1: There’s more than just bacteria in your gut.
Your gut microbiome includes more than just bacteria – it also includes parasites, yeasts, viruses & protozoans. You may have heard the word parasite & yeast before in a negative sense, but there are beneficial forms of these organisms living amongst your body in a wonderful symbiotic relationship. They might train the immune system, they might help you digest excess sugars or convert heavy metals into inactive, harmless substances or they may just be along for the ride. Researchers are even finding that certain microbes we used to consider harmful, such as E.coli & H.Pylori, are actually important residents of the microbiome.
2: Your gut microbiome changes regularly depending on what you eat & according to the microbes you received from your mother at birth.
Your gut microbes can be divided into 3 groups.
Beneficial or ‘essential’ microbes – these are your most important microbes, being uniquely indigenous to your body; these are the specific microbes you received from Mum when you were born (a reflection her environment & microbiome). Members of this group include Bifidobacteria, Lactobacteria & even beneficial strains of E.coli.
Opportunistic microbes – this group can potentially cause issues throughout the entire body if left unchecked by the beneficial microbes. Members of this group include Enterobacteria, certain yeasts like Candida Albicans & Streptococci.
Transitional microbes – these microbes come into our bodies daily with our food & drink, & with the protection of our host beneficial microbes they normally pass unnoticed. If there is a lack of beneficial microbes – these transitional flora can cause damage.
3: Throughout the digestive tract there is a thick coating of bacteria protecting the gut lining from toxins, pathogenic microbes & macromolecules of food.
The entire digestive tract is coated with a layer of bacteria which acts as a defence mechanism against toxins & other pathogens entering the bloodstream. This coating also serves to maintain the health of the gut epithelium (our intestinal lining which allows nutrients into the bloodstream). Apart from being a physical barrier, the bacteria coating the GI tract also produce powerful substances which kill pathogenic microbes; almost like antibiotics do. They also produce organic acids around the gut lining, creating an acidic environment in which pathogenic microbes can not survive. Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride writes in Gut & Psychology Syndrome,
“Our healthy indigenous gut flora has a good ability to neutralise nitrates, indoles, phenols, skatol, ksenobiotics & a lot of other toxic substances, inactivate histamine & chelate heavy metals & other poisons. The cell walls of beneficial bacteria absorb many carcinogenic substances, making them inactive. They also suppress hyperplastic processes in the gut, which is the basis of all cancer formation.”
When we damage this essential coating of bacteria through antibiotic use, inappropriate diet or other means, we reduce the level of protection our gut wall receives, & as such open up the doorways for inflammation & disease to begin spreading throughout the body. It’s important to note that these beneficial microbes actually produce extremely important chemicals for the gut lining such as butyrate, & they provide 60-70% of the energy that the cells in the gut lining need to function optimally.
4: Your gut microbes manufacture up to 90% of your body’s serotonin stores.
Serotonin is one of the body’s primary neurotransmitters, important for the proper functioning of synaptic nerve transmission within the brain. Serotonin has been widely studied for it’s effects on mood & has been marked as a key player in the development of depression; a lack of serotonin results in abnormal nerve transmission between the synapses of the brain (this basically means important messages/instructions are scrambled or missed).
Scientists have also noted that the presence of beneficial microbes results in higher levels of BDNF, Brain-Derived-Neurotrophic-Factor, an important brain chemical involved in learning & building new neural pathways.
5: Your gut microbes are nutrient powerhouses, manufacturing bodily nutrition.
Not only are your gut microbes pivotal in the proper digestion & assimilation of nutrition from your food, they are independent nutrient powerhouses! They manufacture B vitamins (including B12), pantothenic acid, folic acid, vitamin K, even vitamin C! Gut bacteria have been shown to play a pivotal role in anaemia; pathogenic microbes love iron & can feed off it, leaving you with none! Your beneficial gut microbes normally keep these pathogens in check which allows you to absorb proper iron from your food – according to Dr Campbell-Mcbride, taking synthetic iron supplements only serves to feed these pathogenic microbes creating further imbalances within the gut & subsequent health of the blood!
Your gut microbes also manufacture a substance called butyrate; a strong anti-inflammatory chemical which nourishes & protects the cells throughout the GI tract. The microbes do this only when they have access to dietary fibre.
How to put this into action?
Basically, this means you should eat a diet & live a life that supports the health of your microbiome! By eating whole, unprocessed foods, consuming fermented foods & avoiding unnecessary use of antibiotics, you’ll encourage your microbiome to thrive!
Like this article? Sign up to the mailing list to receive weekly info on how you can improve your gut health! Plus, there’s a free bonus for you 😉
Sources for this article include:
Stoller-Conrad, Jessica. “Microbes Help Produce Serotonin In Gut | Caltech”. The California Institute of Technology. N.p., 2016. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.
Campbell-McBride, Natasha. Gut And Psychology Syndrome. [Cambridge, U.K.: Medinform Pub.], 2010. Print.
Ji, Sayer. “”Germs” Help The Body Produce Vitamin C: Breakthrough Discovery”. Greenmedinfo.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.
LeBlanc JG, e. (2016). Bacteria as vitamin suppliers to their host: a gut microbiota perspective. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22940212