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A Whole New World to Explore!

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

STUDENT CONTRIBUTOR: Jeannene Rumball | The Business School, Humber College

November 16, 2020

Microbiota Diversity and Gut Health

What is a 'Diverse Microbiota'?

A microbiota is made up of many microorganisms that include bacteria, viruses, and fungi; creating a very diverse environment in your gut. These microorganisms all live harmoniously in our guts, producing thousands of very powerful compounds essential to our overall health and wellbeing..

There is a genetic connection involved in an individual’s microbiome. Starting as early as the moment we are born, our microbiota is influenced by the method of delivery at birth and the method of feeding during infancy. Diet and lifestyle also influence the variation of bacteria in your gut and play a supporting role in creating or maintaining a diverse microbiota.

Is a Diverse Microbiota Important? YES!

A diverse microbiota is directly related to our gut and overall health. The greater our microbiota diversity, the better it is for our gut and overall health and well-being. Not only is a diverse microbiota vital for humans, but as well has been proven to be essential for the health of animals, plants, and our planet.

A healthy and diverse microbiota has also been linked to various benefits, such as better sleep quality in elderly individuals. This has shown to increase their Verrucomicrobia strain, which has been linked to improved cognitive function in the elderly.

To help raise awareness about the critical importance of a diverse microbiota, World Microbiome Day was created in 2018 and implemented worldwide. This day helps raise awareness of the importance of microbial health, and the benefits of creating and maintaining a diverse environment. The day also brings attention to how to create and support a diverse microbiota.

Eating Your Way to a Diverse Microbiota!

To increase the diversity or maintain a highly diverse microbiota, a variety of foods, both plant-based and animal proteins are recommended. Eating patterns play an essential role in developing one’s microbiota, as the more diverse your diet, the more diverse your microbiota will be (1). The following are some essential food groups or items to include in your diet to ensure a highly diverse microbiota.

Food sources that will benefit your microbiome:

Dietary fibres found in such food items as cooked and cooled potatoes, root vegetables, onions, legumes, artichokes, or bananas are essential as they can be used metabolically by the gut microbes. These fibres help to nourish the good bacteria in our guts.

Make sure to include foods packed with probiotics such as fermented milk, yogurts, or kefir, to help increase diversity.

Be sure to include foods that are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include oily fish, walnuts and flax seeds. While foods rich with omega-6 fatty acids include avocados, nuts, seeds and various vegetable oils.

For those not following a plant-based diet, choosing a balance between animal proteins, such as fish, meat, eggs, or dairy and plant-based proteins, such as legumes, nuts, soy, and seeds, will help to diversify your microbiota.

Lastly, be sure to eat plenty of vitamin and mineral packed foods. These can be found in various food items such as wholegrain cereals, legumes, beans, fruits, vegetables, and animal products.

Eating for a diverse microbiota does not ensure one, as various other aspects will impact it. Some of these factors include your lifestyle, your environment and antibiotics.

Antibiotic Use and Gut Microbiota

Have you ever had to go on an antibiotic as a result of a bacterial infection or disease? The name penicillin may come to mind when you think of antibiotics. You may have been told by a pharmacist or a doctor that you should make sure to eat probiotics and prebiotics when taking them. Health professionals do not recommend probiotics for the potential benefits they may have on fighting your disease or infection but rather counteract the damaging impact that antibiotics can have on gut microbiota.

When you take antibiotics, this not only kills the harmful bacteria but as well the good bacteria. In fact, it significantly reduces the number and diversity of gut microbiota we have. Although many gut microbiota species may recover, studies have shown that some species had still not recovered even four years post-antibiotic use. In addition, even the short-term use of antibiotics can cause permanent damage to our gut microbiota health and diversity. Therefore, antibiotics can significantly reduce your microbiota level and diversity, leaving you higher risk for dysbiosis and its resulting consequences.

Probiotics and prebiotics are not just a tasty suggestion from your doctor! By incorporating probiotics and prebiotics anytime you need to go on antibiotics, you can limit the potential damage to your gut microbiota.

Consequences of Low Microbiota Diversity

A low diversity of microbiota can indicate dysbiosis, which is a microbial imbalance in the gut. Small imbalances in microbial may result in an upset stomach, while larger imbalances can cause much more severe health consequences. Dysbiosis has been linked to diseases such as IBS, Crohn's disease or Colitis. Not only may it cause said conditions, but it also may worsen their symptoms.

It is also important to note that as we age, our microbiota's diversity decreases, leaving elderly individuals more at risk for the potential consequences. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure aging individuals receive a diverse diet to help combat their decreasing microbial diversity.

Bottom Line

Gut health is essential and a diverse microbiota is necessary, for our health, animals’ health and the health of our planet. Be sure to incorporate a variety of foods into your diet, especially probiotics, dietary fibre, foods rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin and mineral packed foods, and animal and plant-based proteins. The greater the diversity of your diet, the greater the diversity in your microbiota. Your gut is like a second brain, so be sure to protect it and feed it what it needs to be prosperous and healthy.

Consult a Registered Dietitian for support in achieving your unique health goals.

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