By Sally Pattison BAppSc, Adv. Dip. Nat, Adv. Dip. Nut
We’ve all heard the expression, “You are what you eat.” Never was there a truer statement. Everything we do in life depends upon our digestive system’s ability to derive nutrition from what we put in our mouths.
But how does the digestive system work? What is the brain-gut connection all about, and how does it affect mood, immune, and just about everything else? And what are the necessary ingredients for a healthy digestive system?
The answer lies in our gut!
In a series of articles I plan to unravel these questions in a way to help you understand and then how to reach optimal gut health.
Article 1 – Introduction / overview and Microbiome explained
Article 2 – Immunity- how gut health effects it
Article 3 – Serotonin – what it is?, what is it’s role?, where is it made?, where is it stored?
Article 4 – What is good/bad for gut health – and how stress affects gut health
Hippocrates – “All disease begins in the Gut”
Hippocrates made this statement over two thousand years ago and it is becoming more and more relevant and more understood about the ‘why’ in today’s research. The interconnection of gut health, the bacteria within it and inflammation are being shown as underlying most diseases. The bodily process of digestion and absorption is one of the most important to our health.
The microbiome is in the spotlight with scientists becoming very interested in our gut bacteria. Where there is scientific interest, there is research. At present a lot of the knowledge base is yet to be fully understood, with its complex relationship to health and disease. It is becoming more increasingly clear that these tiny organisms play a MAJOR role in your health—both physical and mental.
There are more than ten times the bacteria in your gut than human cells.
That is a 10:1 ratio of bacteria to cells!
Yes, we have more bacteria in our body than we do human cells, up to ten times more. Most of them are in our intestines; we each have literally trillions of bacteria and fungi living in there.
Microbiome - also referred to as intestinal flora, gut flora, microflora, bacteria and probiotics and plays a vital role in the fermentation and digestion of carbohydrates and aids in the digestion of fats and proteins.
Bacteria populations that live in the gut are a combination of both good and bad bacteria; a balance between the two is necessary for an optimal state of health. They help with digestion, detoxification, metabolism and ensuring balanced immunological responses to potential allergens.
Bad bacteria include those that cause disease such as Salmonella, Clostridium and others. They only become problematic, however, when their numbers grow large and uncontrollable in proportion to that of good bacteria. Even yeasts such as Candida are healthy in small amounts.
Good bacteria include Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgarius, Bifidobacterium bifidum and others. They help us digest food, maintain a healthy gut, provide us with nutrients and vitamins, and fight off bad bacteria.
Good gut flora helps prevent bloating, gas and yeast overgrowth because they maintain intestinal acidity at a healthy pH level. They manufacture certain vitamins, help prevent disease by depriving unwanted bacteria of nutrients and secrete acids that bad bacteria have difficulty coping with.
An imbalance in your microbiome can contribute to chronic illnesses of the gastrointestinal system such as IBS and Crohn’s disease, autoimmune conditions and rheumatoid arthritis. It may influence your susceptibility to infectious disease, and certain collections of microbes may determine how you respond to prescription medication.
Autoimmune diseases are now believed to be passed on in families not by DNA inheritance but by inheriting the family’s microbiome.
Genetic studies have linked various combinations of different species in the microbiome to certain health conditions. The evidence so far suggests that a balanced and diverse microbiome contributes to good health and a less diverse and less balanced microbiome to poor health.
What Gut Bacteria Do
Your gut is the only organ that has its own nervous system (with over 100 million neurons residing within the walls of the organ).
As a newborn you have a sterile gut. By age 2 to 4 you have 100 trillion bacteria in your gut. Everyone has a unique mix of different bacterial populations. This mix is influenced by how you were born, where you live, what you eat, your genetics, your experiences as an infant and other environmental factors.
Gut bacteria play an essential role in the manufacture of neurotransmitters - such as 95% of the brain’s serotonin. (Serotonin is an important messenger that helps regulate moods – the ‘feel good’ hormone). * see article 3
Gut bacteria help with the digestion and metabolism of food. They extract vitamins and maintain the gut wall - and once beneficial bacteria colonize the gut, they repel pathogens that would otherwise establish a foothold. They do this by optimizing pH and out-competing ‘invaders’ for nutrients.
Gut bacteria communicate with dendritic cells of the immune system to quicken the response to harmful germs.* (see article 2)
What are the signs of unhealthy digestion?
- Acid reflux
- Throat and nose issues (constant runny nose, sinusitis etc.)
- Inflammation anywhere in the body – including IBS, IBD, Crohns
- Skin disorders anywhere on the body
- Negative reactions to food
- Loose stools or constipation
- Reflux (GERD)
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth Syndrome (SIBO)
- Mental health from enzymes deficiencies