All You Need to Know About Beneficial Fungi for a Healthy Gut
For decades, the role beneficial fungi has been underestimated and largely unrecognized for the critical role it plays in keeping our gut healthy.
Like the thousands of microorganisms living in the gut microbiome, gut fungi play an essential component to help keep our body strong and healthy. These microbes are actually so important, they make up their own unique micro-ecosystem within the digestive system, called gut mycobiome.
Beneficial fungi and the mycobiome play a large role in gut and immune health by working in tandem with microbes of the gut microbiome, specifically beneficial bacteria.
What is Fungi and the Mycobiome?
Like bacteria and other beneficial microbes, fungi reside in the intestines and play an essential role in the diversity and function of the gut microbiome. This includes immune function, mental health status, sleep quality, and more.
Beneficial fungal strains have been shown to provide several benefits to your overall health, specifically in controlling the growth rates of gut bacteria. Therefore, preventing overgrowth and potential bacterial infection. The most well-known fungal strains with the ability to regulate bacterial growth are Penicillium and Saccharomyces.
And while these microbes are included as members of the extensive gut microbiome, research has discovered fungi in the body have developed distinct native colonies of their own within the digestive plague lining of the intestines, including in the gut. These colonies have been termed as the gut mycobiome.
Studies have determined that the mycobiome plays an essential role in communicating with the rest of the gut ecosystem, particularly the bacterial community.
How the Microbiome and Mycobiome Work Together to Keep the Gut Healthy
The function of the mycobiome is impacted by other microorganisms living within the larger ecosystem of the microbiome. Beneficial gut bacteria being the most prominent influencer.
Bacteria and fungi are constantly communicating with one another to keep the gut healthy by mediating immune function and interactions of the gut-brain axis.
They also work to regulate overgrowth of one another within the digestive plague. The imbalance of bacteria and fungi in the gut can lead to a weakening of the immune system and development of disease.
3 Ways the Mycobiome and Beneficial Fungi Keep the Gut Healthy
Enzyme secretion and fortification of the digestive plaque wall
Beneficial fungi gain virulence factors from their cooperative relationship with gut bacteria. This allows fungi to produce and secrete enzymes essential to form plaques. These plaques are add to the digestive plague wall of the intestines to make a reasonably sized habitat, not too thick or too thin, for bacteria and fungi to reside.
This plaque wall is essential for gut microbiome and mycobiome health, and without it microbe levels can become imbalanced and cause infection.
Regulate pathogenic bacteria in the gut
Certain fungi strains, like penicillium and saccharomyces, assist in regulating the growth of pathogenic bacteria in the gut. Saccharomyces boulardii (S. boulardii), in particular, is a yeast considered to be the ‘king’ of good fungus as it can regulate the growth of many different prolific bacteria strains. It is used to control several bacteria-related problems in the body by stimulating the immune system to release protective immunoglobulin (IgA) and white blood cells.
An essential component of the ‘mycobiome-gut-brain axis’
Emerging research is recognizing the gut mycobiome as an essential component in the gut-brain axis. This axis is the bidirectional communication relay between the brain and intestinal systems that impacts brain function and mental health status.
It’s well known that this system is modulated by the gut microbiome, but the mycobiome is being increasingly recognized for regulating the CNS, forming the mycobiome-gut-brain axis. Specifically, activating neuro-immuno-endocrine mediators that stimulate the secretion of essential pituitary development, cell proliferation, hormone secretion, and feedback control of the HPA axis.
Diet and Lifestyle Changes to Avoid Gut Fungi Imbalances
Levels of beneficial fungi fluctuate based on your diet and lifestyle. What you eat and do on a daily basis can decrease the diversity and number of good fungi in the intestines and allow bad fungal and bacterial strains to flourish, stimulating disease.
Although some causes of gut fungi imbalances are not within your control, such as genetics, altering your everyday lifestyle and diet habits can help keep mycobiome levels stable.
Eat more plant-based protein
Plant-based proteins promote the growth and diversification of beneficial microbes in the gut microbiome, including beneficial yeast.
Consider adding more of these non-meat proteins to your daily diet:
- Legumes (i.e., chickpeas, beans, and peas)
- Nuts and seeds
Focus on complex carbs high in fiber
A diet high in simple, refined carbs feeds bad bacteria in the gut, allowing them to proliferate and develop infections. Instead, place a higher priority on complex carbohydrates composed of indigestible fibers that feed beneficial gut bacteria.
Due to their cooperative relationship, increased levels of good bacteria will allow beneficial fungi to flourish and keep harmful fungal strains, like Candida, at bay.
Increase how frequently you exercise
Increasing moderate daily activity minimizing inflammation in the body, which is known to reduce levels of good bacteria and fungi in the gut.
Avoid frequent strenuous exercise that diverts blood flow from the gut to the lungs and muscles, which can cause increased imbalances of gut fungi.
Adopt daily anti-anxiety and de-stressing routines
Stress alters the balance and composition of microorganisms in the gut microbiome and mycobiome. This is due to impaired communication via the gut-brain axis, reducing levels of hormone secretion and cell proliferation necessary for protecting the gut ecosystem.
Practice mindfulness techniques, like mindful breathing, or yoga to destress and balance the gut mycobiome.
Avoid smoking and alcohol
Activities like smoking and overconsumption of alcohol contribute to changes in the digestive environment, decreasing strength and diversity of the microbiome and mycobiome.
Studies have found that these activities cause depletion of fungi and other microbes with inflammatory activity. Eventually, the gut’s protective layer is thinned and becomes permeable, causing intestinal damage known as ‘leaky gut,’ allowing gut microbes to leak from their natural habitat and into the bloodstream.
What Other Steps Can You Take to Keep Your Gut Fungi and Digestive System Healthy?
Changes in your everyday lifestyle and diet habits are essential for keeping your gut fungi levels in check.
Additionally, high-quality supplements that promote gut health and maintaining desirable levels of beneficial gut fungi and strength of the mycobiome. This can include adding BIOHM's Probiotic that contains the yeast S. boulardii, the most effective fungus when it comes to keeping your gut healthy, to your daily routine.
These supplements can help to keep your mycobiome balanced and functioning properly for best gut health.
About the Author:
Allison Lansman, RDN, LD is a freelance writer and owner of The Freelance RD Nutrition Writing Services. She is passionate about creating exciting, research-based nutrition blog posts with her professional background as a dietitian. Allie prioritizes creating articles all readers can understand and incorporate into their daily lives.