Science Fact

What Does Your Gut Say About You?

  1. For every single human cell, there are an estimated 10 microbial cells – and they live everywhere in your body. These cells are on your skin, your nose, mouth, genitalia, urinary tract and intestines.
  2. There are 300 to 500 different kinds of bacteria living inside of you. They, along with other organisms such as viruses and fungi, make up your microbiota, or microbiome. Of those living in your digestive system, most live in your intestines and colon. They impact everything, from your metabolism and mood, to your immune system.
  3. Doctors believe your microbiome is associated with every disease and ailment you can think of – from cancer to autism.
  4. Bacteria has a huge impact in your gut. They are essential to us and the overall well-being of our health.Bacteria lining your intestine helps you digest food. During the process, they make vitamins that are crucial for life, send out signals to your immune system and create small molecules your brain uses to function.
  5. A diverse gut microbiome allows you to break down lots of different food sources and produce many different types of molecules that help your immune system and brain functionality.
  6. Research suggests your gut bacteria are tied to your probability of things like diabetes, obesity, depression, and colon cancer.
  7. Research has shown that people who suffer from specific diseases often tend to have a very different mix of gut bacteria compared to healthy people. Evidence shows that it’s not the presence or absence of any one particular type of bacteria that leads to a healthy one, but rather the increased diversity. Healthy people have much more of certain types of bacteria and have a wider diversity as studies with indegenous tribes show.
  8. An imbalance of bacteria can lead to increased inflammation that can eventually advance a disease, and gut bacteria has been linked to diseases throughout the body. For example, recent studies show people with untreated rheumatoid arthritis, a disease caused by inflammation of the joints, had more of a certain type of inflammatory bacteria in their intestines and less of bacteria that is beneficial, when compared to their healthy counterparts.
  9. Scientists have now linked these ailments with the bacteria living in your gut:
  • Obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Your metabolism is affected by the bacteria in your gut. A surplus of gut bacteria can turn fiber into fatty acids, leading to fat deposits in the liver. This can cause “metabolic syndrome,” a condition that often leads to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. It is believed that people suffering from these conditions have lower levels of a specific anti-inflammatory gut bacteria, but the connection is still unclear.
  • Colon cancer. People afflicted with colon cancer have a different gut microbiota than healthy people. They have higher levels of disease-causing bacteria when compared to their healthy counterparts.
  • Anxiety, depression, and autism. The gut has many nerve endings that communicated with the brain, in a connection known as the “gut-brain axis.” A link between central nervous system disorders, such as anxiety, depression and autism spectrum disorder, and gut bacteria has been found in studies.
  • Arthritis. It is believed that people with rheumatoid arthritis have possible more bacteria associated with inflammation than people who do not suffer from arthritis..

How can you get healthy gut bacteria?

  1. Start with a nutritious diet rich in dietary fiber. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are great sources of fiber. “Western” diets that are high in fat and sugar, and low in fiber kill specific kinds of bacteria in the gut, leading to a less diverse gut microbiome.
  2. Decrease your intake of antibiotics. Antibiotics are great for combatting harmful bacteria, but they also kill beneficial bacteria and destroy gut symbiosis. Use antibiotics only when necessary as determined by your physician.
  3. Move your body! Regular exercise encourages diverse growth of gut bacteria, and a diverse microbiome promotes better health, reducing your risk of disease. 6 hours of light physical activity like fast walking, swimming, gymnastics, yoga or jogging helps your bowel to remain healthy. It is also good not to sit all the time but use every chance to move around.
  4. Take probiotics. Your gut bacteria is influenced by what you eat as well as your environment. Probiotics are “good” bacteria that you can add to the ones already in your digestive tract to increase gut microbiome diversity. Incorporating probiotics may help you improve your immune system and boost your gastrointestinal health.


Michael Snyder, Ph.D., Director, Stanford University Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine, Stanford, CA.

Joseph Petrosino, Ph.D., Director, Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX.

Eamonn Quigley, MD, chief of the division of gastroenterology and hepatology, Houston Methodist Hospital.

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