The microbiome – specifically, your gut – is getting a spotlight like never before. Fortune Magazine even deemed 2015 the “year of the microbiome.” Why? Because more and more research is being done to inspect the 6lbs of bacteria that reside in your body and its connection to a variety of diseases and conditions, from anxiety and mood to obesity and IBS.
The inspection of the gut now also coincides at a time when Americans are feeling the impact of modern living, such as the addiction to processed food, and the overuse of antibiotics.
Why processed food: The documentary Fed Up highlighted the different methods companies use to make their food something that people will buy more of, mostly by adding more sugar and salt. As brought to light in the film, “personal responsibility doesn’t work in the face of addiction.” Food has been engineered to be “hyper-palatable,” ever since the low-fat craze of the 1980s and 1990s. So while the fat and calories have been removed, the sugar content remains the same, keeping it addictive. Excess sugar consumption causes an imbalance of gut bacteria.
Why antibiotics: Antibiotics, commonly used to fight against bacterial infections, work to destroy bad bacteria, but they also destroy good gut bacteria. Restoring the body’s “good” versus “bad” bacterial balance is vi to keep your body functioning properly.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that antibiotics are being widely overprescribed in U.S. hospitals. According to the October issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, antibiotics “are being given to patients too often, and many doctors are using more than one antibiotic to fight serious infections when it’s not necessary.”
Take a look at four ways we’re learning how and what your gut is connected to.
4 Things Your Gut is Connected To
Gut bacteria both produce and respond to neurochemicals—such as GABA, serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine and melatonin—that the brain also uses to regulate mood and cognition. In fact, gut bacteria manufacture about 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, according to the American Psychology Association.
Now let’s talk about the vagus nerve, which is the primary neural conduit between the gut and the brain, as described by the American Psychology Association. There’s one vagus nerve on each side of your body, running from your brainstem through your neck to your chest and abdomen. Bacteria (in the gut) stimulate the vagus nerve, which stimulates the production of the various neurotransmitters we just mentioned e.g. GABA, serotonin, etc. Those chemicals then talk to your brain, stabilizing your body’s hormonal balance and improving your mood.
Almost 70 percent of the immune system is regulated in your gut. When the small intestine lining is compromised, via an imbalance of that good and bad bacteria, the non-nutritive materials can slip into your bloodstream. The end result of this is your immune system launches a response, resulting in inflammation. Inflammation also is the underlying theme in preventable chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart diseases, and autoimmune diseases.
3. Weight & Metabolism
The presence and absence of certain bacteria are connected to obesity. In a study published in August of 2014, researchers found that disturbing the normal gut microbiomes of young mice caused them to gain weight later on. Transplanting these mice’s gut microbes into germ-free mice ended up transferring weight gain, as well. This suggests that the gut microbes were indeed the cause of the extra weight. Outside of mice, consider this observation of a 32-year old woman who received a FMT (Fecal Microbiota Transplant) to treat Clostridium difficile and experienced rapid and unexpected weight gain. Having never been overweight prior to the transplant, the woman became obese in a 16-month span and, despite diet and exercise to lower her weight, remains obese today, three years post-transplant.
The suspected culprit? The FMT used donor stool from the woman’s overweight but otherwise healthy teenage daughter.
Your digestive tract relies on a variety of foods moving through the intestines for nutrient absorption, as mentioned in livestrong.com. For example, eating high amounts of fat can slow digestive system function. Also, not getting enough insoluble fiber can increase constipation.
4 Steps to Promote a Healthy Gut
1. Eat well
When it comes to eating the foods that promote good gut health, two keywords to help you here: “Fiber” and “Fermented.”
- Fiber: As mentioned in LiveStrong.com, good gut health is associated with adequate fiber and micronutrients, found in foods such as dry beans (cooked soybeans, lentils, split peas and kidney, pinto, black, lima, garbanzo, navy and Great Northern bean), and vegetables and fruits (cooked spinach, artichokes, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, pears, raspberries and strawberries, brussels sprouts, asparagus, cabbage. Note: The types of fruits and vegetables will vary, depending on whether or not you’re FODMAP-sensitive.
- Fermented: Specifically, foods with probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts aka “the good” microorganisms. Probiotics already exist naturally in your gut. According to the Cleveland Clinic, probiotics assist in decreasing the number of “bad” bacteria in your gut that can cause infections or inflammation, replacing the body’s “good” bacteria, and restoring the body’s “good” versus “bad” bacterial balance, which then helps to keep your body functioning properly. Some foods with probiotics include kombucha, miso, tempeh, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles. The most well known food product that contains probiotics is probably yogurt. Or you could try making your own probiotics. It’s valuable to know that some probiotics actually replace bacteria (kefir), while others encourage their growth (yogurt), because there are thousands of different strains of this bacteria. You can read more in-depth about the different types here.
2. Avoid the foods that damage the intestinal lining
Avoid highly processed and refined foods, as these contain chemicals from manufacturers that are often not absorbed well, such as the sweetener high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute even did a study on just how damaging HFCS is to your intestinal lining.
Stick to whole foods in their natural form.
3. Drink water
Water naturally improves digestion. As detailed by the Mayo Clinic, water helps break down food so that your body can absorb the nutrients. Water also softens stools, which helps prevent constipation.
Need help making it a habit? Check out these 7 tips to help you drink more water.
4. Supplement where you’re lacking
According to Harvard Health, interest in probiotic supplements is on the rise. Since the health benefits are strain-specific, and not all strains are necessarily useful, you may want to consult a practitioner familiar with probiotics to discuss your options and to be sure supplementing is right for you. Some common strains of probiotics associated with gut health include:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus: The most well known probiotic and one of the most important for the health of the small intestine. Acidophilus inhibits pathogens, and produces such natural antibiotics as lactocidin and acidophilin, which enhance immunity.
- Bifidobacteria bifidum: Prevents pathogenic bacteria and yeast from invading. In addition, this species increase absorption of iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
- Streptococcus thermophilus: Used to make yogurt. Breaking down lactose to create lactase, the enzyme that digests milk sugars, this species can help with lactose intolerance. Other Streptococcus strains: Cremoris, faecium and infantis.
- Enterococcus faecium: Has shown in studies to be helpful for diarrhea, shortening duration of symptoms. It kills pathogenic microbes, such as rotavirus. Studies have also shown this strain to lower LDL or bad cholesterol. This organism is very resistant to antibiotics.
FYI: You can purchase Thorne probiotic supplements directly through your WellnessFX membership – when you log in to your WellnessFX account, you’ll see an option to Buy Supplements up at the top to get you started.
How WellnessFX Can Help
The best way to know your health risks is to get a blood test. Once you know where you are on the risk scale, you’ll know what lifestyle changes you should incorporate. If you re-test after approximately four months, the time it takes for blood cells to regenerate, you’ll better understand if your changes have been working. Talk with your doctor, or a WellnessFX practitioner. A WellnessFX practitioner can provide you with a customized action plan based on your health profile.
The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.