One of our favourite games as kids is now one of the most powerful determinants of sickness or health – the cops and robbers in our intestinal tract – better known as “good bacteria” or “bad bacteria”. Over the last ten years, the function of our “gut microbiome”, is finally gaining the research and respect that it so deserves.
Our gut microbiome is our inner ecosystem, or inner temple of peace health and tranquility. It’s not just a gross squishy mess – dark abyss.
Peace: One of my favorite researchers of all time, Dr. Michael Gershon, elaborated on the research of our enteric nervous system – that whole other brain, our belly brain, in or gut. He showed the world that it was our gut that was responsible for 90% of our production of serotonin, our happy hormone, not the brain as was assumed. Since then, research on our 2nd brain – our belly brain – has truly been the modern day magical mystery tour.
Health: Our microbiota, often referred to as our flora, is the team of trillions of microorganisms hosted by our gut. Some of these microorganisms are found within all of us, and some are specific to our own unique inner ecosystem. The general job description of our microbiota looks like this:
- Digestive function -helps the body to digest foods extracting nutrients the stomach and small intestine cannot accomplish alone,
- Production of some vitamins (B and K).
- It helps us combat aggressions from other microorganisms, kind of like the team fighting the teamsters!
- Huge role in immune functioning, the complexities of this role keep researchers fascinated.
- Tranquility in our body – comes from peace and health.
Maimonides, Ancient Chinese Medicine all said “health begins in our gut“ Due to the flurry of research, Western medicine is starting to acknowledge the contribution of our mighty gut in the prevention of chronic illness.
Babies are believed to be born with sterile gastro-intestinal tracts but upon birth, microbes start colonizing the gut, starting our microbiome. A vaginal delivery (compared to cesarean section) and breast-fed vs formula-fed infants have been shown to be the primary initial influence of the developing infant microbiome. Over the first years of life, the gut microbiome is evolving, resembling an adult gut microbiome by age 3.
A 2014 National Food Institute study from The Technical University of Denmark and the University of Copenhagen, reported that the nutritional factor that has the greatest impact on the development of a child’s gut flora is whether the child is breastfed. The study shows that breastfeeding promotes the growth of beneficial lactic acid bacteria in the baby’s gut flora which are beneficial to the development of the child’s immune system.”We have become increasingly aware of how crucially important a healthy gut microbial population is for a well-functioning immune system. Babies are born without bacteria in the gut, and so it is interesting to identify the influence dietary factors have on gut microbiota development in children’s first three years of life.”
A healthy gut microbiome (the cops)
- Greatly supports our immune system, and is often respected as the first step of our immune system.
- Helps control our hormonal levels, helping us maintain healthy cortisol levels and improved ability to handle stress.
- Housekeepers of the gut, crucial to health and should dominate and control all other microbes. The beneficial bacteria provide a natural barrier and protect us against disease, free radicals, hostile bacteria, parasites, fungi, viruses and toxins that are in our food and drink that we ingest every day.
And now the robbers. Due to lifestyle, poor food choices, numerous medications (including antibiotics, mouthwashes, aspirin, antacids, painkillers, laxatives, anti depressants,) alcohol, sugar, anti bacterial soaps, altered fats, pesticides, chlorinated drinking water, douches and excessive colon cleanses, surgeries, colonoscopies, and chemotherapy/radiation therapy, lack of fiber in the diet, lack of probiotics in the diet… our healthy bacteria are destroyed, allowing the bad bacteria to literally divide and conquer.
Bad bacteria interacts with our immune system releasing inflammatory cytokines and stress steroids ….associated with chronic inflammation. Again, we are an accessory to the crime by feeding bad bacteria eating refined sugars, processed foods, ingesting toxins in our food…. all that I listed above.
Just an FYI:
- Anyone considering weight loss surgery – please do the research (or contact me) on which procedures respect the gut microbiome – NOT all do. Many procedures were created well before all of this current knowledge of the importance of our gut microbiome we available.
- Anyone undergoing cancer treatment, taking any of the medications listed above, please speak with your health care professionals (MD and ND excellent here!) for guidance on how to bring proper balance back to their microbiome.
An expanding body of evidence supports a role for gut microbes in carcinogenesis – the etiology of cancer, throughout the body, not restricted to the gastrointestinal tract. The over powering strength of dangerous gut microbes to influence systemic inflammation suggests that the gut microbial community may also affect risk of cancer in tissues everywhere. These “robbers” can rob nutrients vital for tissue function, weaken immune function, weaken mucous integrity, and of course, destroy the good bacteria. A poor bacterial ratio has been implicated in obesity and diabetes, two high risk factors for cancer. Please don’t feed the bad bacteria.
A dramatic example of just how important a healthy, balanced microbiome is, interventions that improve the microbiome are now increasingly used in medicine to improve health. Probiotics, nutritional overhauls and yes, fecal transplants, aka bacteriotherapy. Yep – it is exactly what it sounds like – feces from individuals with a healthy flora are being performed to treat chronic intestinal infections. Kind of a reverse colonoscopy these transplants are 90 percent effective in healing the gut and eliminating the infection.
A study released by UCLA, April 2016 found “evidence that anti-inflammatory “health beneficial” gut bacteria can slow or stop the development of some types of cancer. Ultimately, doctors might be able to reduce a person’s risk for cancer by analyzing the levels and types of intestinal bacteria in the body, and then prescribing probiotics to replace or bolster the amount of bacteria with anti-inflammatory properties”.
A June 2016 study from the University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario Canada – Bacteria and Breast Cancer states: “There are bacteria living in women’s breast tissue and these microbes may affect women’s health. Researchers found that women with tumors in their breasts had a different mix of bacteria living in the tissue compared with woman who did not have tumors.” Upon further examination of the bacteria – they were found to have the ability – in a petrie dish to destroy DNA.
And of course – In every article I write, I will always boast the magic of exercise – we have now a number of studies that show exercise will increase the healthy bacteria in our gut. From University College Cork, Cork, Ireland “As expected, athletes and controls differed significantly with respect to plasma creatine kinase (a marker of extreme exercise), and inflammatory and metabolic markers. More importantly, athletes had a higher diversity of gut micro-organisms, representing 22 distinct phyla, which in turn positively correlated with protein consumption and creatine kinase.”
The “Gut-Brain Axis” come from researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, who discovered that early-life physical activity alters the microbial community in the gut in a way that promotes brain health and metabolic activity over the entire lifespan.”Exercise affects many aspects of health, both metabolic and mental, and people are only now starting to look at the plasticity of these gut microbes and that is one of the novel aspects of this research. A robust, healthy community of gut microbes also appears to promote healthy brain function and provide anti-depressant effects.” Wow.
Root for the good guys – feed and exercise our healthy microbiota. Please don’t just start popping probiotics. Make the right food choices (a great article from MD Andersen Cancer Institution provided in my list of reference articles) and see an MD and ND for solid guidance. Your gut is worth it.
Peace, Health & Tranquility.