How Your Microbiome Affects Your Health
Within your digestive system there’s an amazing ecosystem known as the gut microbiome. Your gut microbiome is a diverse collection of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other single-celled organisms that live in your gastrointestinal tract. If you’re stuck in discomfort with the words ‘bacteria’ and ‘fungi’, then know that there can be both good and bad microbes.
Your gut is responsible for nutrient absorption, immune system support, metabolism, weight regulation, mental and emotional health, detox and other bodily functions. So, it’s safe to say that if your gut is imbalanced, you could live with a host of different behaviours, reactions and cravings.
There are many strains of good gut bacteria (microbiota) that are wonderfully beneficial. The balance between beneficial and harmful microbes is crucial for a healthy life. In fact, your gut microbiome can affect everything from your mood and mental health to what falls under the umbrella of your physical health.
What does an imbalance do?
A study on mice found that when germs and bacteria in the gut were removed, they naturally craved sugar. Without a healthy and diverse gut microbiome, the germ-free mice didn’t have any natural sense for craving food, they just craved sugar. This principle applies to the human gut too.
The human gut is supposed to have quite a lot of Bifidus species, Lactobacillus species and a widely diverse range of microbes. With a healthy and balanced microbiome, people tend to naturally crave food that is good and will sustain the body. These healthy or beneficial microbes thrive on fibre and real food – such as vegetables – and food that is not processed or from the mass production of the food industry.
On the other hand, if your gut microbiome is not in balance, you tend to have plenty of microbes that crave sugar. This means you will automatically crave sugar too.
Addictive and emotional eating habits
Dysbiosis is an imbalance or disruption in the gut flora composition.
Not only does dysbiosis cause cravings for certain foods, but it can also lead to addictive and emotional eating. When people eat for comfort, this can be a sign of dysbiosis in their gut flora.
The gut microbiome can influence your mood. Due to a strong connection between the gut and human brain, when your gut health is interfered with, it can contribute to emotional states that could drive emotional eating.
Studies also point to the link between neurotransmitter (brain messenger) activity and gut health. Dopamine and serotonin are part of the reward and happiness pathways in the brain and are connected with addictive behaviours. A compromised gut flora can affect these neurotransmitters, leading to addictive eating.
Stress can influence the state of your gut health
Naturally there are phases in life where your flora will shift, such as when you are stressed or for women, even during your menstrual cycle, pregnancy or menopause. These shifts are normal, the trick is to try and be aware of it so you can prepare for the possible challenge of cravings.
If you know you’re heading into a potentially stressful phase, you can be more prepared for the shift in your gut if you are aware of it. We don’t always know it, but it can be helpful to have some tools in your toolkit.
One thing you can do, is to step out of the stressful space, even for a few minutes a day and then consciously plan your food and lifestyle anchors that your know are good for you, especially when you are in a storm.
Is it possible to shift my gut flora?
And when you have made the shift, you will most likely be surprised at how easy it could be – craving leafy greens instead of cake. If you are consistent with filling your plate with mostly colourful vegetables and then add on whatever else you might be eating, you will already achieve a shift. There are quite precise and excellent ways of doing this, but as a first step, look at your plate and see if you have colour on there – more colour than no colour. That is your first step and will massively influence your microbiome.
Then if you crave that one thing that you know is not the best for a balanced microbiome, like a piece of cheesecake, a sandwich, pasta or some ice cream, have it and enjoy it, but don’t stock your house with 10 of the same and don’t continuously feed the bad flora. You can easily bounce back after one out-of-the-ordinary-meal a week. Consistency is key. What are you having daily?
Keep on feeding your microbiome with the good stuff. If you do this, your cravings will most likely be for the foods that will sustain you and keep you thriving, instead of damaging you.
For more on this topic, read my book Strengthen Your Immune System and Boost Your Resistance To Disease . For practical tips, support, and a shift in your microbiome in just three weeks, sign-up for my 3 week detox course.