Our gut microbiome plays an incredible role in our overall health. A balanced digestive tract protects us against chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease.

Poor gut health, also known as dysbiosis, can be caused by various factors including an overuse of antibiotics and eating an unhealthy diet. Dysbiosis damages the intestinal barrier, allowing unwanted bacteria and food particles into your bloodstream and ultimately increasing health risks.

Risk Factors

Understanding risk factors is the cornerstone of disease prevention. A risk factor includes anything that increases your chance of getting a certain illness, like smoking, high blood pressure or being overweight or obese. Some risk factors are under your control such as reducing cholesterol or not smoking while others like age, gender and family history of disease may require more effort from you in terms of change. NIH-funded research is helping both healthcare professionals and the general public better comprehend risk and make lifestyle decisions accordingly.

Framingham Heart Study used a long-term observational study to establish risk factors for coronary heart disease. These factors increase your chance of heart attack or stroke, such as being a smoker or having diabetes. If any or more of these risk factors apply to you, taking steps such as eating healthier and staying active regularly as well as taking any prescribed medication is critical to staying heart healthy.

Researchers have also created the Mendelian randomization (MR) technique, which leverages genetic variants to examine causality in observational studies. By controlling for other differences between people using genetic variants as markers of exposure or outcome, MR allows scientists to test effects such as diet and antibiotic treatment on gut microbes.

This approach has demonstrated that complex diseases, including lactose intolerance, colorectal cancer and depression all share similar yet unique microbiome features. This could allow gut microbiome research to move beyond correlation towards causation and possibly lead to novel therapeutic approaches.

Ilana Brito, assistant professor and Mong Family Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow in Cornell’s Nancy E. and Peter C. Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering, used a powerful computational and modelling approach to analyze thousands of genes associated with gut microbes and identify hundreds of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that directly corresponded with traits, disorders, or cancers related to gut microbiome composition.

Researchers found that heritable variation of the microbiome was strongly affected by SNPs, meaning certain gene variants could influence how the microbiome functions and susceptibility to disease.

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Genetics

As more research of our gut microbiome, GI barrier, and mucosal immune system emerges, it becomes evident that an optimally functioning digestive tract is an integral part of human health. A variety of diseases has been linked to altered GI barriers as a causal factor for pathogenesis; oftentimes this means an alteration in gut microbiota composition as the root cause.

But how can you tell if your gut is healthy? Symptoms like heartburn, gas and bloating provide insight into what may be occurring throughout your digestive system and in particular an indication of stomach acidity levels shifting, changes to immunity systems and changes to bacteria colonies that make up what’s known as the GI flora ecosystem.

Diets high in dietary fibre are key for maintaining the health of gut flora. You can achieve this through eating an assortment of vegetables, fruits and whole grains; adding fermented foods like yogurt, tempeh or sauerkraut will increase beneficial bacteria intake further. Furthermore, getting enough sleep each night was shown in 2019 research to be key in maintaining an ideal gut microbiota ecosystem.

Research is uncovering evidence that our gut microbiome plays a much broader role than simply digestion and nutrient absorption; it has an influence on moods, thinking styles and responses to stress as well as potential risks of diseases like cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease. Furthermore, certain species of bacteria have been discovered which release TMAO, an indicator linked to cardiovascular diseases as well as chronic kidney diseases.

Genetics plays an essential role in our health; however, some outside factors cannot be controlled – for instance, living in areas with poor air quality or being exposed to harmful chemicals and microbes. Some researchers are exploring strategies to decrease risks by making changes in diet or engaging in physical activities such as yoga or mindfulness meditation to achieve greater quality of life.

No single definition exists of gut health; however, one positive definition has begun to form that encompasses absence of digestive symptoms, intact GI barrier integrity, normal mucosal immune functions and an optimally functioning GI microbiome. Furthermore, gut health may include elements of lifestyle optimization, healthy weight and normal levels of cholesterol and blood pressure.

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Environment

Gut health goes beyond keeping tummy troubles at bay; a healthy gut supports many key bodily processes, from breaking down and digesting food to fighting off infections and regulating immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems. Furthermore, maintaining balance in our gut microbiome has an impactful influence on mental wellbeing as it impacts brain functioning.

Diet, environment and lifestyle all play an essential role in maintaining gut health. In general, those who eat higher-quality diets tend to have more diverse microbiomes in their gut than those eating less healthy foods. Studies have also revealed how an individual’s gut microbiome can impact the risk of certain diseases like IBD, CVD and rheumatoid arthritis.

Studies have demonstrated that the health of one’s microbiome can be predicted based on their family history; however, most gut health disorders involve multiple genetic, environmental and microbiological influences that must come together for proper diagnosis and treatment.

The gut bacterial community can have a dramatic impact on one’s health through production of short-chain fatty acids and other compounds used by cells throughout the body to regulate various functions, particularly immune cell activity in bloodstream and brain.

Gut microbes produce trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), a substance linked to atherosclerosis, heart disease, and cardiovascular events. A 2022 study published revealed that those with higher levels of TMAO had an increased risk of death as well as being more likely to experience cardiac arrest or chronic kidney disease.

As the list of diseases associated with an improper gastrointestinal barrier and altered microbiome grows, so too do their related diseases. Achieve optimal functioning requires not just physical barrier assessment by measuring permeability measurements; rather it involves epithelial defence mechanisms, metabolic functions, immune system responses, enteric nervous system reactions and mucosal immunity systems all working in concert to maintain balance in this ecosystem.

The GI tract is essential to maintaining optimal immunity, endocrine, and cardiovascular health, with its microbiome playing an essential role. Dietary changes that improve gut health such as adding more fibre or including plant-based proteins such as nuts, seeds, beans and legumes in meals can significantly enhance gut wellbeing.

Lifestyle

Gut health refers to the balance of bacteria, fungi and viruses within our microbial community that work to digest food and distribute essential nutrients across our bodies. Gut health plays an essential role in maintaining strong immunity, endocrine function and emotional well-being; contributing both directly and indirectly. Your gut isn’t simply your digestive tract – it encompasses your whole abdominal region including liver, pancreas and spleen as part of its ecosystem.

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Good bacteria live in your intestines to ward off infections and keep bad ones at bay, but when out-of-balance occurs it may lead to symptoms like bloating, flatulence, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), food intolerances or intolerances, constipation or diarrhoea, loss of appetite, weight loss or blood in stool.

Diets high in processed foods and sugars that lack fiber can alter the balance of gut bacteria, leading to more bad than good ones. Stress, overuse of antibiotics or antacids and leaky gut syndrome may all play a part in increasing infection risks.

Implementing positive lifestyle changes is an effective way to boost gut health, including taking probiotics and eating a fibre-rich and/or vegetarian diet, cutting back on sugar consumption and excessive alcohol use, getting plenty of restful sleep and exercise/meditation/relaxation techniques (but be sure to consult your physician first before making drastic lifestyle changes).

Garlic can play an essential role in improving gut health. Acting as both a prebiotic and probiotic, garlic provides essential nourishment to healthy bacteria in your digestive system. Plus, its antibacterial and antiviral properties support your immune system and boost its resilience! Mushrooms are an excellent source of prebiotics and have been shown to increase beneficial bacteria counts in your gut. You can add mushrooms to numerous dishes like soup, casserole or curries. Mushrooms contain soluble fibre that can aid digestion and speed food through your GI tract faster, helping avoid digestive issues. Furthermore, certain mushroom compounds may reduce inflammation caused by conditions like IBS and Crohn’s disease in your gut.