The Gut Microbiome

Understanding what is it and how it affects your health

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Written by Mark
Updated over a week ago

The microbiome is literally a whole new world and it can be quite complex to understand. So we thought we would help to set the scene a bit. Below we have answered key questions to help you learn about the microbiome and how your results will affect your goals and meal plan.

What is my Gut Microbiome and why does it matter?

Your gut encompasses your intestinal tract and has a surface area 4x larger than your skin. This is important as this surface will be absorbing all the different nutrients and compounds you consume which your body needs to survive and be healthy! It’s important the walls are kept intact so that they can be efficient and effective. In some conditions, inflammation and damage to the gut can cause malabsorption of nutrients and lead to symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal discomfort and unusual bowel movements. 

Interestingly, the health of our gut is not just about absorbing nutrients but creating them too. This is where our gut friends come in. It is estimated we have about 100 trillion microbes in and on our bodies, but fear not, these are largely-speaking, beneficial to us! In our gut alone, we have around 2kg of microbes who help to break down foods we can’t digest (such as fibre) and create nutrients such as vitamins and other molecules which help in different ways. For example, some bacteria produce certain B vitamins and vitamin K, low abundance of these bacteria could progress into deficiencies. Whilst, some other bacteria create short chain fatty acids, which research suggests are beneficial for reducing inflammation (and the negative symptoms associated with gut upset) but also could be beneficial in maintaining a healthy weight, regulating appetite and preventing metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease. 

The bacteria found in our gut are linked to a whole array of outcomes, from nutrient deficiencies, to the strength of our immune system, our weight, food intolerances, eczema even our mental health! We actually have a thin mesh of brain cells covering our intestinal tract, this relays information to and from our brain via a connection (the vagus nerve). Ever wondered why we say, ‘I have a gut feeling’, or why our tummies get in knots when we’re anxious? Now you understand why!

Having an abundance of a certain bacteria or several bacteria could be indicative of a high-fat or low-carbohydrate diet, whilst some specific bacteria are much more commonly seen in indivuals with IBS or type 2 diabetes for example. In addition, have a high abundance of certain microbes could also be an indicator of increased risk for conditions such as atherosclerosis. It's useful to identify which bugs you're hosting to help make the right changes to reduce risk.

The food that we eat, how often we exercise, our stress levels and environment around us all contribute to the makeup of which microbes that live inside our gut. Leading a healthy life, eating a diverse range of plant-based & probiotic foods and reducing stress is all fundamental to ensuring our guts are happy and keeping us healthy. 

What will my results show?

Your results will be sent directly to your app and will come up as a list presenting the species identified, the abundance they were found in and whether this is the optimal amount or whether it needs to be monitored (and therefore actions taken to improve). These can get confusing pretty quick, so here’s a bit of a guide to help you work your way through your results. 

First thing to look at is your Gut Diversity Score. With this result, higher is better. Many studies have shown the more species you’re hosting the healthier and happier your gut environment is likely to be. Our diversity now is a fraction of the size our ancestors had. As we have access to the same foods all year round and tend to have our staple favourites, the range of foods we consume is slim. Surveys have shown the average household only consumes 3 portions of vegetables a day and these tend to be from a choice of about 5 foods – not very diverse. Alongside the introduction of antibiotics and rise in processed foods, we have lost many species which used to inhabit our guts. 

Two key bacteria to look at is Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, these are often the species found in probiotic yoghurts or supplements. Bifidobacterium breaks down foods we cannot digest and creates short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Research show these SCFAs help to reduce inflammation and protect our intestinal walls from damage. Damage to the lining of our gut means the absorption of nutrients is less efficient and can lead to deficiencies, negatively impacting our health. Lactobacillus on the other hand is our personal protector and assists our immune system by ‘fighting off’ bad bacteria that is wanting to make our guts their home. 

Probiotic foods such as live yogurts, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and kimchi are all great natural sources of Lactobacillus, they may sound odd, but they are definitely worth a try if you are low in this helpful microbe!

Some of your results from your microbiome test will have a value of 0. This simply means these species were not identified within your sample. This is not always something to be concerned about, often these species are found in such small abundances they either weren’t in your particular sample but are in your gut, or the abundance was simply too small to be detected during analysis. Read the descriptions given with each species to get an understanding of whether it’s a good or bad bacteria and what your result means, if you are particularly worried about any results in particular, don’t be shy to get in touch with your health coach.

How will the results influence my recommendations and meal plans? 

Your microbiome results, along with your questionnaire answers, tracker data, food log and any other tests you may use will all contribute to the generation of your weekly goals and your meal plan. These bespoke plans have been created for you by our team of doctors, dieticians, nutritionists and health coaches and aided by machine learning algorithms. We have reviewed hundreds of thousands of papers to ensure the recommendations sent to you are backed by the latest, most reliable science. 

Each of your weekly goals will have a feature to show your associated results, which indicates why you were given this specific goal and what markers it will help you to improve on when you achieve the goal or start building the habit. For example, if you're low in several B vitamin-producing bacteria, we'll provide recommendations and meals to help increase your intake of these vitamins.

In addition, your meal plan will include recipes tailored to your individual needs, whether that’s increasing or decreasing specific macronutrients or micronutrients, or introducing new foods to help increase your gut diversity. This will also tie together with your Journey preference, weight goals, food allergies, intolerances or specific diets you may follow. 

We hope you are excited to receive your results and see how your recommendations change! 

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