Gut Health vs. Microbiome: What’s the Difference?

Learn how the diversity of bacteria within the microbiome supports essential body functions and promotes gut health.

Healthy gut bacteria positively impacts the microbiome
Healthy gut bacteria positively impacts the microbiome

Interest in gut health and a healthy microbiome has been on the rise. But what exactly is a gut microbiome, what does it have to do with gut health, and how does it influence a person’s overall wellness?

What Is the Microbiome?

A person’s microbiome is made up of a large collection of microorganisms that live inside and outside of the body, commonly referred to as bacteria. In fact, a person’s body contains 10 times as many bacteria as cells.1 While some bacteria can cause infections, good bacteria help the body function properly.

Bacteria on the outside of the body is beneficial in providing a physical barrier against foreign substances.2 Inside the body, good bacteria play an important role in the immune system by helping to protect the body from infection.2, 3

Within the gut specifically, these microorganisms help the body retrieve nutrients from food and help break down medications for proper absorption.24 Just as bacteria outside the body protect against foreign invaders, bacteria in the gut produce a layer of mucus that keeps unwanted substances—including harmful bacteria—from adhering to or damaging the walls of the large intestine.4 This beneficial blend of bacteria in your gut is known as your gut microbiome, and a healthy gut microbiome leads to good gut health.

Bacterial Diversity Is Key

There are nearly a thousand different species of good bacteria that live in your mouth, skin, airways, urinary tract, and, of course, your gut.1 How do you acquire this bacteria? Babies are born with certain bacteria from their parents and, as they grow up, this bacteria increases and changes based on diet and lifestyle.1

The key to a healthy microbiome is maintaining the delicate balance of different bacteria that work together to promote health throughout the body.35 Several factors—including age, diet, medicines, and travel—can impact the diversity of gut bacteria.15 Lower levels of bacteria diversity have been linked to various medical conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and type II diabetes, so maintaining the right mix is important for overall health.5

How to Improve Gut Health

A good way you can improve the quality and diversity of gut bacteria is to eat a healthy diet, including lots of fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber foods.4 Incorporating prebiotics and probiotics into your diet is another way to improve gut health; prebiotics can be found in foods like bananas and artichokes while probiotics can be found in foods like yogurt or sauerkraut.6 You can also be add prebiotic fiber to your diet with a supplement like Benefiber®

Show ReferencesHide References

  1.  D'Argenio, V, and F Salvatore. “The Role of the Gut Microbiome in the Healthy Adult Status.” Clinica Chimica Acta, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 10 Jan. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25584460.
  2.  Wang, Baohong, et al. “The Human Microbiota in Health and Disease.” Engineering.org, Microecology—Review; Elsevier, 20 Feb. 2017, engineering.org.cn/EN/10.1016/J.ENG.2017.01.008.
  3.  Bäckhed, F, et al. “Defining a Healthy Human Gut Microbiome: Current Concepts, Future Directions, and Clinical Applications.” Cell Host Microbe, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Nov. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23159051.
  4.  Jandhyala, Sai Manasa, et al. “Role of the Normal Gut Microbiota.” World J Gastroenterol, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 7 Aug. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4528021/.
  5.  Valdes, Ana M, et al. “Role of the Gut Microbiota in Nutrition and Health.” The BMJ: Science and Politics of Nutrition, British Medical Journal Publishing Group, 13 June 2018, www.bmj.com/content/361/bmj.k2179.
  6.  Zeratsky, Katherine. “What Are Probiotics and Prebiotics?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 28 June 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/probiotics/faq-20058065.
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