Dead or Alive: Gut Health and Microbiota

By: Dr. Deedra Mason

There are many components of diet which effect optimal digestive health. They include enzymes (which start breaking down foods in the mouth and are found in the intestines), pH conditions, bile from the gall bladder, intestinal microflora, probiotics and some digestive properties contained in the food that we eat.

Of these, the body’s microbiota does the heavy lifting.

Over the last 10 years, our understanding of the composition and functions of the human gut microbiota has increased by a hundred fold. The gut microbiota is a collection of cells that works in unison with the host.  It can promote health and also cause disease, depending upon the type of bacteria present.

Studies reveal that the microbiome’s influence is so great, that it is comparable to a new organ in the body and it offers the possibility of a new route for therapeutic intervention.

Hugo Rodier, MD- The Gut Microbiota and Host Health J.Gut. 2016;65(2):330-339.

Humans cannot live free of, or from, intestinal bacteria.  This micro flora begins in infancy and is essential to immunity and over all well-being. A healthy tract will be helped by increasing indigenous flora and will build a symbiotic relationship with the host “eubiosis”.

Without proper digestive barriers created by the diversity of our microflora, our bodies cannot properly balance, important nutrients that need to be absorbed, and unhealthy factors cannot be eliminated.  This effects every system in your body.  A breach in that barrier may result in diminished energy levels, variable mood, and weight.  Potentially an issue with gut permeability may limit skin and joint health and over all immunity.

In simple terms, a well-balanced intestinal microflora is a crucial part of overall health.  Like so many other tissues, previously unappreciated, the intestinal microflora is communicative.  They use a special type of sense allowing them to act in synergy.

Maintaining optimal digestive and immune health depends in large part on maintaining optimal bacterial balance within the digestive tract. The digestive tract is home to 400-500 different types of microbes. These microbes include both healthy bacteria (probiotics) and potentially unhealthy bacteria.  It is estimated that there are more microbes in your intestine there are human cells in your body.  With such tremendous diversity naturally present in the digestive tract, it is important to ensure a healthy environment for propagation.

Even when you consume a gut friendly diet with plenty of the fodder for a strong immune system, things like stress and lack of restful sleep can interfere with the microbial balance.  Components of a stress response, like excess epinephrine or disrupted cortisol cycles due to poor or fragmented sleep, can quickly turn on virulence of the “bad gut bugs”

The University of Michigan Health System announced probiotics to be the “key to good health,” as they support the health of the digestive system and are being studied for their benefits to other health areas.

A healthy gut with a balance of probiotics can prevent colonization by pathogens competing for attachment sites or for essential nutrients by antagonizing problematic bacteria while stimulating the development of immune tissue and a robust gut barrier.  In addition, probiotics are known to help synthesize and excrete vitamins like Vitamin K and Vitamin B12.

The diversity of strains, total bacterial count, and support of the gut environment are key elements in a microbial balance.  Remember- your gut is a battlefield! Defend yourself today.