6 Things To Know About Your Gut Microbiome, According To Experts

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When you hear the word "bacteria," you probably think of something bad, like the kind of bacteria that causes infections. But the truth is, there are all kinds of bacteria living in your body right at this moment, especially in your gut. These bacteria are known as your gut microbiome, and many of them are actually good for you.

"The microbiome is defined as as 'community of microbes,'" Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com, tells Bustle. "Our individual microbiomes are sometimes called our 'genetic footprints' since they help determine our unique DNA, hereditary factors, predisposition to diseases, body type or body 'set point weight,' and much more. The vast majority of the bacterial species that make up our microbiome live in our digestive systems. Believe it or not, your microbiome is home to trillions of microbes, diverse organisms that help govern nearly every function of the human body in some way. The importance of our gut microbiome cannot be overstated."

Since the microbiome's effects are so far-reaching, taking good care of it will improve your overall health. Here are some things experts sayyou should know in order to keep your microbiome — and yourself — healthy.

1It Dramatically Impacts Your Health

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The gut microbiome affects every part of the body, from the digestive system itself to the brain. "It’s been said by some researchers that up to 90 percent of all diseases can be traced in some way back to the gut and health of the microbiome," says Axe. "Poor gut health can contribute to leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune diseases and disorders like arthritis, dementia, heart disease, and cancer, while our health, fertility and longevity are also highly reliant on the balance of critters living within our guts."

2That Includes Mental Health

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When people talk about "following your gut" or "gut instincts," it may not just be a figure of speech. Researchers refer to the connection between the gut microbiome as the gut-brain axis. "We now know there are multiple neuro-chemical and neuro-metabolic pathways between the central nervous system/brain and microbiome/digestive tract that send signals to one another, affecting our memory, thought patterns, and reasoning," says Axe. For this reason, poor gut health has been linked to learning disabilities and ADHD, and probiotic use has been linked to alleviation of depression.

3Antibiotics Can Damage It

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The gut microbiome is delicate, with everything from diet to sleep habits to medications affecting it. Antibiotics are particularly damaging to the microbiome, since they wipe out your good bacteria along with the bad ones, so Axe cautions against taking them when it's not necessary.

4What You Eat Can Heal It

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The good news is, the microbiome's malleability also means you can improve its health. "Your diet plays a big part in establishing gut health and supporting your microbiome’s good bacteria," Axe says. Axe recommends eating antioxidant foods like goji berries, blueberries, and dark chocolate, anti-inflammatory foods like fresh vegetables and whole fruits, and probiotic foods like yogurt, kombucha, kvass, kefir, and cultured vegetables. Supplements like Co-enzyme Q10, carotenoids, omega-3 fish oil, selenium, and vitamins C, D, and E also protect your microbiome by preventing free radical damage. Probiotic supplements are also good for your microbiome, especially to counteract the effects of antibiotics.

5Everyone's Is Unique

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Your microbiome is like your fingerprint; nobody else's is quite like it. This makes it challenging to replenish it simply by taking probiotics or eating probiotic-rich food, Ben Johnson, MD, founder of holistic beautybrand OsmosisSkincare, tells Bustle. In addition to putting new probiotics into your system, you can encourage your own microbiome to regrow by consuming prebiotic foods and supplements. These include leafy green vegetables and fermented foods like kimchi, and sauerkraut (which are also probiotics).

"Prebiotics help feed the trillions of good bacteria that you already have and in most cases are better for good gut health than probiotics," gastroenterologist Sarina Pasricha, MD, MSCR tells Bustle.

6It Houses Your Immune System

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"Nearly 70 percent of your immune system is located in your gut, and the beneficial bacteria and microorganisms that live in your microbiome support gut health, oral health, immune health, emotional wellness, and more," Amy Sunderman, MS, RD, Swanson Health’s Director of Science & Innovation, tells Bustle. This is likely why poor gut health has been linked to autoimmune diseases.

Research on the microbiome is still in its infancy, but based on the evidence so far, it's looking like it plays a greater role in our health and our lives than we imagined. Your microbiome will likely have a lasting impact on your future, and the good news is, there's a lot you can do to take care of it now.