Our gut microbiome communicates with our minds and hearts in very important ways. Our lives kinda depend on this communication to function at all times. I will discuss the Gut-Brain Axis later on this month, however, let’s look at the significant ways our bodies are affected by the microbiome, generally speaking.
Gut bacteria affects:
Your good bacteria helps digestion, nutrient absorption, amongst many other things. If you have an imbalance of good bacteria, you may get gastrointestinal problems, like IBS and Crohn’s. Good gut bacteria also strengthens our gut wall, protecting the body from pathogens by acting as a layer of cells and chemical barriers. Gut flora affects the pH of the gut, keeping it acidic and hostile against bad bacteria. Good bacteria can also keep yeasts and fermentation at rest and prevent overgrowth of fungus and pathogens that can cause inflammation.
Obesity, Weight Gain, and Diabetes
Gut bacteria affects metabolism. Studies suggest that there could be an increased risk of diabetes and obesity due to bacteria imbalances.
Gut bacteria either activates or suppresses inflammation while it regulates our immune system. When the gut wall is compromised, pathogens can enter the blood stream, activating inflammation. Inflammation is triggered as a response of the gut’s immune system being compromised and in general poor health. It can be the pre-cursor to allergies, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease and neuropathy. IBS, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis and colon cancer are associated with intestinal inflammation. However, these diseases are more inclined to be controlled by our genetics than our bacteria.
If you’ve ever been stressed or anxious about something, you would know that you feel it in your stomach, as well as your head. That’s because of the Gut-Brain Axis. Our gut and our brain are in constant communication with each other. Due to this, an imbalance of gut bacteria can lead to anxiety, depression or stress, and vice versa, creating problems in the gut. It can also have an impact on chronic pain, mood and behaviour.
When we eat eggs and red meat, certain gut bacteria can convert a nutrient called choline into a problematic substance called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). Elevated levels of TMAO can cause a higher risk of stroke, blood clots and other conditions. You would need to eat a lot of red meat and eggs for this to occur though. Choline is an essential nutrient which converts into acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter), which helps our muscles to contract, activates pain responses and plays a role in brain functions of memory and thinking. It can also be converted into phosphatidylcholine which helps in building fat-carrying proteins and breaking down cholesterol.
The Immune System
Babies who were breastfed tend to have healthy gut microbiota and may be more resistant to health conditions. The gut helps and boosts the immune system, protecting us against infection, by communicating with the cells in the immune system. Gut flora activate immune functions in the cells, ensuring that infection is blocked.
An imbalance of bacteria, as well as an overgrowth of fungi, within the gut are largely impacted by diet. Eating low-fibre, high sugar, processed food and nutrient poor options that have high calories contribute to an increase in bad bacteria and yeast. Overuse of medications that block gut function, such as antibiotics, acid-blocking agents and anti-inflammatory medications, can contribute to poor gut health. We can improve our gut bacteria and overall gut health by eating whole, unprocessed food with high fibre and loads of nutrients. Sleep, stress reduction and regular exercise can also help.