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You probably know that you need good bacteria in your gut to fend off discomfort and disease.
Probiotic supplements packed with beneficial bacteria line the shelves at supermarkets and health food stores, and you would be hard-pressed to find a health publication that hasn’t covered the role of gut bacteria in human health.
But there are billions of other tiny organisms that also call the gut home. A healthy human microbiome contains members of multiple domains of life, including fungi.
These fungi are responsible for keeping your digestive system in check and, when unbalanced, they’re responsible for conditions like inflammatory bowel disorders (IBD).
The Microbiome and The Mycobiome
Your microbiome — also called the gut microbiota, gut flora, microflora, intestinal flora, or simply the gut — is the world of microorganisms that live throughout your digestive system, primarily in your intestines.
A healthy, balanced gut microbiome is an essential component of human health. An unhealthy microbiome can lead to complications such as digestive disorders, mood disorders, brain fog, fatigue, and trouble managing bodyweight.
Until relatively recently, science suggested that only the bacteria in the gut played a role in human health. The truth is quite the contrary: the fungi in your gut flora are just as important as the bacteria that reside there!
Scientific discoveries in the last decade prove that good gut fungi are critical for disease prevention. It’s now known that gut bacteria and gut fungi work symbiotically to influence gut health. This trailblazing discovery by Dr. Mahmoud Ghannoum is what led him to coin “mycobiome”: the ecosystem of fungi in the gut.
Different Kinds of Fungi in the Gut
Just like there are good and bad bacteria in the gut, there are also good and bad fungi.
Many species of fungi have been found in the gut, but only a few are common.
Some common gut fungi include:
- Aspergillus: a group of molds that peak in the fall and winter and are commonly found in our homes. Aspergillus can cause infections in humans.
- Candida: one of the most common; fine at normal levels, but can cause infection if it overgrows.
- Cladosporium: includes some very common molds; rarely has a harmful effect on humans.
- Cryptococcus: The majority of cryptococcal species live in the soil and can leave humans susceptible to infection in some cases.
- Penicillium: one of the most medically significant types of fungus due to its ability to kill certain types of bacteria in the body.
- Saccharomyces: one of the most useful types of fungus (it’s used in beer!); in the body, it’s considered to be one of the best fungi.
Why Fungi Are Important for Gut Health
Dr. Ghannoum’s flagship study showed that when bacteria and fungi are left unchecked, it can result in the formation of digestive plaque. Therefore creating a barrier preventing overall gut balance.
This discovery is what pioneered BIOHM, the first probiotic supplement that includes beneficial bacteria, fungi and digestive enzymes for total gut balance.
Digestive plaque is similar to the plaque on your teeth. Think about it: you can brush and brush, but if you don’t break through the plaque, you’ll never reach the harmful organisms underneath and may wind up with cavities or gum disease.
The same goes for your digestive tract, except you’re at risk for digestive disorders like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Unbalanced gut fungi has been associated with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and even obesity.
The digestive plaque on the lining of your intestines protects harmful bacteria and fungi. This is why all three elements of BIOHM — bacteria, fungi, and digestive enzymes — are critical for total gut balance. The enzymes help break down the plaque, which allows the good bacteria and fungi to overpower the bad bacteria and fungi.
Solely focusing on the bacteria in your microbiome can lead to overgrowth of fungi and result in an unbalanced gut flora at best, or a digestive disorder at worst.
While the bacterial portion of your gut flora is largely established at birth, the fungal aspect responds quickly and significantly to lifestyle factors such as diet and alcohol use — another reason to pay attention to those fungi!
The mycobiome is less stable than the microbiome, which is why taking care of the fungal aspect is so important. Providing your mycobiome with the right environmental factors will ensure better gut health.
How to Take Care of Your Microbiome (and Mycobiome)
Usually, your gut microbiome does a pretty good job of balancing itself out. However, day-to-day factors like sleep, stress, diet, and exercise all impact our gut health.
The biggest action you can take to improve your gut health is to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fiber, and occasionally supplementing probiotics and prebiotics. The foods you eat don’t just feed you, they feed your gut flora as well.
Other steps you can take to ensure a healthy gut include:
- Keep your stress levels low
- Keep antibiotic use to a minimum
- Exercise regularly
- Get enough sleep
- Take a probiotic and/or prebiotic, enzymatic supplement
Editor’s note: This post has been updated for relevancy. Its first publish date was July 7, 2019.