I’m sure you’ve heard by now that good gut health is a biggie in maintaining overall health. But do you really know what it is? Today I bring out the big guns and get all those sneaky questions answers.
Why is gut health so important?
The microbiome is defined as the collective genomes of the microbes (composed of bacteria, bacteriophage, fungi, protozoa and viruses) that live inside and on the human body. We have about 10 times as many microbial cells than human cells. It is estimated that the human body is the home of 100 trillion bacteria, and also houses about one quadrillion viruses. All of these organisms perform a multitude of functions, and need to be properly balanced and cared for in order to maintain good health. Therefore it is now well known that there are no good or bad bacteria as once thought. Potentially harmful microbes only become dangerous once they start to take up too much space, outnumbering the more beneficial ones.
The functions that bacteria perform in the body are both important and varied. To date, a number of functions have been associated to the core microbiome, including polysaccharide digestion, immune system development, defence against infections, synthesis of vitamins, fat storage, angiogenesis regulation, and behaviour development.
What damages the gut and destroy good bacteria?
The microbiome is extremely dynamic and can be influenced by a number of factors, among which, age, diet, lifestyle and, hormonal cycles, travel, antibiotic and other pharmaceutical therapies, and illness are the most prevalent. Diets high in fat, sugar, processed meats and pesticides and low in fibre can kill beneficial bacterial and encourage growth of pathological bacteria. Other disease such as GIT infections that cause vomiting and diarrhoea can also deplete the gut microbiome.
Processed foods are typically high in added sugars – high fructose corn syrup in particular, which feeds fungi, yeast, and detrimental bacteria. Recent research has also found that emulsifiers found in processed foods have a very detrimental effect on your microbiome, and may contribute to obesity, metabolic syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease by altering your gut bacteria.
In this study, widely used food additives caused chronic colitis in mice with already abnormal immune systems. In mice with healthy immune function, they resulted in mild intestinal inflammation and subsequent metabolic dysfunction that led to obesity, hyperglycemia, and insulin resistance. Most notably, the emulsifiers were fed at levels that an average person would be exposed to if eating a lot of processed foods, suggesting these additives may indeed affect the health of many humans.
What diseases are associated with poor gut health?
Bacterial diversity, is usually considered an indicator of a healthy status: reduced bacterial diversity has been related to obesity and immune-related and inflammatory diseases. Therefore qualitative alterations, especially at level of the core microbiome, can lead to the development of disease. This phenomenon has been mostly studied in inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), including both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
The link to obesity is an interesting one as the research is relatively recent and there are still more links to be made. In 2012, a study published in the Journal of Proteome Research suggested that a lack of bacteria in the large intestine may drive obesity by slowing down the activity of brown fat, which protects against weight gain when stimulated by burning calories and white fat.
A more recent study provides further evidence that gut bacteria may influence weight gain. A case report published in the journal Open Forum Infectious Diseases revealed how a women who underwent fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) using an overweight donor rapidly became obese herself following the procedure.
The above shows that not only a high volume of beneficial bacteria may influence the risk of obesity but specific bacteria in the gut can also have a huge impact. Another example of this is that certain bacteria have been shown to naturally synthesise a substance known as α-hydroxy isocaproic acid (HICA) from leucine which is indicated to increase lean muscle mass in healthy individuals.
What are some signs of poor gut health?
Below are a few signs and symptoms that have been linked to poor gut health;
- Chronic diarrhoea
- Chronic bad breath
- Candida overgrowth
- Excess intestinal gas and bloating
- PMS and menstrual complaints
- Food intolerances
- Mood imbalance
- Too little or no intestinal gas
- Weight gain
- Inflammation of joints
How can we heal this?
As stated above, diet is very important in maintaining gut health. A diet high in fibre and vegetables, fermented foods and low in sugars, processed foods and alcohol will all help the gut. Also, a diet specifically low in food intolerances such as gluten and dairy will help the gut to heal and balance out the microbiome.
Probiotics are a large part of maintaining gut health. Supplementing with probiotics and fibre have been shown to benefit the gut microbiome in several studies. Most probiotic supplements contain many probiotics species to cover a broad colonisation range. However it is not only about the quantity of probiotics but also their specificity as certain probiotic strains that can benefit different conditions, depending on their actions in the gut.
For example, those who have difficulty maintaining their weight may benefit from supplements such as Medlab’s W8Biotic which is scientifically formulated contains specific probiotic strains that synthesise α-hydroxy isocaproic acid (HICA) from leucine which is indicated to increase lean muscle mass in healthy individuals. W8Biotic also contains Hi-Maize Resistant Starch which has been shown to increase satiety and help with weight control with a calorie controlled eating plan, as well as modulating carbohydrate and lipid metabolism and maintaining digestive health by promoting short-chain fatty acid synthesis. Lastly, it contains L-carnitine which modulates energy expenditure in healthy individuals.
Medlab’s ORSBiotic may also benefit those who have poor gut bacteria due to travelling, vomiting, diarrhoea and strenuous physical activity as it contains the benefits of electrolytes for re-hydration combined with Saccharomyces boulardii. This beneficial yeast has not only been shown to help maintain gut integrity and decrease gut inflammation, but it also may help alleviate dysbiosis and provide therapeutic support for diarrhoea. There is also selected probiotic species in the formula that maintain healthy gastrointestinal homeostasis and permeability .ORSBiotic is further strengthened by the inclusion of zinc, which is beneficial in the treatment of diarrhoea (especially in children) and plays a role in immune function and mucosal integrity.