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How your microbiome is key to good health

Guts are getting a rebrand. Liz Connor tells you all you need to know about the latest wellness scene obsession

Considering the rise in kimchi, kombucha and probiotic products, it's pretty clear gut health is something we're all starting to take seriously.

It's little wonder, really. Over the past few years, increasing research has emerged showing just how important maintaining a healthy gut is, not just for physical health but also for our mental wellbeing.

While we once squeamishly talked about fostering a healthy balance of 'good' and 'bad' bacteria in the intestines, now people are exchanging tips on 'microbiomes'.

The term is making waves on social media, with over 57,000 posts on Instagram - mostly from wellness junkies who, let's face it, are usually one step ahead of the curve when it comes to predicting the next big thing.

So what exactly is the microbiome, why is it so important and how can we protect it?

What is a microbiome?

Every person has an internal ecosystem of bacteria in our bodies dubbed the microbiome - a trendy term for the environmental conditions in our guts.

"Microbiome literally translates as 'a small habitat of living things'," explains Dr Dan Robertson, a medical officer at Push Doctor. "In this case, we're talking about the billions of good bacteria (along with some viruses and fungi) that live in your body - most of which are found in your gut."

These microbes are constantly adapting to our environmental changes, while health, stress, diet, age, gender, and everything you touch, can alter the composition of gut bacteria.

This complex community of microbes can help to govern nearly every function of the human body in some way or another, while research has discovered the microbiome can affect everything from asthma and irritable bowel syndrome, to anxiety and depression.

Why is your microbiome important?

Want to avoid winter flu? Start eating with your gut in mind. Studies have found that having a healthy microbiome is important in fostering a strong immune system and keeping us healthy.

"Your microbiome helps regulate your metabolism, breaks food down during the digestion process, protects your body against harmful infections and produces certain vitamins," says Dr Robertson. "We couldn't really live without it, because it works hard for our bodies on a day-to-day basis."

While both genders can benefit from a harmonious microbiome, Dr Robertson says it's particularly important in women.

"Good bacteria is very important in maintaining vaginal health. If you use soaps or antibiotics, the microbiome can be wiped out and you're much more likely to get secondary infections like thrush, bacterial vaginosis or urinary tract infections."

What can you do to protect your microbiome?

Make sure you're getting a healthy blend of probiotics and prebiotics in your diet.

You can easily load up on probiotics by feasting on yogurt, tempeh (soy product), sauerkraut, kefir (fermented milk drink) and miso. Meanwhile, prebiotics, come in the form of raw garlic, leeks, chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke and bananas.

"Looking after your gut is really important," says Dr Robertson. "That means eating a balanced diet and not bombarding your microbiome with foods that are hard to break down, such as refined carbs, trans fats and foods high in added sugar. Try to stick to regular mealtimes too, so that your gut can get into a regular pattern."

Try making up a microbiome bowl on your next lunch break - a photogenic dish of colourful gut bolstering foods.

Health blogger Leah Vanderveldt, aka The Nourish Exchange, has an Ultimate Gut Health Bowl that helps good gut bacteria thrive. It's packed with fermented veggies, chickpeas, coconut yogurt, bitter greens and a good lashing of apple cider vinegar to support the natural detoxification processes in the body.

The potent cocktail of probiotics and vitamin-rich foods will help regulate hormones, digestion, eliminate toxins and boost the immune system as we head into winter.

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