A Healthy Microbiome = A Healthy & Happy You
You’ve heard the phrase “you are what you eat”, but the truth is you are what the bacteria in your gut eat. For more than a decade, scientists have been studying the role that the bacteria in your gut play with regard to your health. The results are startling. Many of the major health problems that people suffer from today are linked to an unhealthy intestinal microbiome.
Gut Bacteria: Your Key to Good Health
Allergies, anxiety, asthma, ADHD, autoimmune disease, depression, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity are just a few of the conditions now being linked to disturbances in the balance of bacteria in your gut, also referred to as your intestinal microbiome. Since over 70% of your immune system is found in your intestinal tract, having the right balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut is essential for good health.
Your stomach and your intestines are populated with trillions of different types of microorganisms, the vast majority of which are bacteria. In fact, the amount of cells in your microbiome ( at term referring to the community of microorganims living in your body and their genes) outnumber the amount of cells in your body 10:1. And the genes in your microbiome outnumber your genome by about 100 to 1. These bacteria reside in colonies and can be divided into three main groups: beneficial bacteria, potentially harmful bacteria, and harmful bacteria.
When your gut is healthy, the beneficial bacteria help you digest and absorb your food, synthesize vitamins, control your appetite and metabolism, influence your mood, train your immune system, and help determine how your genes are expressed. Moreover, the good bacteria make sure that the lining of your gut stays intact so it can do its job: absorbing important nutrients while preventing any undigested food, harmful germs or toxic substances from entering your body.
A Leaky Gut: Avoid It At All Cost
The importance of having a healthy gut cannot be overstated. Once the healthy balance of bacteria in your gut is disturbed, the lining of your gut becomes inflamed and is no longer able to function optimally. The result is a leaky gut and the potential for a myriad of health problems:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Food allergies & sensitivities
- Absorption of harmful bacteria, microbial toxins, and metabolic waste. Loss of the gut’s protective barrier means that unwanted substances that would normally be eliminated from your body can now enter your bloodstream. This increases your body’s overall toxic load, putting additional stress on your liver as it works to detoxify your blood.
- Disruption of hormone and neurotransmitter metabolism due to the absorption of partially digested proteins.
- Increased risk of anxiety, autism, ADHD, and depression as toxins produced by an overgrowth of harmful bacteria are absorbed into the bloodstream and able to exert a negative effect on the brain.
- Increased risk of allergies and asthma.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
- Increased risk of autoimmune illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis as chronic inflammation of the gut overwhelms the immune system, causing it to no longer be able to distinguish friend from foe.
What’s In Your Microbiome?
Over the course of your life, many things can impact the the health of your gut microbiome:
- Your Parents: Starting from the time you were conceived, your body began a process of colonization with various types of bacteria inherited from your parents. Not only did you inherit the genes of your parents, but you also inherited some of their microbiome. The health of your mother’s microbiome appears to be an important factor in the development of your own microbiome in the womb, at birth, and while you were breastfeed.
- Your Birth: At birth, you came into contact with the bacteria that line your mother’s birth canal. These bacteria went on to establish their own colonies in your nose, mouth, airways, and gut. If you came into the world by c-section, you bypassed that process, resulting in less bacterial diversity. Emerging research supports the concept that your exposure to microbes early in life plays an essential role in the development of a healthy immune system.
- Your Babyfood: Breast milk contains many of the important colonies of bacteria and the food they eat, both of which are necessary for your gut to develop optimally. By the age of 3, the bacterial composition of your gut nearly resembles that of an adult.
- Your Diet: It’s not only what you eat (foods high in sugar, rich in bad carbohydrates, processed foods, artificial sweeteners, alcohol) that can damage the health of your gut and feed the harmful bacteria, it’s also what you don’t eat (not getting enough of the fiber found in certain vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains) that can lead to digestive problems and a leaky gut. Getting the nourishment your body needs is dependent upon your nourishing the bacteria that live in your gut.
- Food Allergies or Food Sensitivities: Allergies to things like gluten or dairy products can cause inflammation of the gut, disrupting the environment in which the good bacteria thrive. It also sets the stage for you to absorb things you don’t want – namely, undigested food particles, toxins, viruses, parasites, fungi, and harmful bacteria – and makes you unable to absorb the things you need – like important nutrients.
- Your Medications: Antibiotics, over-the-counter pain relievers, acid reflux medications, antidepressants, and the Pill can adversely affect both the bacteria in your gut and the lining of your gut, producing inflammation and a leaky gut.
- Your Stress Level: Got that “gut feeling”? Your gut and brain are intricately connected so that physiologic changes caused by prolonged stress can damage the lining of your gut and change the balance of bacteria living there.Toxins produced by harmful bacteria can then go on to influence your brain and your mood.
- How Much You Exercise: Studies have shown that exercise increases the diversity of the bacteria in your gut which, in turn, increases the health of your gut.
