I don’t endeavour here to do a huge in-depth piece on what is a really complex topic that I’ve been studying for three years now (frankly, I don’t have the time). But since gut health is becoming more and more of a “big deal”, I’ve put together an elevator guide to the microbiome, a bunch of facts you need to know, nicely packaged in bite-sized form to tell your mates, Gran, postman or hairdresser.

Image via nytimes.com
Image via nytimes.com

1. News just in: The microbiome is responsible for most contemporary illness.

2. The microbiome is the bacteria living inside you and on your skin – bacteria, viruses, archaea, eukaryotes and fungi included.

3. 95 per cent of microbiota sits in your gut – home to approximately 100,000,000,000,000 (100 trillion) micro organisms. That’s 10 times more than the number of cells in the human body.

4. Your gut microbiome comprises 80 per cent of your immune system. 

5. You don’t get your bacteria until after you’re born. We acquire most of our microbiome by the age of three.

6. Our microbiota is influenced by: Mum (birth and breastfeeding), the environment (dirt, animals, other humans), the foods we eat and other stuff we consume (alcohol, medication etc).

7. A greater bacteria diversity means less risk of allergies. So, oh sweet irony, our current obsession with cleanliness is actually making us sick. Please don’t ever use anti-bacterial handwash, for instance.

8. A microbiome is considered healthy when there’s the right balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria.

9. A healthy microbiome promotes normal gastrointestinal function, protects from infection and regulates metabolism.

10. Messed up microbiomes are linked to a range of modern day diseases, including autism, obesity, depression, anxiety, allergies, asthma and autoimmune disease. Here’s some recent research.

11. Depression? Anxiety? 95 per cent of serotonin (your happy chemical) is produced in your gut.

12. What can cause an unbalanced microbiome? Chronic stress and infections, antibiotics and other medications, diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar (!) and processed foods, dietary toxins like wheat and industrial seed oils that cause leaky gut.

13. The state of our microbiome also contributes to the ability to properly digest and absorb the nutrients from the food we eat.

14. Probiotics fuel the good gut bugs and can be acquired from certain foods (yoghurt, kefir, fermented foods etc).

15. People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and irritable bowel disease (IBD) have shown markedly different microbiomes than healthy populations.

16. Dirt strengthens the immune system. A little dirt on veggies provides soil-based organisms which, through a process of gene swapping with the microbiome, have been found to strengthen the immune system.

17. Sugar is one of your microbiome’s worst enemies. It promotes the growth of bad bacteria in the gut and hampers the growth of the good stuff.

18. Artificial  sweeteners are just as crap. Aspartame is converted to formaldehyde (an embalming fluid) in your body. Your liver can’t clear this toxin normally, so it remains lodged, activates inflammation and can lead to autoimmune issues. Ditto sugar alcohols – they’re indigestible and will disrupt the functioning of the lining of the gut.

19. Eating gelatin helps restore your gut lining, which is beneficial for the development of a healthy balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in your microbiome.

Do you have any other facts to add to the list?

Have your say, leave a comment.

  • Amanda

    Great summary! I would also add that gut dysbiosis (unbalanced bacteria) can damage the gut wall and cause hyper-permeability which leads to many different health issues from allergies to auto-immune disease. Good news is the gut wall can heal, and then so can your body ?

  • Belinda Leck

    Great summary. I’m someone with severe IBS and was close to hospitalisation until my specialist sent me to a dietician to learn about the FODMAP diet. Sadly, IBS wreaked havoc with my biome but through FODMAP elimination I’m getting my life back. I’m wondering if the IQS 8 week program is compatible with a FODMAP diet?

  • Laura

    Great post! I’m in love with the gelatin gummies, I can just feel my guts saying ‘thank you!’ By the way are they suitable to share with my 1 year old?

  • Maya Chitrani Pérez

    This explains a lot! I have IBS and have recently been diagnosed with acne rosacea at the age of 51! I am a vegetarian, so the animal gelatin is not for me. Would a plant based gelatin do?

    • lena

      I don’t think plant based gelatin has the same health properties. But there are herbs that can help like marshmallow root and slippery elm to increase mucus/stomach lining, and ease inflammation. You can also use the amino acid l-glutamine to generate gut lining repair, though this acid also can have a detox effect, so it may not be as gentle to use

  • Karly Shire

    My partner has Crohns disease and has just come out of hospital from another flare up. What do you recommend diet wise to help with this. The specialist suggests low fibre which in my view ends up being low nutrients. Just wondering your thoughts. Thanks

    • Olena Harasymowycz

      Check out Wellness Forum (Dr Pamela Popper). I have been following her IBD protocol for 7 weeks now and have had great success. She has experience with clients with IBD and helps people achieve remission through a whole foods plant based diet.

  • Zoe

    Hi IQS,
    I’ve been doing a good amount of reading on this very topic of late and stumbled across a Doctor by the name of Kelly Brogan from the States and who has previously suffered from Hashimoto’s also. She’s a psychiatrist by profession but has shifted her practice to a more holistic approach specialising in women’s health focusing greatly on the microbiome, rather than pills and prescriptions. I am in no way affiliated with her business but if you haven’t come across her work, I highly recommend you check it out. I think it aligns really well with the IQS philosophy 🙂

  • Rebecca Irving

    Love this simplified break down. Tackling gut health has been an absolute game changer in managing my MS. Explaining this to Nanna who loves loading me up with lots of sugary processed carb treats is always a challenge!

  • Lyn Masters

    Hi Sarah, I’ve been thinking a bit about having my microbiome tested (long term sufferer IBS etc). Could you recommend any labs in Australia that carry out this type of testing as seen on the ‘Insight’ program. It seems so commonplace O/S but not sure about here?

  • Lyn Masters

    Correction – it was as seen on ‘Catalyst’ TV program..

  • Fiona Blackwell

    Great summary. I am fairly microbiome obsessed.
    However please correct point 15. IBD is inflammatory bowel disease, not irritable bowel disease. IBD being an AI is seperate to IBS (although I was talking to a researcher who said some research points to them being on a spectrum).