Gut Microbiota Health and Wellbeing


Published: 31 August 2017

In nursing, if you hear ‘endocrine system’, you probably think of the pancreas or thyroid, or even the pituitary gland. Perhaps the last thing that you would consider is gut microbiota.

…Maybe now you are thinking, 'microbi-what-a?'

The importance of ‘gut health’ and ‘microbiota’ has been gaining recent attention in fields such as weight management, nutrition and research.

Boulange et al. (2016) explain that the gut microbiota can be thought of as a distinct endocrine organ that has ‘molecular cross-talk’ with the human host. Energy homeostasis and the triggering of the host’s immune system are influenced by this ‘cross-talk’.

The Gut Microbiome

Amazingly, the human gut hosts over 100 trillion microbial cells! (Boulange et al. 2016) These gut microbes are very important to our metabolic regulation, lipid accumulation and immune system functioning.

For example, changes to the microbial ecosystem in the gut could lead to low-grade inflammation, reduced insulin sensitivity and other adverse physiology. However, it remains unclear as to the exact manner in which gut microbiota lead to obesity and metabolic disorders(Boulange et al. 2016).

A person's microbiome begins to colonise prenatally, transmitted from the flora of the mother. Further colonisation after birth is influenced by factors such as gestational age, the mode of delivery (natural or Caesarean section), diet (breastfeeding or formula), hygiene and exposure to antibiotics.

The first three years of an infant's life are crucial to developing healthy, adult-like microbiota, immune and neurologic systems through environmental exposures and a diverse diet. The human gut achieves the characteristics of an adult's microbiota population between the ages of two and five years (Boulange et al. 2016).

As suggested earlier, gut microbiota can trigger low-grade inflammation and thereby lead to metabolic disorders (Boulange et al. 2016).

Gut Microbiota Health and Wellbeing

Bischoff (2011) even suggests that good gut health may have an impact on mood. Similarly, Mayer et al. (2014) convey that while psychological and physical stressors can have an effect on an individual's gut microbiota composition and metabolic activity, the phenomenon works both ways, with 'experimental changes' to the microbiome affecting emotional behaviour and related brain systems.

Furthermore, Mayer et al. (2014) speculate that these findings imply that alterations to gut microbiota may 'play a pathophysiological role in human brain diseases, including autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain’.

Improve Your Gut Health

Gut health can be promoted by having an intake of prebiotics and probiotics (Boulange et al. 2016).


Prebiotics can be found in vegetables, whole-grain cereals and some yoghurts (Boulange et al. 2016). Prebiotics are a certain type of fibre that include inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides (fructans, FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) (Monash University School of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences 2014).

Food sources of prebiotics may include:

  • Cashews;
  • Oats;
  • Dried dates;
  • Wheat bread;
  • Rye bread;
  • Watermelon;
  • Grapefruit;
  • Rambutan;
  • Garlic;
  • Chickpeas;
  • Custard apples;
  • Spring onions;
  • Leek;
  • Asparagus;
  • Beetroot;
  • Snow peas; and
  • Fennel bulb.

(Monash University School of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences 2014)


Probiotics are live microorganisms such as Lactobacillus (Maldonado Galdeano et al. 2015). Some of the benefits of probiotics are that they can assist in maintaining good gut flora balance and prevent pathogen invasion (Tripathi & Giri 2014). Scholz-Ahrens (2016) states that probiotics can support bone health. Mayer et al. (2014) report that 'Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus are the main genera showing beneficial effects for anxiety and depression-like behavior'. Mayer et al. (2014) report that a range of different probiotics have had further health benefits as shown in other studies.

Probiotic food sources can include:

  • probiotic yoghurts – yoghurts that usually say ‘live active cultures’;
  • some fermented milk (e.g. containing lactobacillus);
  • Kefir;
  • Meso paste;
  • Kombucha tea;
  • Sauerkraut;
  • Sourdough bread;
  • Tempeh;
  • Cultured soymilk;
  • Kimchi; and
  • Certain chocolates.

(Maldonado Galdeano et al. 2015; Migala 2015)

Faecal Transplantation:

'Fecal transplantation is an efficient way to reshape the gut microbial ecosystem after antibiotic treatment or to help fight intestinal infection with Clostridium difficile and can be used as therapy for inflammatory bowel diseases. A study also showed that nine men with the metabolic syndrome who underwent fecal transplantation with stools from healthy, lean individuals had lower fasting levels of triglycerides and developed greater hepatic and peripheral insulin sensitivity after transplantation than nine men who received a transplant of their own stool. (Boulange et al. 2016)