The Sixth Vital Organ: Your Gut Microbiome

Trillions of microorganisms live within your gut. Here's why that's significant and how nutrition plays a role.

You may have heard, "you are what you eat."

Turns out, that's not too far off.

In many ways, you are a collection of more than thirty trillion microorganisms in your gut, communicating with your organs and immune system, impacting overall health — the gut microbiome. 

Your gut microbiome is comprised of an ecosystem of microbes like bacteria, fungi, and viruses that naturally live both on and within us, protecting us against harmful germs and helping break down our food to release energy.

As our own Dr. Hakim Bouzamondo, DVP and Head of Global Nutrition Research and Development at Abbott, puts it: "Up until now, people haven't recognized that the gut microbiome is just as important as every other organ in your body... it's a hidden organ."

The Sixth Vital Organ: Your Gut Microbiome

And nutrition plays a major role in the health of your gut microbiome. One study found that dietary factors like the amount of fats, fiber, starch, sugar, probiotics and protein we consume can impact the health of our microbiome.

You may be thinking, "And?"

And the health of our microbiome can impact both physical health, like disease risk and outcome in the case of diabetes, obesity and psoriasis.

And mental health, like mood disorders. One study even found a link between gut microbes and the production of serotonin, the chemical that promotes mood stabilization and healthy sleep. Bouzamondo concurs.

"Nutrition is perhaps the most significant modifiable factor in promoting the formation of a healthy microbiome, and a healthier you," he said.

In fact, some foods, such as those containing dietary fiber, can serve as fuel for microbiota (the microorganisms of a particular site or habitat, like your gut), promoting gut health, while others containing protein can promote potentially harmful byproducts that sit in the gut. Not a reason to neglect the daily protein we need, just some food for thought.

It's also been found that healthy dietary patterns consisting of high-fiber vegetables like spinach and broccoli, nuts, fish, eggs, seeds and whole grains are tied to a diverse gut microbiome, and ultimately, lower risk of chronic diseases.

So, if you really are what you eat — from your risk of disease to your brain health to your general mood — as Bouzamondo said, "take it easy on your gut. It's working harder for you than you may realize."