widespread fear. Even today, antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains like MRSA and CRE (ominously known as “nightmare bacteria”), continue to perplex doctors and researchers.
These terrifying scenarios have contributed to the widespread belief that all bacteria are harmful, and fueled our all-out war against microorganisms ever since the discovery of penicillin in 1929. However, mounting research suggests that more often than not, bacteria contribute to our health in positive ways.
Scientists now sound the alarm to reexamine our conventional views on bacteria. Not only are these microbes critical to our survival, but they also influence everything from shaping our body to affecting our mood.
As Martin J. Blaser, professor of microbiology and director of the Human Microbiome Program at the New York University School of Medicine, put it, “The composition of the microbiome and its activities are involved in most, if not all, of the biological processes that constitute human health and disease.”
Why Your Gut Microbiome Matters? Every one of us is covered in microbes with the gut being the richest source. The microorganisms in and on our bodies weigh between two to six pounds, making them heavier than the brain. We each have multiple microbiomes in our eyes, mouth, nose, skin, and if you are a female, also in the vagina.
Starting at birth, you are bathed in your mother’s microbiome as you exit her birth canal, which is where you begin building your microbiome. During the first seven years of your life, what you eat and what you come in contact with continues to develop your microbiome. Though your microbiome continues to shift throughout your life, scientists believe that you maintain a microbial signature, or a “fingerprint,” which is most similar to your mother’s.
How Your Gut Microbiome Affects Your Digestion? The microorganisms living in your gut help you extract and synthesize many nutrients and byproducts that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to obtain from your food. These microbes:
· Digest your food
· Create important neurotransmitters
· Synthesize vitamins
· Produce essential nutrients
· Use food to create health-boosting byproducts like short-chain fatty acids
We once thought these polysaccharides, oligosaccharides, and other carbohydrates were completely indigestible. But it turns out our microbes break these down and ferment them into beneficial short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate, propionate, and acetate.
Short-chain fatty acids help protect against obesity, insulin resistance, and are anti-inflammatory. Due to the disease-fighting power of these fatty acids, Viome’s personalized recommendations aim to support bacteria known to be the highest producers.
Our microbes also heavily regulate how much energy we can extract, store, and use from our food. So much so, that scientists believe our weight may have much more to do with what microorganisms are in our guts than how much we eat.
How Your Gut Microbiome Affects Your Immune System? The gut microbiome teaches the immune system the difference between friend and foe, making it an integral part of how well immunity functions. In fact, the gut is the home of 70- 80% of our immune system.
This interwoven relationship and constant communication between the gut microbiome and the immune system is the primary reason researchers search for cures to all sorts of illnesses by focusing on the gut.
An imbalance of gut microbiota, known as dysbiosis, can contribute to an increased weakness of the gut lining, which is more commonly called ‘leaky gut.’ When there are gaps in the gut lining, toxins, bacteria, and food particles can leak into the bloodstream and cause widespread inflammation throughout the body. This process has been implicated in:
· Autoimmune conditions
· Heart disease
· Type 2 diabetes
How Your Microbiome Affects Your Hormones? The gut microbiome is so essential in hormonal regulation and balance, it’s now considered part of the endocrine system. Similar to an orchestra playing a harmonious symphony, hormones circulate throughout the body in delicate rhythms, keeping numerous body systems in order.
The gut microbiome acts as a conductor for the symphony, making sure everything plays in tune and on time. When your gut microbiome is out of harmony, it can throw off your hormones and cause a variety of health issues ranging from weight gain to thyroid dysfunction.
How Your Gut Microbiome Affects Your Mental Health/ Everyone has experienced the feeling of ‘butterflies” in their stomach at some point in their lives. That feeling isn’t merely a sensation, it’s your gut communicating with your brain.
The gut-brain connection is constant and even has its designated line of communication, the vagus nerve. In fact, the biggest producer of your happy neurotransmitter, serotonin, isn’t the brain—it’s your gut microbiome, which produces over 90 percent.
Changes in the gut microbiome are linked to the mind on many levels including:
· Your mood
· Your happiness
· Your pain tolerance
· Your cognitive performance
· Your behavior
· Your mental health
The gut-brain connection is so strong that one of the fastest growing areas of neuroscience looks at the gut first.
How Your Gut Microbiome Affects Your Skin? Beauty truly comes from the inside out. The gut microbiome plays a direct role in the appearance of your skin through influencing:
· Inflammation—the underlying cause of most diseases
· Oxidative stress—a significant cause of inflammation
· Tissue lipid levels—an essential factor for a healthy metabolism
· Glycemic control—your ability to balance blood sugar
· Neuropeptide levels—a factor linked to your mood, pain tolerance, and body’s homeostasis·
· Opportunistic bacteria, harmful bacteria that can cause conditions when it overgrows
When it comes to autoimmune skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis, the gut is known to be a major driver behind the worsening of these conditions. The gut’s fundamental role in skin health is why so many creams and lotions are a waste of money.
