The gut microbiota consists of microorganisms such as bacteria that resides in the gut. The number of cells and bacterial genetic material harbored within the human body easily outnumbers the number of human cells and genetic materials . An imbalanced gut microbiota (also termed as dysbiosis) has been linked to certain diseases and disorders, many of which may even be seemingly unrelated to the gut and the gastrointestinal system.
What are they, and why do they occur? What are some tips you can take to maintain a healthy gut microbiota? Read on to find out more!
1. Gut Diseases
According to a review, an imbalanced gut microbiota is associated with a whole range of gastrointestinal diseases. These diseases ranges from Crohn’s disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, constipation, bloating, and diarrhea . Possible mechanisms could be due to the gut microbiota's roles in modulating inflammation and immunity .
2. Metabolic Diseases
The gut microbiota is involved in the absorption of nutrients, harvesting of energy, processing of excess carbohydrates and production of metabolites such as the short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). When the gut microbiota is unable to function optimally due to an imbalance, the risk of metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity increases .
Some studies show that there is an association between low gut microbiota diversity and eczema. The gut microbiota composition of children with eczema had significantly lower beneficial bacteria diversity, specifically the Bacteroidetesphylum, when compared with children without eczema .
4. Neurological Conditions
It has been well established that the gut and the brain is connected via the gut-brain axis. An imbalanced gut microbiota can lead to higher levels of inflammation in the body, which may affect the central nervous system and lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety .
The good news is, there are ways to improve the gut flora to enhance its health. Here are 4 ways we can do to improve our gut microbiota and gut health:
1. Start intake of prebiotics
Prebiotics are substances found in certain foods that, when taken, function as nutrients to feed the gut bacteria and gut microbiota to encourage their growth and activities. Examples of food that contain prebiotics are corn, whole grains, banana, asparagus, garlic and onion. Hence, it is important to include them in your diet. Fortunately, prebiotics are available in the form of dietary fiber supplements as well .
2. Cut back on sugar intake
High sugar consumption has been associated with reduced levels of beneficial gut bacteria. It leads to a decrease in flora diversity and an increase in the pro-inflammatory pathogens. Hence, it is crucial to limit sugar intake especially from high glycemic sources such as soft drinks, candies and white rice .
3. Only take antibiotics when you need them
Antibiotics work by killing microorganisms or limiting their growth. Their effects are not only limited to pathogens but can affect the beneficial gut bacteria too. Always discuss with your healthcare professionals before taking or stopping the use of antibiotics .
4. Stress management
There are some ways to manage stress, such as exercising, sleeping, listening to music or playing games. You may also try meditations or yoga. Most importantly, try to get sufficient sleep of at least 8 hours of sleep every night, which may also reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases.