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5 ways to improve gut health and nourish your microbiome

by Laura Palmer

Good gut health is fast becoming a wellbeing priority for millions of us. To see evidence of this, you only need to look at the global probiotics market, valued at a whopping £33 billion last year.

While the surge in probiotic popularity is partly down to consumers tackling digestive problems, many people are increasingly turning to probiotics in order to boost the microbiome – the thousands of tiny bacteria who live on and inside the body.

What’s in your microbiome has been linked with everything from obesity, to immunity, recovery from covid-19, and even mental health. So it’s no wonder you might want to keep yours healthy!

What exactly is the microbiome?

The microbiome is a catch-all term for the trillions of bacteria that live in your body. Many of these minuscule microbes have their own complex interactions with your food, metabolism and health – it’s all going on in there!

Like your genes, each person’s gut microbiome bacteria are entirely unique. And bear in mind, that’s just the bacteria. The microbiome is also composed of many other types of microbes, like archaea, viruses and yeasts. There really is a whole other biosystem living in, and outside, your body – who knew!?

What does the microbiome do?

The tiny organisms in the microbiome get involved in all kinds of processes, many of which are vital for good health. They make chemicals (microbial metabolites) that feed the cells in your body and can also control inflammation.

It’s also thought that they play a key role in the immune system. Research has shown they could teach lymphocytes and other immune cells to recognise pathogens, and differentiate between good and bad bacteria.

Having a well-balanced microbiome has been linked to lower obesity, fewer autoimmune conditions and digestion problems. As well as longer lifespan, good brain function, and even improved mood – multitasking microbes!

A new study, just completed by microbiome whiz Dr Tim Spector, has found 15 ‘good’ and 15 ‘bad’ gut microbes, linked to better or worse health. This includes thing like inflammation, blood sugar control, and weight. Proof that the microbiome really does have a huge impact on wellbeing.

The study also showed the microbiome has a much bigger effect on problems like weight loss and inflammation, than genetics. Given that the microbiome is something you can influence and change (unlike your genes), this is hugely exciting!

What should you be doing to nourish your microbiome?

To ensure you’re supporting your gut health and encouraging the growth of ‘good’ gut flora, rather than the baddies, you need to make sure you’re eating the right things:

1. Diversity is key:

The best gut microbiome diet is one that contains lots of different types of food. This means you’ll be introducing lots of varied microbes into your gut. The more species of bacteria you have, the greater the number of health benefits they may be able to contribute. Studies have shown that people with lower gut diversity, often have more compromised immune systems, and suffer with more chronic illness.

You already know that plenty of fruit and vegetables is crucial to good health in general. Loading up on your veggies has the dual effect of boosting the microbiome, and also limiting the growth of some disease-causing bacteria.

Eating a rich diversity of food, for example the Mediterranean diet, with loads of fruit, veg, nuts, grains and legumes is an excellent start in nourishing your microbiome. Just keep in mind that variety is key. So no more eating the same lunch every day! Change things up, and try something new as often as you can.

2. Embrace fermented foods

If the first thing that comes to mind is sauerkraut, then you’d be right. But don’t let that put you off! While they might have a distinctive and strong taste, fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi, and drinks like kombucha, are a great choice if you want to boost your gut microbiome. This is because they are super rich in a myriad of microorganisms, that improve the diversity of good bacteria, yeasts and fungi living in your gut.

Prefer something a little blander? All yoghurt is fermented, but remember it’s best to stick to natural yoghurt ( flavoured can be full of sugar). Or why not try kefir? A fermented yoghurt that contains loads more microbes, diversity and extra fungi than your everyday yoghurt.

All these foods are natural probiotics that you can incorporate into your diet. So you don’t have to invest in costly (and often sugary) probiotic drinks. Even better, you can make things such as sauerkraut and kombucha yourself at home, and save money. Give it a Google, you’ll be amazed how many home recipes there are.

3. Load up on fibre

If you think about your microbiome as a garden, then fibre is the fertiliser. Fibre promotes the growth of gut bacteria. Studies show the average person in the UK eats 20g per day. Ideally, you should be aiming for 30g.

Known as prebiotic foods, things like artichokes, leeks, celery, chicory, onions and garlic contain the best type of fibre to fuel your microbes. You should also add raspberries, peas, broccoli, chickpeas, lentils and beans to your menu, as they have all been shown to be delicious to gut bacteria too – nom nom.

Other easy ways to increase your fibre intake include: switching white bread, pasta, and rice for their wholemeal counterparts. Leaving the skin on your potatoes, and sprinkling high-fibre content seeds on your meals.

4. Don’t forget vitamin D

Did you know that boosting your vitamin D levels could also have a positive effect on your microbiome? Studies have shown that supplementing with vitamin D can significantly increase gut microbial diversity. It seems to be especially adept at boosting the levels of ‘good’ bacteria like Akkermansia and Bifidobacterium, which play a key role in keeping you feeling well.

Getting enough vitamin D is also crucial to look after your oral microbiome. Vitamin D promotes optimum oral health, by stimulating anti-microbial peptides in the mouth. This helps to balance your oral microbiome, and allows less ‘bad’ bacteria to make it into the gut and mess with your gut microbiome balance.

In the UK currently, the sun is too weak to stimulate the skin to make adequate amounts of vitamin D. So now is definitely the time to supplement. You’ll find the Vitamin D3/K2 Plus Patch here.

5. Fantastic fish oil

If you want to know how to improve your gut microbiome, another fix is to supplement with Omega 3. You probably already knew that Omega-3 fatty acids are great for joints, mental health and boosting your immunity, but studies have also shown that Omega-3 can help the function of the microbes in the gut too.

It seems the Omega-3 works by increasing diversity in the gut, and stimulating the production of anti-inflammatory compounds, like short-chain fatty acids, that protect the intestinal wall and improve gut health overall.

Yet another reason to get busy with the fish oil! The Omega 3 Plus Patch contains Omega-3 Fatty Acids from North Pacific/Alaskan krill. No strong ‘fishy’ aftertaste, all the benefits you’d expect from an oral supplement AND microbiome gains – who’s in?!