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Why Having a Good Gut Matters to Your Health

Your microbiome—the community of bacteria that live in your intestinal tract—is especially important when you have diabetes because it not only affects your overall health but how your body responds to sugar.

Genomes and Biomes: A Primer

good gut bacteriaGut bacteria play a very important role in carbohydrate digestion.

The human body is made up of a variety of human cells, such as brain cells, skin cells, and blood cells. Your genes provide your cells with instructions for how they should function in your body. The complete set of human genes in your body is known as the human genome.

At the same time, trillions of microbes (bacteria) also live in and on your body. These microbes, which are actively involved in many body processes, are quite diverse and have their own genes. The complete set of genes found in all these microbes is known as the human microbiome. The word microbiome is also used to describe the entire community of microbes living in and on your body, along with their genes. This community may also be referred to as the human microbiota.

Your microbiome develops from the time you are born, with exposure to bacteria in your mother’s birth canal and breast milk. It also includes microbes you pick up from the environment during the first couple of years of life. The formation of your microbiome is a selection process, as microbes select an appropriate environment and your body selects microbes it needs to perform certain functions without causing harm. This is how genetic selection may help determine the composition of your individual microbiome. Once developed, your microbiome is highly individual; while it functions the same way as another person’s microbiome, the make-up of bacteria varies among individuals.

Why Your Microbiome Matters

Although your microbiome lives in and on various parts of your body, including your nose, mouth, lungs, skin, and genitals, it is most concentrated in your digestive tract. Your gut microbiome participates in many different processes in your body, including digestion, and also works with your immune system to protect against infection and disease. The microbiome can be changed by many factors, including the types of food you eat or drugs you take and how you age, and these changes affect your health by affecting many different systems in your body.

There are at least three ways the microbiome affects people with diabetes:

#1. Gut bacteria play a very important role in carbohydrate digestion. In fact, while human cells can only breakdown a small percentage of the carbohydrates you consume, the bacteria in your gut produce enzymes that can break down many more.

#2. The rate at which your body digests food affects how it is absorbed into your bloodstream. Your microbiome’s individual nature also helps explain why your body’s blood sugar response to eating certain foods can be very different than someone else’s response.

#3. Specific groups of bacteria are associated with obesity; gaining and losing weight will affect the makeup of your microbiome which in turn will affect the role your individual community of bacteria plays in both health and disease.

Keep it Healthy

Since the microbiome can change for better or for worse, different bacterial species shifting in numbers throughout your lifetime, it helps to keep your community of microbes balanced and healthy. While it is known that the microbiomes of the gut, mouth and other areas of the body play important roles in both health and disease, not enough is known to individualize their care. There are some general steps you can take, however, to help maintain a healthy microbiome:

  • Use broad-spectrum antibiotics only when absolutely necessary because they are known to negatively alter the balance of bacteria within the microbiome in long-lasting ways.
  • Choose foods that are known to encourage the health of the microbiome. These include “prebiotics,” or high-fiber foods, fruits and vegetables, that feed the healthy bacteria that populate the microbiome. Probiotic foods, such as yogurt, aged cheese, kimchi, and fresh sauerkraut actually contain beneficial microbes that are similar to those already living in your gut.
  • Avoid eating too many processed foods and foods sweetened with artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners have been found to promote glucose intolerance in laboratory animals, and researchers have found similar disturbances in glucose metabolism in humans.
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