The human GI system (gastro-intestinal) system also known as "our gut" or "microbiome" is a highly complex system that greatly impacts the health of our entire body. A healthy gut contributes to a strong immune system, heart health, brain health, improved mood, quality sleep and effective digestion. A healthy gut may even help prevent some cancers and autoimmune diseases.
What exactly is a healthy gut microbiome?
Imagine NYC on a busy weekday morning. The sidewalks are flooded with people rushing around everywhere and the streets are packed with cars full of people. Now imagine this scene on a microscopic level. This is what the microbiome looks like inside your body. Our microbiome (also called microbiota) consists of trillions of microorganisms (or microbes) with thousands of different species including bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses. In a healthy person these “bugs” (microbes) coexist peacefully and their community of “bugs” (microbes) are diverse. The largest amounts of microbes are found in the small and large intestines. However, microbes actually live all throughout the body – both inside and out.
Each person has a unique microbiome that is originally determined by your DNA. We are first exposed to microbes as an infant during childbirth as we are delivered through our mother’s birth canal; and we are exposed to more microbes through breast milk. Exactly which microorganisms you are exposed to as an infant depends entirely on the species found in and on your mother. Later in life, environmental exposures and diet can change your microbiome for better or worse. Your microbiome can either provide health benefits or place you at greater risk for disease(s).
In a perfect world, our diet and environment would support a diverse, well-balanced and thriving gut microbiome. However, that’s not the world most of us live in and our guts reflect it. Microbes are living organisms that eat, reproduce and die. Unfortunately, research shows us that our microbiomes are becoming less and less diverse than those of our ancestors. Since the gut houses nearly 70% of our immune system - this shift has caused increasing rates of food sensitivities, autoimmune disorders, mood disorders and digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and leaky gut syndrome. Reduced exposure to microbe-rich natural soil, overexposure to antibiotics and antibacterial soaps and a growing affinity for consuming low-fiber, high-sugar processed foods all deplete our GI system of bacterial diversity. Restoring bacterial diversity in your gut microbiome with quality probiotics is a good place to start.
What is Dysbiosis?
Our microbiome has microbes that are both helpful and potentially harmful. Most microbes are symbiotic and coexist together in the human body without causing problems. Some microbes are pathogenic (disease promoting). In a healthy body, pathogenic microbes (in small amounts) and symbiotic microbiota can co-exist. However, if there is a disturbance in their balance—brought on by infectious disease, poor diet or the prolonged use of antibiotics or other bacteria-destroying medications — DYSBIOSIS occurs making the body more susceptible to disease.
Dysbiosis is an imbalance of unhealthy and healthy microbes in the intestines which may contribute to weight gain, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, skin disorders and other health-related and mental health problems.
What affects our microbiome?
Many aspects of modern life affect our microbiome. Obviously, diet and gut health are closely linked – but having high stress levels, too little sleep, eating processed foods or foods high in sugar and taking antibiotics can all damage our gut microbiome. Lack of exercise doesn’t help either. This in turn will affect other aspects of health such as our immune system, brain health, heart health, skin, weight gain (obesity), hormone levels, ability to absorb or not absorb nutrients and even creating an environment for the development of cancer.
What are some signs & symptoms and causations of an unhealthy gut?
Signs and symptoms:
- Upset stomach such as frequent gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and heartburn can all be signs of an unhealthy gut. A normal healthy, balanced gut will have less difficulty processing food and eliminating waste.
- Consuming processed foods and foods high in sugar can decrease the number of good bacteria in your gut. Continuing to eat this way feeds the "bad bacteria" and can cause an imbalance of "good-to-bad bacteria" (dysbiosis). This can lead to increased sugar cravings, causing further damage. High amounts of refined sugars (particularly high-fructose corn syrup found in soda) are linked to increased inflammation in the body. Inflammation can be a precursor to a number of diseases and cancers.
- Gaining or losing weight without making any dietary or exercise changes may be a sign of an unhealthy gut. An imbalanced gut can impair your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, regulate blood sugar and store fat. Weight loss may be caused by small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) – while weight gain may be caused by insulin resistance or a chronic urge to overeat due to decreased nutrient absorption.