- Your Past Infections: Past gastrointestinal infections can cause sustained damage to the lining of your gut, possibly eliminating many of the beneficial bacteria and allowing for an overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Often times, the colonies of good bacteria are not able to re-establish themselves without the help of probiotics and special dietary measures.
- Medical Treatments: Medical treatments like chemotherapy can severely impair the health of your gut.
Build a Better Microbiome
If you suffer from health problems, your gut should be one of the first places you look to for answers. The absence of digestive issues doesn’t necessarily mean you have a healthy gut. One of the signs that your gut microbiome is overwhelmed is the metabolic syndrome. Studies have shown that alterations in the composition of your gut microbiome are associated with the hallmarks of metabolic syndrome: obesity, elevated cholesterol, and poor blood sugar control.
Building up and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome involves:
- Nourishing the good bacteria in your gut by eating adequate amounts of fiber: Getting enough fiber is vital to the health of your gut and most of us don’t get enough of it. The American Department of Agriculture recommends that women should get 25 grams and men 38 grams of fiber daily. Your digestion needs time to adjust to the added fiber in your diet, so increase the amount of fiber slowly and drink lots of water. A list of foods that are high in fiber and good for your gut is included in this newsletter.
- Eating foods that contain lots of healthy bacteria: Yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, tempeh & miso soup.
- Taking high quality probiotic supplements based on the bacterial deficiencies in your gut: Probiotics are key to rebuilding and maintaining a healthy microbiome. Probiotic supplements are available for children as well as adults. Since there are many different strains of bacteria in your body and many different types of probiotics, it’s a good idea to consult your health care practitioner for advice. Also, there are certain conditions where probiotics may not be beneficial to your health. See our blog on probiotics for more information.
- Identifying any food allergies/intolerances and adjusting your diet accordingly.
- Healing and sealing your gut using targeted nutritional support.
- Drinking enough non-chlorinated water and exercising to facilitate regular bowel movements.
- Exercising to increase the diversity of your gut bacteria.
Beyond The Gut: Your Total Microbiome
Your body is crawling with bacteria. Your nose, mouth, sinuses, lungs, bladder, and vagina are full of beneficial types of bacteria. And just like the ones that live in your gut, these different types of bacteria are essential for good health. They protect you by inactivating and eliminating harmful bacteria, toxins, viruses, fungus, and parasites which may have found their way into your mouth, nose, airways or other mucus membrane covered organs.
As research continues to shed light on the major illness of our day and their connection to the gut microbiome, the future of health care may indeed involve the use of targeted probiotics to prevent and fight disease. The idea here is to use probiotics and prebiotics (foods that nourish the good microorganisms in your gut) to promote the health of the community of microorganisms that populate your body – a form of “inner environmental management”. This, in turn, may lead to a decrease in the use of antibiotics and less antibiotic resistance.
Researchers are also looking at a novel treatment aimed at restoring health to your gut called fecal microbiota transplantation aka “a stool transplant”. It involves taking stool from a healthy donor and transplanting it into the ill patient. This approach has had success in treating a specific type of severe diarrhea and is now being studied as a possible treatment for obesity, metabolic syndrome, and autism. Continued research efforts are still needed to establish the efficacy and safety of this approach.
While you may be surprised or even skeptical about the importance of the bacteria living in your gut, Hippocrates wasn’t.
“Let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food. Everything in excess is opposed to nature. All disease begins in the gut.” – Hippocrates
If you would like more information on how to rebuild your microbiome and restore your health, please contact us today for an appointment. Check out our e-store for specific information on UltraFlora Probiotics from Metagenics.
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Dore’, J et al. Hot topics in Gut Microbiota. United European Gastroenterol J. 2013 Oct; 1(5): 311-318.
Estaki, M et al. Cardiorespiratory fitness as a predictor of intestinal microbial diversity and distinct metagenomic functions. Microbiome. 2016 Aug; 4(1): 42.
LeChatelier, E, et al. Abstract: Richness of Human Gut Microbiome Correlates with Metabolic Markers. Nature. 2013; 500(7464):541-546.
Marotz, CA, et al. Treating Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome with Fecal Microbiota Transplantation. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 2016 Sep; 89(30: 383-388.
Robinson, CJ, et al. From Structure to Function: The Ecology of Host-Associated Microbial Communities.Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 2010 Sep; 74(3): 453-476.
Singanayagam A, et al. Abstract: Role of Microbiome in the Pathophysioligy and Disease Course of Asthma. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2016 Oct.
Slattery J, et al. The Significance of the Enteric Microbiome on the Development of Childhood Disease: A Review of Prebiotic and Probiotic Therapies in Disorders of Childhood. Clin Med Insights Pediatr. 2016; 10:91-107.
The contents of this blog are intended for educational purposes only. The information presented here is not a substitute for proper medical attention, diagnosis, or treatment by a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider before starting or making any changes to an existing treatment plan, exercise program or dietary regimen, and before using nutritional supplements.
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