Gut Health 101
The "gut instinct." Funny how that has been a trigger for making decision and shown the test of time. That statement almost makes it seem as if the gut has a brain of its own, interesting enough in a way it actually does.
"Your second brain"
There are trillions of cells in your digestive system so it is no wonder that 70% of your immune system is located here. The gut also houses the enteric nervous system which is independent of the brain; it can function on its own. But, when the gut needs to it can communicate directly with your brain through the vagus nerve and sympathetic nervous system (Liang, Shan, et al, 2018).The gut is the biggest digestive, immune and endocrine organ of the human body and it is in charge of the very important job of digesting and assimilating nutrients from the food you eat on a daily basis. The bacteria in our gut live in a mutualistic relationship with our body and provide the means for a overall healthy being by controlling not only your ability to absorb nutrients but also your weight management immunity, cognitive function, mood, emotions, temperament and character. It is important to realize that the gut-microbiome is one of the most important factors in our health, wellness and longevity.
Disrupting the gut microbiome - Diet and lifestyle triggers
The relationship between us and our microbiota has been formed over millions of years of evolution. Reflecting back, this relationship was established in a hunter and gatherer lifestyle; we ate what we had available to us - seasonal fruits and vegetables grown in nutrient rich soil, never sprayed with chemicals and pesticides. We ate meat on occasion when it was caught, and our sources were not pumped with antibiotics and fed an unnatural diet of corn. Since those days, things have changed drastically and so has our commensal flora because of it. Our "old friends" have been degraded by the influx of fake, processed foods and chemicals lining our shelves and we see the effects of deteriorating gut health on a daily basis in our society. Though diet is a huge factor in the demise of our healthy gut bugs, it is not the only factor that is greatly reducing its health. In fact, the many factors in modern society are all contributing to our hypothetical rain-barrel filling to its brim and overflowing; thereafter causing symptoms that proliferate and a state of dis-ease to persist in the body.
#1 Use of antibiotics - Antibiotic prescriptions have become a norm and are prescribed to thousands of people daily even though many of the minor viruses and infections they are prescribed for can be effectively fought by our immune system if we were to just let it do its job. Though antibiotics are successful in killing off bad bacteria, they do not discriminate against good and bad bacteria. Think of this as taking a Clorox wipe to your gut. A single course of antibiotics can lead to disruptions in microbiota lasting up to 16 months on average, or 18 to 24 months for Clindamycin (Hawrelak & Myers, 2004; Jernberg et al., 2010; Cotter et al., 2012).
#2 Pesticides/chemicals and food additives - Pesticides sprayed on conventional food sources when ingested act in a very similar way to antibiotics, they eradicate good bacteria. When you think about their main purpose it makes complete sense: they kill and deter bugs, insects and rodents from destroying crops. Well, think of your gut as a garden, when you ingest these substances, the chemical has the same effect on the bacteria that lives there, leading to bacterial imbalances and weakening of our immune system. It is no wonder conventional farming is now considered one of the most hazardous professions one can practice.
#3 NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) - Tylenol, Motrin and ibuprofen are a common household name but what many do not realize is that continued use of these over the counter drugs greatly contribute to the demise of your healthy gut. These drugs have been demonstrated to decrease both bifidobacteria and lactobacilli - the two most influential types of bacteria in the gut. A decrease in bifidobacteria as well as a disruption in the tight junctions of the gut lining by NSAIDs can then lead to leaky gut syndrome (more on this below.)
Others to be mentioned are alcohol consumption, processed foods and stress
Dysbiosis and "leaky gut"
The gut can only take so much. When we combine all of the factors above, or too much of 1, we create the perfect storm for opportunistic organisms to take hold and proliferate creating a microbial imbalance or dysbiosis that then causes a cascade of symptoms:
- constipation or diarrhea
- excessive weight gain/weight
- brain fog
- mood imbalances (depression/anxiety)
- low immunity
- skin issues (acne, rashes, dry/itchy scalp)
- fatigue (disruption of HPA axis)
- hormone imbalances
These symptoms very commonly stem from dysbiosis that can be related to: candida (fungal overgrowth) SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) parasites and are often associated with one of the most common problems I see in our coaching, leaky gut.
Leaky gut or increased intestinal permeability occurs when the tight junctions that hold your intestinal wall together widen and begin to allow bacteria, pathogens, yeast, and proteins to leak into your blood stream. This triggers the body to then go into full attack mode on these intruding particles causing a massive inflammatory response that can become systemic and lead to autoimmunity. Leaky gut can be caused by many of the lifestyle factors discussed above; leaky gut is directly correlated with over 90% of all autoimmune diseases, further establishing the importance of a sealed, properly functioning/balanced gut.
So what can we do?
As gut health in our society continues to deteriorate it is crucial that we educate ourselves on how to both combat and prevent the effects that come from negative diet and lifestyle habits. Some tips for a health gut below:
- Probiotics - daily supplementation recommended 25-50 billion CFU, multiple strains of both lactobacilli and bifidobacterium (if bloated and taking probiotics test for imbalances in gut)
- Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen - guide on what foods you can "get away with" eating conventional when organic is not available
- Fermented foods - kimchi, saurkraut, gut shot, fermented veggies (all provide active live bacterial cultures)
- Food diversity - rotate foods (do not continuously eat the same things over and over)
- Fiber - keeps your system regular and provides your flora with the food it needs
If you already suffer from many of the symptoms listed above and suspect you have gut dysbiosis, always start by cleaning up the diet first, giving your body a vast array of nutrient dense whole foods can alleviate minor symptoms and help nudge the gut ecosystem back into balance.
Functional lab tests like the Organic Acids test, IGG food sensitivity test and stool analysis are great for identifying and getting to root of the problem. Lastly, specific gut health coaching may be needed to help get you back on track with an elimination diet and customized food and supplement protocols.
If you do not already suffer from the symptoms above but find yourself consuming and participating in many of the lifestyle triggers above, it is crucial that you begin to shift habits. It is not a matter of IF, but a matter of WHEN our rain-barrel will overflow - which consequently ends with a cascade of negative ailments that could include autoimmunity. Incorporating or eliminating one thing at a time is progress in the right direction and will ultimately save your health in the long run.
A healthy gut means so much and is the key to maintaining and sustaining health and wellbeing in your body. Healthy gut → health you :)
Cotter, P.D., Stanton, C., Ross, R.P., & Hill, C. (2012). The impact of antibiotics on the gut microbiota as revealed by high throughput DNA sequencing. Discovery Medicine, 13(70), 193-199.
Hawrelak, J.A., & Myers, S.P. (2004). The causes of intestinal dysbiosis: A review. Alternative Medicine Review, 9, 180-197.
Jernberg, C., Lofmark, S., Edlund, C., & Jansson, J.K. (2010). Long-term impacts of antibiotic exposure on the human intestinal microbiota. Microbiology, 156(11), 3216-3223
Liang, Shan, et al. “Gut-Brain Psychology: Rethinking Psychology From the Microbiota–Gut–Brain Axis.” Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, vol. 12, 2018, doi:10.3389/fnint.2018.00033.