How Your Gut Rules Your Body

Your overall health is ruled

by your gut health These days, it seems like everyone is talking about gut health and its relation to our overall health. It’s with good reason though: this field of nutritional science is exploding with emerging research and revelations. It is little wonder then, that from yogurt to kimchi, probiotic products and foods are popping up claiming to help restore gut health and cure what ails us. To help navigate these claims, it helps to know about more about what is really going on in your gut. What do you mean gut health? When someone talks about gut health, they are actually referring to the community of microbes that live inside the human intestinal tract. Since the intestinal tract is an area of our bodies that is relatively open to the environment, it is open to colonization by various bacteria, viruses and other organisms that we come into contact with. Since each person lives an individual life, each person’s intestine is home to a different amount and types of microbes. Even twins only share about 50% of the same types of intestinal bacteria. We start picking up these microbes from our mothers, our doctors and nurses, our food, and everything else in our environment, the second we leave the womb. In the first years of life, these microbes proliferate and compete for space and resources. By two and a half years of age, the microbial community (or microbiota) is stable and closely resembles that of a healthy adult. While changes in diet, health, medication, and environment can affect the types and amounts of microbes in the intestine, the microbiota remains relatively stable until about age sixty-five and older. Changes in the intestinal tract of older adults frequently lead to changes in the composition of microbes in the gut. What do gut microbes do? Lucky for us, these bacteria and other microbes don’t just inhabit our intestines without any purpose. In fact, they are so influential that they are commonly referred to as the “missing” or “forgotten” organ. While we all may have a different composition of microbes in our microbiota, most “healthy” guts perform the same jobs within our bodies. To survive, microbes break down the undigested materials passing through the intestines for energy, and in this process, they end up producing residual energy for the host human, synthesizing vitamin K, and helping with the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and iron. A healthy microbiota also protects the body from other potentially harmful microbes by competing for space on the intestinal walls – physically blocking other microbes from further access to the body – and by consuming all available resources. The mere presence of these microbes also helps to develop the host’s immune system. Since the intestine is open to the environment, it acts as the immune system’s main communication hub with the outside world. As microbes enter and proliferate, the immune system learns how to react to each type, while the microbes themselves are able to manipulate the immune system to increase its tolerance to them. This constant conversation between foreign microbes and the human body helps to develop and shape the immune system throughout the host’s lifetime. What happens when my gut isn’t healthy? Since the body is used to a relatively stable microbe population, and the functions and natures of the microbiota are so complex, many things can potentially be effected when the balance of microbes in the gut changes. This state of imbalance is called dysbiosis, and has been linked with conditions such as autoimmune and allergic diseases, obesity, inflammatory bowel diseases, and diabetes, among others. For example, research has shown that the altered microbial composition in obese patients actually increases the capacity for pulling energy from food. Furthermore, while intestinal microbes can synthesize vitamins, they can also play a role in increasing risk for colon cancer by producing carcinogenic substances from certain foods. Can it be fixed? All this is just the tip of the microbe iceberg. Research on the manipulation of the intestinal microbiota is still sparse. Researchers have shown that transplanting specific microbial profiles (or phenotypes) into the intestines of mice has been able to revert specific patterns such as the previously mentioned increased capacity for harvesting energy found in obese mice. While researchers are racing into human trials (perhaps faster than they are prepared for), and direct transplantation of microbiota may be an option in the future, for now, humans are forced to rely on dietary manipulation of the microbiota for now. This is where probiotic supplements and foods come in. Probiotics are essentially, microorganisms that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition when ingested. Probiotics are frequently found in fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut and pickles, yogurt, soft cheeses and other dairy products in which probiotics have been added. Some probiotic strains have been found useful in prevention and treatment of diarrheal conditions, especially those caused by antibiotic use. However, probiotics don’t just suddenly recolonize the intestine; they are digested first and then must compete with existing microbes. Further, their effects are limited to each specific strain, so the potential effects are generally unknown. More research is desperately needed to keep up with a market that is flooded with probiotics, prebiotics, and other gut health claims, which are mostly treated as dietary supplements by the Food and Drug Administration (meaning they are largely unregulated). So where does that leave us? Consult with your registered dietician before taking both probiotics and antibiotics, as both can be detrimental to your gut health as well as your overall health. Meanwhile, dietary habits and changes can be extremely effective at changing and modulating gut composition and thus health. Switching to a diet low in fat and high in fiber can make changes to the microbiota in as little as one day. Triangle Nutrition Therapy can also provide you with more information and other dietary changes that can help transform your gut health as well as your overall health and happiness, so reach out to us today. Foods with Probiotics

  • Yogurt

  • Natto

  • Soft Cheeses

  • Kefir

  • Sourdough Bread

  • Kombucha

  • Sauerkraut

  • Traditional Buttermilk

  • Kimchi

  • Milk with added probiotics

  • Miso

  • Sour Pickles

  • Tempeh

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