You might be familiar with the microbiome and the importance of ensuring healthy gut bacteria, but did you know that we actually have fungi in our bodies as well? According to leading microbiome researcher Mahmoud Ghannoum, Ph.D., there’s a community of fungi in our guts (both good and bad) that we should be mindful of: the mycobiome.
With a master’s in medicinal chemistry, a doctorate in microbial physiology, and breakthrough research in the probiotic space, Ghannoum is a pioneer in the microbiome field. He was the first to discover how bad bacteria and bad fungus work together to create digestive “plaque,” explaining that we need to diversify both the microbiome and what he’s named the “mycobiome” for optimal health.
“When we have a fungal overgrowth or imbalance, it starts to form a biofilm, like the plaque on our teeth,” he tells me on this episode of the health news podcast. “Every morning we brush our teeth to get rid of it, but we cannot do the same in our gut.”
Here, Ghannoum explains what the mycobiome is, why it’s important, as well as exactly how to make sure it’s healthy. While we’re pretty familiar with the microbiome, consider the mycobiome a new (and just as important) player in terms of gut health.
What is the mycobiome?
Just as the microbiome indicates the bacterial community in our gut, the mycobiome describes the fungal community. Ghannoum notes that we have bacteria and fungi in our bodies, both good and bad.
“All over our bodyâ€”in our gut, on the skin, and in the mouthâ€”we not only have bacteria, but we also have fungi,” he says. “Imagine them playing together in a sandbox. Sometimes their play helps us, but if they’re imbalanced, we’re in big trouble.”
Imagine the mycobiome the same as you would the microbiome (which we at health news are always trying to optimize): Just as you need a diverse set of bacteria for a healthy microbiome, a variety of fungi is essential for a healthy mycobiome.
One infamous fungus he mentions is Candida. While Candida is actually not bad in small quantities, it’s the overgrowth of Candida that starts causing problems in our gut. That said, it’s always important to ensure the organisms in our guts are balanced and diverse, from the healthy bacteria to crucial fungi.
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Mycobiome versus microbiome.
The main difference between the mycobiome and the microbiome, of course, is that one describes fungi, while the latter describes bacteria. However, there’s another main difference that Ghannoum says we should be mindful of.
“What differentiates bacteria from the fungal community is that fungus can be changed very fast in a short-term diet, whereas bacteria needs a long-term diet,” he says.
What he means is that you can diversify both the mycobiome and microbiome through diet, but optimizing the gut microbiome usually takes a much longer time. Usually, if you have gut health issues, you might not see results straightaway, even if you’re stocking your shelves with as many cruciferous veggies and probiotics as you can get your hands on.
On the other hand, you can use food to enhance the mycobiome relatively quickly. Any changes you make to the mycobiome have a quick turnaround time, which is good news for those of you looking to relieve leaky gut or other uncomfortable digestive issues.
How can we optimize it?
The first thing you need to do to optimize the mycobiome, according to Ghannoum, is to cut sugar. “Fungiâ€”especially Candidaâ€”loves sugar,” he tells me. Whether it’s refined sugar or those “simple sugars” he mentions, try your best to cut down on your sugar intake.
The next step is to make sure you’re not deficient in your vitamins: Ghannoum specifically notes vitamins A, B, and C, as those deficiencies are typically linked to Candida-causing issues. He also mentions that protein is important: “You need to have some good proteins from plants as well as poultry and fish,” he explains.
Then it’s time to talk superfoods. Ghannoum has a laundry list of what he calls his “superstars,” which include Brussels sprouts, pistachios, apple cider vinegar, sea veggies (we can’t get enough of our kelp!), garlic, broccoli, and legumes. All of these superstars, according to Ghannoum, will help balance your mycobiome and ensure a healthy amount of fungi.
Microbiome research is a complex, compelling field (it makes sense, there are tens of trillions of organisms with at least 1,000 species in every person’s gut, after all), and we’re just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of how to navigate our gut health. But with experts like Ghannoum at the forefront of the research, suffice it to say that we’re in good hands.
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