As a functional medicine practitioner, I talk a lot about gut health. I'm often reminded that discussing bowel movements is not normal when I see giggles and blushes of embarrassment when talking with patients.
But in truth, your microbiome — the trillions of bacteria in your gut and on your skin — can tell you a lot about your health.
You may not know it, but your gut health and digestion is fascinating not only to me but also to the scientists working on some of the most cutting-edge research.
Here are nine mind-blowing facts you need to know about how your microbiome relates to health:
1. It's enormously vast.
Your microbiome is made up of approximately 100,000,000,000,000 (that's 100 trillion) living microbes. One trillion dollar bills laid next to each other would extend from the earth to the sun and back with many miles left to spare. Do that 100 times and you start to get at least a rough idea of what's living inside of you.
2. It's immensely complex.
With hundreds of known diverse bacterial species, the bacterial diversity of your microbiome is an important part of your health. The more diverse your microbiome, the better your health potential tends to be. The dirt we work in outside, the animals that we play with, and the foods we eat all determine the richness of your gut garden.
3. You are more bacteria than human.
With your gut containing 100 trillion bacteria, and there being 10 trillion human cells, you are, in fact, 10 times more bacteria than human! What's more, the genes of the microbiome bacteria outnumber your own by 100 to 1!
4. It's the foundation of your health.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said thousands of years ago "all disease begins in the gut." Science is catching up with antiquity. Many seemingly unrelated health problems are now being linked to underlying gut problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Read "11 Health Problems That Can Start In Your Gut" for the full list of health problems associated with microbiome dysfunctions.
5. It's the majority of your immune system.
If you find yourself feeling chronically sick and run down, be sure to check your microbiome health. A staggering 75 to 80 percent of your immune system is in your gut! It's no wonder that many autoimmune diseases may be linked to hidden gastrointestinal problems.
6. It can influence other health problems.
You may now be thinking, "I don't have bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or IBS, so this doesn't apply to me." But you don't have to have gut symptoms to have gut problems. The majority of underlying gut problems come with little to no gut symptoms but only the systemic effects of it somewhere else in the body.
Three gut problems that can be asymptomatic in the gut but affect your health elsewhere are:
In short, if you have a health problem, an underlying microbiome dysfunction should be ruled out.
7. It's considered your second brain.
An amazing 95 percent of your happy neurotransmitter serotonin is made and stored in your gut! The medical literature actually refers to the gut as the "second brain."
The gut-brain axis or connection is something we look at very closely in functional medicine. For example, anxiety and depression have been linked to lower levels of Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum bacterial strains. And it still amazes me what bacterial and yeast problems I find in the lab results of patients not coming in for gut problems but for brain problems like anxiety, depression, and brain fog.
To have a healthy brain, you need a healthy gut.
8. It can influence your weight.
I've talked to countless patients who have struggled with weight gain since they were little kids. Now, some research suggests the gut might be the missing link to chronic weight-loss resistance.
One study published in the scientific journal Nature found that weight gain was associated with bacterial imbalances, specifically higher amounts of the bacteria Firmicutes. Another 2015 study found that adults with metabolic syndrome who took a probiotic supplement showed improvements in their triglyceride levels and other risk factors for heart disease.
9. The foods you eat influence your microbiome.
A recent study found that polyphenols from foods such as blueberries, coffee, and extra-virgin olive oil play a significant role in the prevention of degenerative diseases by improving your microbiome environment. This is the power you wield with your fork!