“All disease begins in the gut.” - Hippocrates
For many many years, bacteria has been getting very negative views in the press and media. When we all think of bacteria, we usually think of bad bugs that cause us harm and the answer for most of us is to flock to anti-biotics to help fight off these nasty bugs. Well believe it or not, the majority of the bacteria in your body are there as living organisms designed to help you survive and thrive. During this blog we shall discuss bacteria, what’s good for you, what isn’t and how to keep your body full and thriving with the good bacteria.
Our bodies have trillions of bacteria in them. They all have functions that they perform to thrive and survive. A person which has a good balance of bacteria, is thriving and disease free, we can label as ‘healthy’. Living inside of your gut are 300 to 500 different kinds of bacteria containing nearly 2 million genes. Paired with other tiny organisms like viruses and fungi, they make what’s known as the microbiota, or the microbiome. Like a fingerprint, each person's microbiota is unique. The mix of bacteria in your body is different from everyone else's mix. It’s determined partly by your mother’s microbiota, the environment that you’re exposed to at birth and partly from your diet and lifestyle .
The relationship between humans and some gut flora is a mutual one. It is well known that intestinal bacteria synthesise vitamin B and Vitamin K. The composition of human gut microbiota changes over time, when the diet changes, and as overall health changes . It seems to play a role in many other health-related functions, including metabolism, cardiac health and mood. We are still learning what a healthy gut microbiome looks like. Evidence suggests that a balanced and diverse microbiome might contribute to better health overall, and a less diverse or less balanced microbiome can have a negative impact on health. Having less diverse gut bacteria has been linked to inflammatory bowel diseases and the increase in autoimmune diseases in developed countries .
Fairly recent scientific discoveries have linked having a well balanced gut (intestinal tract) is key to a healthy immune system. Approximately between 70-80% of your immune system is located within your digestive system. The digestive system comprises of cells, proteins, tissues and organs which work together in a complex way to defend the body against harmful bacteria, infectious diseases and toxins.
In fact the gut mucosa connects with the largest population of immune cells in the body. These are also known as gastrointestinal immune cells; which come from the lymphoid branch of the immune system. Their aim is to secrete lymphocyte cells which attack harmful invaders. These lymphatic cells also form bundles known as ‘Peyer’s Patches’ which work together to protect the mucous membranes of the small intestines from infection. They do this by releasing specific white blood cells known as T-cells and B-cells to defend the inside of the digestive tract from infection, as well as the damage that they cause to the intestinal walls. .
Digestion, mood, health, and even the way people think is being linked to their “second brain,” i.e. their gut, more and more every day. The Enteric Nervous System, or ENS, is what scientists are calling the 100 million or so nerve cells that line the entirety of people’s gastrointestinal tracts. The main role of the ENS is to control digestion, but in doing so, it communicates back and forth with the brain as to the overall health of the body’s gut, and in turn, its immune system .
The connection between gut health and mood has been known for some time, as individuals suffering from bowel-disorders such as Celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or leaky gut are more likely than others to also suffer from autoimmune diseases and mental issues such as depression and anxiety. Symptoms related to poor gut health can be as obvious as abdominal pain, bloating after meals, reflux, or flatulence, but also less obvious like headaches, fatigue, joint pain, and immune system weakness .
So now that we have seen why it is so important to have a healthy digestive system with much of the beneficial bacteria to help us keep our immune system in top shape, let us see the other benefits of the good bacteria. There has been a study which links the type of bacteria in your gut to whether you are lean or obese. The study found that those that were lean had a much wider variety of gut bacteria present than those that were obese .
According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the gut bacterium A. muciniphila — the foremost bacteria in the gut’s nutrient-dense mucus layer — may be the key to developing new treatments against obesity and related metabolic disorders. Researchers found that A. muciniphila were at lower than normal levels in both obese mice and mice with type 2 diabetes, suggesting that the bacteria itself plays a critical role in these two common conditions. When researchers gave prebiotics to the at-risk mice, their levels of A. muciniphila increased, improving the functioning of the gut lining and resulting in a reversal of fat mass, inflammation and insulin resistance .
Other benefits of having good gut bacteria are :
The golden rule in nutrition as with most things in life, is to diversify. This is especially true when it comes to foods that feed your gut. As with most things in the body, there are certain foods which can help restore the good bacteria that we need in the gut. Here are some of them [9,10]:
What also helps the gut bacteria is the use of probiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria that are either the same as or very similar to the bacteria that are already in your body. Your lower digestive tract alone teems with a complex and diverse community of these bacteria. In fact, there are a greater number of bacteria in your intestines than there are cells in your body .
A probiotic dietary supplement can aid your health in a variety of ways. Lactobacillus species, Bifidobacteria, Saccharomyces boulardii and Bacillus coagulans are the most common beneficial bacteria used in probiotic dietary supplement products. But each type and each strain of each type can work in different ways. Bottom line: Not all probiotics are the same, nor do they all have the same effect in the body .
Probiotics are fantastic to take when you lose your ‘good’ gut bacteria. This can be very useful after taking a course of antibiotics, as antibiotic work by wiping out all bacteria, not just the bad bacteria. The idea behind antibiotics is simple, wipe enough bacteria, and the bad bacteria will eventually get killed off. What you’re left with is a compromised or ‘low’ immune system. Taking probiotics as well as high gut bacteria boosting foods can really help boost the immune system. Everyone should be taking probiotics in my opinion atleast 2-3 times a year. Some of my favourite brands are Just Thrive, MegaSpore and Bio-Kult.
Lastly, i’d like to cover digestion and the microbes. Bacteria (microbes) feed of the food that we eat. What we eat will either feed the good bacteria or the bad bacteria. There have been some cases where someone on a good healthy balanced diet has still had symptoms of a compromised gut, or what is more popularly known as these days, a leaky gut. The main issue here is that foods are not being digested properly in the stomach (due to low stomach acid) and therefore not enough of the nutrients are extracted to feed the good microbes. This in turn lowers the immune system and causes may gut and over time chronic disease issues. The solution to this is to take bitter foods that can aid digestion and cause the stomach acid to balance out. A tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar 10 minutes before every meal can help with this. Also taking Digestive Enzymes or Digestive Bitters can also help.
When we eat, the microbes are fed first. There is a common myth that bacteria are fed last after the body has absorbed the nutrients. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The microbes are fed first, and depending on what is fed to them, either they react in a good or bad way. That is what makes us feel good or bad after a meal and either makes us fight to survive or thrive.
If you think you require support with your gut and immune health or require general guidance on nutritional support and how to live a balanced lifestyle please contact me at email@example.com or visit my website by going to www.urbanplatehealth.com