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Healthy Gut, Healthy Body: What You Need to Know

June 30, 2020 4 min read

Healthy Gut, Healthy Body: What You Need to Know

The human body is home to over 100 trillion microorganisms, the majority of which are found in the gastrointestinal tract ("gut"). Taken as a whole, this community of microorganisms, their genes and the functions they encode, are referred to as the microbiome.

During the past two decades, research has revealed significant associations between the gut microbiome and conditions such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's Disease, psoriasis, and cancer. Recent research is also striving to understand the correlation between the microbiome and Alzheimer's Disease, autoimmune conditions, and various inflammatory responses. Because of the highly individualized make-up of each person's microbiome, researchers are exploring how nutrition and other factors influence the gut microbiome and how imbalances can be corrected with lifestyle interventions.

Disruption to the delicate balance in the microbiome can be caused by many factors, such as
age (microbiome composition changes throughout the lifespan)
dietary habits and quality of our food
history of illness, existing chronic health conditions or autoimmune conditions
imbalance in stomach acid production
frequency of use of certain prescription medications including antibiotics
lifestyle factors: smoking (including e-cigarettes), use of alcohol or recreational drugs
high stress level
exposure to toxins in the environment (e.g., work conditions, atmosphere)

While research reveals a link between lifestyle factors, the microbiome, and the health of our system, there is a great deal more to be discovered. For example, scientists want to better identify which bacteria in the microbiome are most implicated in specific diseases. They also want to understand whether an imbalance is the cause for the disease, or the result of the disease, or both.

One thing that is clear: Failure to take care of ourselves disrupts the microbiome, which then creates a cycle of imbalance that manifests in symptoms of illness (in the gut and in other organs). Some of these include:
poor absorption of nutrients (tested by a physician)
bad breath (halitosis)
recurrent upset stomach, nausea, or bloating
persistent constipation or diarrhea
difficulty urinating
vaginal or anal itching or discharge
rash or redness
fatigue
trouble concentrating
changes in mood

Unless the microbiome is brought back into balance, symptoms of illness will persist and quality of life diminishes. Even if you have been ill, or not kind to your body with a healthy lifestyle, there is good news: Healthy dietary changes and nutritional supplements can rebalance the microbiome, strengthening immunity and reducing inflammation throughout the body. Here are a few tips to help rebalance your gut:

Eat a whole foods diet. In particular, the high-fiber, nutrient-rich foods in the Mediterranean Diet has been shown to protect the integrity of the gut microbiome.

Eat more fermented foods. Fermentation is a process for preserving food that can improve digestibility. Fermented foods contain bacteria that are an important source of nutrients and health-promoting bacteria for the gut.

Take a prebiotic/probiotic supplement. Prebiotics are a type of fiber that the human body cannot digest. They serve as fuel for probiotics, which are tiny living microorganisms, (bacteria and yeast). Both prebiotics and probiotics support the body in building and maintaining a healthy gut. To ensure the right combination and proper absorption, prebiotic - probiotic regiment needs to be prescribed by your physician.

If you've had ongoing problems with gastrointestinal symptoms, it's time to see a health practitioner rather than trying to treat the gut on your own. Since the microbiome is unique to each person, you need a personalized approach to rebalancing, which can be provided in consultation with a holistic medical practitioner.

Resources
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De Filippis, F, Vitaglione, P, Cuomo, R, et al., "Dietary Interventions to Modulate the Gut Microbiome-How Far Away Are We From Precision Medicine." Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. (2018) 24. 10.1093/ibd/izy080. Accessed 1 April 2020: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324515024_Dietary_Interventions_to_Modulate_the_Gut_Microbiome-How_Far_Away_Are_We_From_Precision_Medicine  

Sender R, Fuchs S, Milo R. "Revised Estimates for the Number of Human and Bacteria Cells in the Body.  PLOS Biology. (2016) 14(8): e1002533. Accessed 1 April 2020: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002533: https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.1002533

Kiani, L., Cambridge Scientific Abstracts- Discovery Guide. Bugs in our Gut: How Probiotics Keep Us Healthy. (2006). Accessed 30 Mar 2020:  http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.503.8094&rep=rep1&type=pdf  
    
Macfarlane GT, Cummings JH. "Probiotics and prebiotics: can regulating the activities of the intestinal bacteria benefit health." BMJ. (1999) 318:999-1003. Accessed 12 July 2018:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1115424/  

Pizzorno, J. E. & Murray, M.T. Textbook of Natural Medicine: 4th Ed. (2013).

Healthline.com "What Causes Dysbiosis and How Is It Treated?" Accessed 29 Apr 2020: https://www.healthline.com/health/digestive-health/dysbiosis

Ni, J.,Wu, G., Albenberg, L. & Tomov, V. "Gut microbiota and IBD: Causation or correlation?". Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology. (2017). 14. 10.1038/nrgastro.2017.88. Accessed 1 April 2020: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28743984  

Vanegas, S., Meydani, M., Barnett, J., et al. "Substituting whole grains for refined grains in a 6-wk randomized trial has a modest effect on gut microbiota and immune and inflammatory markers of healthy adults." American Jl Clinical Nutr. 105. 10.3945/ajcn.116.146928. Accessed 1 April 2020: http://www.ascd.org/professional-development/webinars/literacy-strong-all-year-long-webinar.aspx  

Zhang, X., Li, L., Butcher, J. et al. "Advancing functional and translational microbiome research using meta-omics approaches."  Microbiome (2019). 7:154 https://doi.org/10.1186/s40168-019-0767-6 Accessed 1 Apr 2020: https://microbiomejournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40168-019-0767-6

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