How Your Microbiome Affects Your Heart? Could the gut microbiome be a predictor of heart disease? Researchers from the University of Cambridge seem to think so.
They found that specific metabolites, such as trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), could be a good indicator of heart disease risk. High levels of TMAO in the body occur when bacteria convert choline into trimethylamine (TMA), which is then absorbed by the body and converted to the harmful version, TMAO.
Choline (one of the B-complex vitamins) is found in many animal products and legumes, which might make you want to cut back on these foods. However, the initial part of this conversion from choline to TMA, only occurs when you have certain bacteria in your microbiome. For example, if you have high levels of gammaproteobacteria, which are known for this conversion, it’s more likely that high choline foods are contributing to your heart problems.
Everyone knows someone diagnosed with a chronic illness, diabetes, or an autoimmune disease. Moreover, we know that once treatment begins, it can often be too late.
Don’t feel bad if you’re confused about nitrates and nitrites in food. Are they good, bad, or something else? Unless you majored in chemistry, some uncertainty is understandable. They certainly sound similar. But rest assured there are differences between these compounds.
Nitrates are fairly simple molecules consisting of one nitrogen atom bound to three oxygen atoms. The chemical formula for nitrate is NO3. Nitrite is a molecule that consists of one nitrogen atom bonded with two oxygen atoms: NO2. To further confuse the issue, nitric oxide, which occurs naturally in the body, consists of one nitrogen bonded with one oxygen. This simple gaseous molecule is represented as: NO.
To be clear, NO is good for you. Indeed, it’s crucial. The body uses NO to signal your blood vessels to relax. This helps promote lower blood pressure, and even plays an important role in healthy sexual function.
The Good and The Bad Nitric Oxide (NO)NO is a key signaling molecule. When released by the blood vessels themselves, it signals blood vessel muscle cells to relax. This, in turn, lowers blood pressure. That’s important, because high blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the most common and dangerous risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Hypertension is often linked to atherosclerosis, the underlying process of inflammation and plaque buildup that accompanies the stiffening and narrowing of blood vessels. Atherosclerosis tends to be a long-term, progressive process.
Some people with atherosclerosis may eventually experience heart attack or stroke. In most cases, they will have experienced hypertension, often for years, as the heart struggles to compensate for partially clogged blood vessels, dysfunction in the endothelium (the tissue lining the interior of blood vessels), and restricted blood flow. Having adequate supplies of NO on hand helps the blood vessels function properly, and may significantly reduce blood pressure.
Nitrates: (NO3) And that’s where nitrates (NO3) come in. Dietary nitrates are compounds primarily found in whole plant foods, such as beets and dark green leafy vegetables which supply the raw material the body needs to produce NO. Research shows that people who consume greater amounts of these foods tend to have higher levels of NO,and lower blood pressure.
They also enjoy a certain amount of protection against cardiovascular disease. For example, some intriguing small studies have shown that drinking raw beet juice every day may be linked to significant reductions in blood pressure among people with mild hypertension.
The evidence is clear: consuming dietary nitrates through the diet is good for cardiovascular health. Thus both NO and NO3 are good for you.
Nitrites: (NO2) Nitrites (NO2) have gained a bad rap because they are routinely used to cure deli meats. They are added to products such as bacon, for instance, to preserve the meat’s “healthy” red or pink color. Left untreated, bacon and other cured meats tend to oxidize and turn an unappetizing shade of gray.
Sodium nitrite is a salt of nitrite that has been used for this purpose for centuries. Although sodium nitrite is not inherently toxic, problems can arise when this chemical reacts with amino acids in the meat itself,especially during cooking. This reaction can form chemicals called nitrosamines.
Nitrosamines are carcinogenic, meaning they have been linked to the promotion of cancer. Research has repeatedly shown that people who eat more processed, cured, and deli-type meats are at greater risk for cancer. Although it is not entirely clear how much of this additional risk may be attributed to nitrite preservatives in processed meats, it is certain that nitrosamines are occasionally formed during cooking. And they are not healthful. Nitrosamines occur in tobacco smoke, for example, and are considered a chief carcinogen associated with exposure to smoke.
Summary: Nitrate containing compounds are necessary for survival. Dietary nitrates, primarily from plant foods, are linked to better cardiovascular health, because they provide the body with the material it needs to produce a steady supply of nitric oxide (NO). NO signals blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure.