You’ve probably heard of probiotics — microorganisms that supplement your gut and improve your digestive health. The organisms that naturally occur in your gut aren’t aways harmful. In fact, your gut microbiome is an ecosystem filled with a variety of bacteria you need to survive. When this ecosystem loses this balance, you can get sick. Here’s how your gut microbiome can cause disease — and how to prevent it.
Why are there bacteria in your gut?
Scientists estimate we have more bacteria in our bodies than cells, Live Science says. Most of these organisms provide benefits, especially when it comes to outnumbering the bad guys. Gut microbes play a huge role in your immunity. They also help your body metabolize nutrients so you can get energy from your food. There’s even some research suggesting gut microbes affect your brain and behavior, but we need to study these effects in people before we can be sure.
How bacteria cause inflammation
According to Science Daily, inflammation that results from gut bacteria might have something to do with the nutrients available to that bacteria. To make things worse, the composition of your gut bacteria changes during inflammatory episodes. Sometimes the amount of “good” bacteria decrease, while “bad” bacteria thrive. A healthy gut promotes normal digestion. So when this doesn’t happen, plenty of other problems arise — everything from weight gain to heart disease.
An imbalanced microbiome could cause weight gain
Your gut microbes might claim responsibility for your weight loss struggles. When the bacteria in your gut interfere with how well your intestines can (or can’t) do their job, results can be frustrating. The Postgraduate Medical Journal says when your gut microbiome “malfunctions,” your metabolism suffers. Metabolic problems can lead to obesity, which can actually change the balance of bacteria in your gut and cause even more damage to your health.
You’re also more likely to develop diabetes
Have you ever wondered why diabetes and diet often go hand in hand? Research suggests an imbalance in gut bacteria might promote insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes. When your body can’t produce insulin properly, your body loses its ability to control blood sugar. This is just one of many possible reasons why obesity and diabetes are so closely connected. Since a higher body fat percentage changes the gut microbiome, losing control of the foods you eat can have devastating results.
It could contribute to inflammatory bowel disease
According to the World Journal of Gastroenterology, gut bacteria may be to blame for the onset of inflammatory bowel diseases like irritable bowel syndrome. IBS is a chronic condition that negatively affects your large intestine, and can only be managed, not cured, says Mayo Clinic. Common symptoms like cramping, bloating, and diarrhea may be manageable, but lifestyle changes can both improve your gut microbiome and ease your IBS symptoms.
Certain species increase your risk of heart disease
The health of your gut can influence one of the most vital organs in your body. According to the journal Nature Medicine, gut microbes can actually increase your heart disease risk. Certain types of bacteria in your gut break down a harmful nutrient that can cause atherosclerosis, a heart condition that decreases blood flow to and from your heart. Most people don’t know they have this condition until they have a heart attack.
How to promote a healthier gut
Your diet has a major influence on gut health. Introducing healthy bacteria into your system helps keep your microbiome balanced and decreases your disease risk. Harvard Health Publications recommends eating fermented foods like soy products and some yogurts, which introduce probiotics into your digestive tract. You can take probiotic supplements instead, but these are dietary supplements, and aren’t closely regulated by the FDA.