Feeling a bit moody? Maybe getting sick more often than you would like? Struggling with food cravings? You might need to take a closer look at your body’s beneficial bacteria. That’s not a play on words; I’m referring to the complex colonies of bacteria that reside in our gut, known as our microbiome. They have some surprising and important functions in promoting human health. Let’s take a closer look at these tiny buggers and review how you can keep your gut happy:

Immune health. Here’s a striking figure: Scientists estimate that the microbiome is responsible for 80% of our immune function. But how does bacteria keep us healthy? By protecting the delicate layer of cells that lines our gastrointestinal tract, known at the gut barrier. These cells are the gateway between our bloodstream, and everything in our tummies. So it has the important task of keeping things like dangerous microorganisms and toxins out, while allowing nutrients and water to get in. The beneficial bacteria help by protecting this delicate barrier from damage, and allowing it to continue doing its job efficiently.

The “second brain”. The microbiome does more than just act like a bouncer for our gut barrier, it also communicates with our brain. In the process of breaking down food for its own fuel, our microflora produces important chemical byproducts like serotonin and tryptophan. In fact, the gut houses up to 95% of the serotonin in our bodies. These chemicals play a role in regulating our sleep, our appetites, and even our mood. So, when our gut flora is not balanced, neither are we.

Promotion of a healthy weight. A healthy gut can go a long way in weight management. Recent research is indicating that the composition of bacteria in our guts can be either very helpful, or even harmful when it comes to insulin resistance. In other words, the wrong bugs can make our insulin less effective, and therefore disrupt our body’s overall metabolic engine. Also startling, certain types of gut bacteria appear to enhance our body’s ability to utilize energy from food, making excess fat storage more likely.

If you think your microbiome needs some TLC, never fear. Small changes in our diets and lifestyle can keep the “good” bugs happy. Including probiotic & prebiotic-rich foods in the diet can introduce the right kinds of bacteria, and provide the fuel they prefer. Take a peek at “Feeding Friendly Bacteria for Gut Health” for suggestions. Good self care, like getting adequate sleep and managing stress levels, is also important. For more, speak with your Nutrition Specialist today!