- Sleep disturbances and chronic fatigue can be a sign of an unhealthy gut. Sleep disturbances such as insomnia or poor quality sleep can lead to chronic fatigue. A majority of the body’s serotonin "the feel good hormone" that affects mood and sleep is produced in our gut. Therefore, gut dysbiosis can impair your ability to sleep well. Some sleep disturbances have been linked to risks for fibromyalgia.
- Skin conditions like eczema may be related to poor gut health. Inflammation in the gut and poor microbe diversity can cause leaky gut syndrome, which results in gaps in the intestinal walls allowing certain bacteria and other toxins to pass into the bloodstream. This “leaking” into the body and blood stream irritates the skin causing conditions such as eczema.
- Autoimmune conditions such as fibromyalgia can be a sign of an unhealthy gut. Medical researchers are finding evidence that an unhealthy gut may increase systemic inflammation and alter proper functioning of our immune system. This in turn can lead to autoimmune diseases where the body starts attacking itself rather than harmful invaders.
- Food intolerances may be caused by poor quality bacteria in the gut. Food intolerances are the result of difficulty digesting certain foods - which is different than food allergies. Food allergies are caused by an immune system reaction to certain types of foods. Food intolerances typically lead to difficulty digesting certain “trigger” foods, causing unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, abdominal pain or nausea.
How can you manage gut dysbiosis?
- Lower stress. Chronic high levels of stress are hard on your entire body - including your gut. Meditation, prayer, walking, yoga, light exercise, massage, spending quality time with friends & family, essential oils, decreasing caffeine intake, laughing or enjoying a pet or hobby can all help reduce stress.
- Get enough quality sleep. Not getting enough quality of sleep can have serious impacts on your gut health, which in turn can contribute to more sleep problems. Try to get at least 7–8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.
- Eat slowly. Chewing food thoroughly and consuming meals slowly can help promote full digestion and better absorption of nutrients. This may help reduce digestive discomfort and maintain healthy gut function.
- Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated has been shown to have a beneficial effect on the mucosal lining of the intestines, and on the balance of good bacteria in the gut. Staying hydrated is a simple way to help promote a healthy gut.
- Changing your diet. Avoiding high-sugar, high-fat, highly processed foods can contribute to improved gut health. These types of foods destroy good bacteria and promote growth of bad bacteria. Additionally, eating plenty of whole, clean plant-based foods and lean protein positively impacts your gut. A diet high in fiber has been shown to contribute to a healthy gut microbiome. Examples of high fiber foods are legumes, beans, peas, oats, bananas, berries, asparagus and leeks. Garlic and onion and fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, tempeh, miso and kefir are good dietary sources of probiotics.
- Add quality probiotics to your health regimen.
What health conditions can probiotics help treat?
Probiotics are not a substitute for a healthy diet or lifestyle – instead they should be considered a part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. However, research suggests they can be an effective part of a treatment plan for a variety of illnesses to include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): alleviating symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, gas and abdominal pain.
- Ulcerative colitis: one study found that active ulcerative colitis responded well to a combination of Lacto-Bifido probiotics and an anti-inflammatory medication.
- Mood disorders: A meta–analysis of 10 clinical trials reported that probiotics improved mood in those presenting with mild - moderate depressive symptoms, while another meta-analysis concluded that probiotics were associated with a significant reduction in depression for people under 60.
- Leaky gut syndrome: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of Lactobacillus to treat children who had acute gastroenteritis noted that the probiotic helped rebuild intestinal integrity after infection. Another study of a soil-based probiotic found it reduced symptoms associated with leaky gut in adults.
At Weight Loss & Vitality we regularly use HMF products by Seroyal and can be viewed at https://www.seroyal.com/
Our clinic number one product for restoring GI health and balancing microflora is HMF Intensive 500. HMF Intensive 500 provides 500 billion CFU’s from a combination of 5 research-driven strains. The blend contains three strains of Lactobacilli and two strains of Bifidobacteria to ensure the small and large intestines are targeted. HMF probiotics have endured 15 years of clinical research and are some of the most studied probiotic cultures in the world. The clinical studies completed on HMF 500 noted a favorable gut flora balance, support GI comfort and enhanced immune system.