Gut Microbiome - Mature woman holding her stomach.

What is the Gut Microbiome?

The gut microbiome has become an increasingly popular topic throughout the natural health and wellness industry. Whether you’re familiar with Ayurveda or not, you’ve probably heard of the important role that the gut - and its microbial ecology - plays in a person’s wellness. Research has linked the gut microbiome to several conditions and diseases, including skin health.

What is a microbiome?

The human body harbours trillions of microbes, (organisms that human eye cannot see without a microscope), such as bacteria, archaea, fungi, and viruses. In fact, human cells are outnumbered ten to one compared to microbes in the body. This collection of microbes is referred to as the microbiota and the microbiome refers to all the genes that the microbiota contains. A single person’s microbiome contains more genes than the human genome itself. It is fair to say that the modern human is less a single species, and more an entire ecology operating as one.

What is the function of the gut microbiome?

Not all bacteria are bad or even harmful, for that matter. Pathogens in the gut will only become harmful if they rapidly increase in number or end up in the wrong place. Bacteria in the gut aids the digestion of food; protects the body from disease-causing bacteria; regulates the immune system, and produces essential vitamins for blood coagulation, such as B Vitamins and thiamine. Dysfunction in the microbiota can lead to a plethora of autoimmune diseases like diabetes, muscular dystrophy or rheumatoid arthritis. When bacteria colonies become imbalanced, this is known as dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is often the result of disease-causing microbes amassing over time, which change the body’s metabolic processes. Consequently, the body develops an abnormal immune response against substances normally present in the body. Balanced bacteria colonies in the gut are not only essential for adults, but infants also. For instance, microbes in the baby’s gut help breakdown the sugars in human breastmilk.

Where do microbes come from?

Microbes are inherited, but not in the same way as genes. When a woman is pregnant, the microbiome shifts to the optimum mix and passes on to her child in the birth canal (though the same is not true for those born by caesarean section). For the next two years, breastmilk and the environment shape our microbiota, which stabilises by age three. When we get older, diet, environmental stressors, and even drugs like antibiotics continue to influence our microbiomes. It’s not always easy to tell if you’re gut health is poor. Below are 5 bad gut bacteria symptoms that you should look out for.

Bad gut bacteria symptoms

1. Fluctuations in weight

Unintentional changes in weight without any extreme changes in diet or exercise may indicate poor gut health.

1. Upset stomach

Constipation, diarrhoea, gas, bloating and heartburn indicate that your body is having trouble digesting food.

2. Skin Irritation

Leaky gut refers to the increased ‘leaking’ of undigested proteins in the body, passing through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream, which can cause skin conditions like eczema.

3. Food intolerances

Poor quality of bacteria in the gut can make it difficult to digest certain foods.

4. Fatigue and insomnia

The gut also produces serotonin (a sleep and mood hormone). Poor gut health can therefore lead to difficulty sleeping.

How to improve your gut microbiome

One simple way to improve your gut microbiome is to utilise traditional time-tested Ayurvedic remedies. Ayurvedic remedies focus on restoring balance to our natural biota by optimising efficient digestion – known as ‘Agni’. The tongue is a window to the gut microbiome. Ever noticed a thick white film coating on your tongue? Toxins, known as ‘Ama’ in Ayurveda, build up on your tongue, especially overnight, as one of our bodies' ways of excreting toxins. Traditional Ayurvedic tongue scraping on awakening in the morning prevents ama from being ingested and reabsorbed back into the body. Copper has antimicrobial properties and scraping works to remove toxins from the tongue to optimise gut and skin health, while additional benefits include heightened taste bud sensitivity and removal of bad breath.