Think “gut health” and you probably think of probiotic pills and kombucha drinks. But the health of your microbiome – the 30 trillion odd microorganisms living inside you – is like a report card on your overall lifestyle.
“One of the most significant factors that influences what our microbes are up to is how well we are looking after ourselves,” says Dr Paula Smith-Brown, Lead Accredited Practising Dietitian at Brisbane company, Microba.
It begs questions like – is my gut healthy?
How healthy is your gut microbiome and what should you feed it?
It’s a question worth answering as research on gut health explodes. The little critters living inside seem to affect everything from our mood and sleep quality to our cancer risk and heart health.
These new findings are, “probably the most exciting thing that’s happened in science in the last 20 years,” according to Nicole Dynan, the Sydney-based ‘Gut Health Dietitian‘.
In my own self-experiment, I recently sent the scientists at Microba some poo on a cotton bud.
Using their world-first, evidence-based test, I found out which microscopic friends and foes live in my gut. It also revealed substances they produce that affect me, like vitamins and neurotransmitters.
I was keen to know whether my "good enough" approach to healthy eating was letting the good bugs flourish. And whether my microbial diversity had bounced back from serious antibiotics in recent years.
A diverse microbiome is a healthy one. It resembles an inner "rainforest" of varied, beneficial microbes, rather than a neglected garden overrun by a few weeds.
Why is diversity important?
"Let’s say one species is performing an important functional job and something happens to that species. Then if you’ve got a really diverse microbiome there are other species that can also step in and perform that job," explains Smith-Brown.
It seems my inner bugs are thriving under the “everything in moderation” diet – porridge for breakfast, salad for lunch and chocolate whenever. Compared to healthy people, my microbial diversity is on the high end of average, and there is no one species growing out of control.