Building a healthy microbiome: how?


Trillions of bacteria protect our body from intruders. But they don’t only protect us. With these simple tips, we can do something to protect them too.

What is a microbiome?

When we talk about building a healthy microbiome, we’re usually referring to the gut. It is often forgotten that the microbiome is spread across our whole body. The term microbiome refers to the totality of all micro-organisms – such as bacteria, fungi and viruses – on and in our body. The microbiome consists of hundreds of various types of bacteria and other tiny little organisms.

Where microbiomes are found

Every body surface that comes into contact with the outside world is colonised with them. These tiny cells are mainly found in the gut and on the skin, but also on the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, nose and genitals. The number of bacteria we carry in and on us is greater than the number of the body's own cells – they’re simply much smaller and therefore invisible to our eyes. But even though they are invisible: they are of huge importance to our digestion and immune system.

Functions and tasks of the microbiome

The microbiome fulfils essential functions for our health and plays a central role in digestion. It helps the body to process food and break down nutrients. At the same time, the microbiome supports the immune system by fighting harmful bacteria and strengthening the intestinal mucosa. In addition, the microbiome has an impact on metabolic processes and hormonal regulation. A balanced microbiome is therefore key to our physical well-being and in preventing disease.

Microbiome immune system

The micro-organisms in our gut not only help with digestion – they also keep pathogens at bay and fight off toxins. But not only in the gut: they combat germs across our whole skin, including mucous membranes such as that inside the mouth, thus keeping the oral flora in balance.

Microbiome gut flora

Most micro-organisms live in the gut: 100 trillion bacteria – or more than all the body’s cells. They help the body digest food. Until a few years ago, they were known as gut flora. Today, the common term is microbiome which simply means «tiniest living things».

Boosting the micro­biome – here’s how

  • Eating fibre-rich foods is key
    Vegetables like carrots, peppers, cabbage and fennel are rich in prebiotics. Vegetable protein sources like pulses, chickpeas, beans and lentils are even richer. Included on the list of berries most rich in fibre are raspberries and blueberries.
  • Prioritise foods with living bacteria cultures
    For example, kimchi, or other fermented vegetables, sauerkraut and yoghurt are recommended by many nutritionists. How great the impact of such foods is remains to be seen. But since they don’t harm, they’re worth a try.
  • Limit the consumption of animal products
    Eat meat and dairy products in moderation. Animal products often contain saturated fats and less fibre, which inhibits the body's own production of microbiomes.
  • Reduce sugar
    Other empty carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta also upset the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Just as damaging are alcohol and medication like antibiotics.
  • Restoring the microbiome after antibiotics
    If you want to restore your microbiome after taking antibiotics for a medical condition, probiotic foods such as yoghurt and kefir as well as prebiotic foods rich in fibre are recommended. This promotes the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria, which is very important after antibiotic treatment.

How does the microbiome influence obesity?

The microbiome plays a key role in regulating body weight, with research showing that an imbalance in our intestinal flora can increase the risk of obesity. Because a healthy microbiome promotes efficient digestion and nutrient absorption, it also influences our body weight. When it comes to the composition and health of our microbiome, diet and lifestyle habits play a critical role.

The value of a microbiome analysis?

Researchers have discovered that the microbiome in the gut of healthy people differs from that of people with certain diseases. This gives rise to the hope that, in future, stool analyses can be used for early detection of diseases such as depression, allergies, multiple sclerosis and obesity. Stool analyses could even be used to treat the intestinal flora by enabling concrete and tailored dietary recommendations to be made.

Microbiome analyses not yet sufficiently specific

Microbiome analyses are already widely available. However, experts advise against them, claiming that they’re too expensive and pointless. Why? Many providers offer an analysis of the 16S-rRNA gene of the bacteria. The idea is to find out how many of the various bacteria are present in the stool in relation to each other. However, to be of real help to patients, a detailed genetic analysis would be required. And even this says little, because the composition of a person’s stool changes too much and too quickly – meaning that several analyses would be needed.

Restoring the microbiome – conclusion

To build a healthy microbiome, it’s crucial to eat a balanced, high-fibre diet with plenty of vegetables, fruit and whole grain products. Reducing your consumption of animal products and eating more probiotic and prebiotic foods will also help. It’s also important to limit antibiotics to what’s absolutely necessary and, after the treatment, to take specific steps to boost the microbiome’s recovery. A healthy lifestyle with sufficient exercise and stress management also helps build a healthy microbiome.

What would you like to read now?