Gut Health- Understanding the Microbiome and Optimizing Digestion
Our health is intricately connected with the microorganisms that live on and within us. The complexity of our body’s inner ecosystem has become a focal point of emerging scientific research in the last decade. With every discovery, it’s clear that the health of this ecosystem is intimately connected to ours. Through a functional medicine lens, optimizing digestion is not just about palliating symptoms, it’s about understanding the interplay between our bodies and the organisms that we could not live without.
What is the Microbiome?
Our microbiome is composed of the diverse community of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms living on and inside our body. These microscopic inhabitants play critical roles in digestion, nutrient absorption, immune activity, metabolic function, mental health and more. An imbalanced microbiome (dysbiosis), can contribute to a myriad of health issues, from digestive discomfort to chronic disease.
Functional Medicine and Digestive Health
Conventionally digestive treatments alleviate symptoms, an antacid for acid reflux or a laxative for constipation. Functional medicine strives for a deeper understanding, moving beyond symptom management to explore underlying dysbiosis, diet, stressors, lack of parasympathetic tone, and other contributing factors. Treatment is guided by the 5Rs: Remove, Replace, Repair, Re-inoculate, and Re-balance. Utilizing microbial analysis ensures personalized recommendations for the individual we are working with.
Microbiome Analysis – A Glimpse Inside
Thanks to advanced technologies, we can analyze and interpret the composition of an individual’s gut microbiome. This analysis can reveal:
- Microbial Diversity: A diverse gut is often a healthy gut. Diversity can reflect resilience and a broader capacity to handle internal and external challenges. As a species we have lost diversity over generations and maintaining this is critical for optimal health.
- Beneficial Bacteria Presence: Strains like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are famed for their positive roles in digestion and overall health.
- Pathogenic Microorganisms: An overgrowth can contribute to gut imbalances and associated symptoms.
- Metabolic Capabilities: How well your microbiome converts food into energy, produces vitamins, or metabolizes compounds can be key indicators of health.
- Strategies for Digestion Optimization
- Inflammatory markers: A large portion of your immune system surrounds your digestive tract and communicates regularly with your microbiome. Stool tests can provide insight into an over reactive immune system in the gut.
Once armed with knowledge from a microbiome analysis, here are some strategies to optimize digestion:
- Removing pathogenic: removing organisms utilizing antimicrobial herbs or antibiotics
- Personalized Probiotic and Prebiotic Interventions: Tailoring supplements to replenish beneficial bacteria and using prebiotics to nurture them
- Dietary Adjustments: Emphasizing fiber-rich, whole foods, and reducing inflammatory agents like processed foods or allergens
- Stress Management: There is bidirectional communication between our brain and our gut. This gut-brain axis is controlled by a parasympathetic nervous system. Techniques like meditation, deep-breathing, and proper sleep are critical for proper function.
- Natural Remedies: Utilizing herbs, enzymes, and other natural compounds to support digestive functions.
In our quest for optimal health, understanding and nurturing our microbiome is paramount. The adage, “You are what you eat,” seems to evolve into a more profound insight: “You are what your microbiome digests.”
The mysteries of our gut microbiome continue to unravel but we know a healthy gut is critical for a healthy host. Utilizing microbial analysis allows us to take a targeted personalized approach to health, from the inside out.
Dr. Ellie Adair, ND, is a Functional Medicine Physician at Vida Integrated Health. With a focus on holistic interventions, she integrates cutting-edge research with her holistic approach to medicine. Remember, always consult with a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your health regimen.
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