The Importance of Microbial Diversity For Health

Learn why having a diversity of beneficial bacteria is essential for optimizing gut health plus how to achieve it!

Diversity of foods that support gut health on a yellow background

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You likely already know that probiotics are important for a healthy microbiome, but did you know that having a diversity of good bacteria in the gut is also necessary?

With so many probiotic foods and supplements available today, it’s helpful to know how to determine not only the probiotic count, but the different types of bacteria that are in the products as well.

This article breaks down the benefits of probiotics on our health, why microbial diversity is so important, and how to achieve microbial diversity with ease!

Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotics are the “good” bacteria in our gut that are associated with many positive health outcomes. For example, the bacteria in our gut play a role on:

  • Digestion of food and absorption of nutrients: resulting in reduced gas, bloating, and constipation and promoting healthy, regular bathroom habits.
  • Mood and mental health: 95% of serotonin, 50% of dopamine, and various other neurotransmitters are produced by the bacteria in our gut.
  • Immunity: 70-80% of the immune system/immune cells are located in the gut.
  • Weight: the bacteria in our gut regulate hormones that control appetite and fat storage, and research shows that a healthy microbiome is associated with lower body weight and body fat.
  • Sleep: the bacteria in our gut regulate circadian rhythms and are required for the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
  • Brain function: a healthy gut is linked to improved cognitive function including better clarity, memory, learning, and more.
  • Regulate inflammation: the bacteria in the gut produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

Importance of Microbial Diversity

As you can see, the beneficial bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract impact just about every aspect of our health which can lead to significant improvements in your health.

What you might not know is that different bacterial species are responsible for different functions in the human body. In other words, they each have their own “specialty.” 

For example, some strains of gut bacteria are responsible for reducing gas and bloating (like S. boulardii), while other strains of bacteria are responsible for improving your mood by producing serotonin (including EnterococcusandLactobacillus plantarum).

This is why gut microbiome diversity is so important: we need lots of different types of bacteria (or strains of bacteria) to get all the benefits of a healthy gut microbiome. 

How to Determine Microbial Diversity

To determine the diversity of bacteria found in the probiotic food sources that you consume or supplements that you take, look for a list of the types of bacteria that are found in it, which are often labeled as “live and active cultures” or “strains.” 

For example, the Greek yogurt pictured below contains 6 strains or types of bacteria including S. Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus, L. Casei, and L. Rhamnosus. 

A container of yogurt listing the different types of bacteria that it contains.

How to Achieve Microbial Diversity

While you don’t necessarily need to understand the specific functions of the different types of bacteria, you can optimize the diversity of your gut health by doing a few key things:

  1. Consume probiotics daily: aim for at least 10-20 billion CFU’s per day from sources like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and fermented foods. Pay attention to the types of bacteria found in the probiotic source that you consume, remembering that we want a variety of different types since they each have various functions or specialties in the body. I like to incorporate different sources of probiotics into my diet each week including Greek yogurt, kombucha, and kefir (I like kefir because it has 12 strains or types of bacteria and 30 billion CFU’s!) to ensure I’m adding a diversity of these beneficial gut microbes. You can also look for probiotic supplements that have 12+ different strains of bacteria such as Gundry MD’s 24-strain probiotic.
  2. Eat a high-fiber diet: the bacteria in your gut need dietary fiber (aka prebiotics) to survive and grow in number and higher diversity.  Dietary fiber serves as the fuel or food source for the bacteria in our gut, and diets that lack fiber lead to a decline in the number of good bacteria in our gut. Aim for 25-30 grams of fiber daily from a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, minimally processed whole grains (like oats, quinoa, sorghum, brown rice, etc.), and other plant-based foods.
  3. Eat plenty of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods: inflammation leads to a decline in the good bacteria and promotes the growth or survival of pathogenic/harmful bacteria, contributing to gut dysbiosis, irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut, and chronic inflammation. Refer to my anti-inflammatory foods list to learn more about what foods to emphasize (and avoid) for reducing inflammation.

Other Factors That Impact Gut Health

In addition to microbial diversity, diet and lifestyle factors also have a positive influence on the health of our microbiome: 

  • Anti-inflammatory diet: a 2022 systematic review published in Nutrients highlights the role of eating an anti-inflammatory diet rich in fiber, polyphenols, and omega-3 fats for reducing inflammation and preventing obesity. 
  • Physical activity: a review published in Biomedicines indicates that regular physical activity improves microbial diversity and reduces inflammation, also stating that “physically active individuals have a higher abundance of beneficial bacteria and a lower abundance of pro-inflammatory bacterial species.” 
  • Stress management: an article published in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences explains that chronic stress contributes to dysbiosis of the gut microbiome, contributing to leaky gut, chronic inflammation, and increased risk of disease when not managed. 

Takeaway

Optimizing the diversity of gut microbes is key to a healthy microbiome, reducing inflammation, and improving overall health. I hope this article provided clarity and practical tips to help you!

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