Lifestyle Medicine & Wellness Blog

The Gut Microbiome and Health

The more we learn about the life within our guts, the more we are seeing just how important they are for keeping us healthy in ways that might surprise you. Our gut "microbiota" (or gut bacteria) is a surprisingly powerful "body system". We are learning that the balance of the bacteria in our gut affect everything from digestion and weight control, to inflammation and immune function, to cardiovascular health and even our brain function!

A study out of UCLA in 2013 found that changing the bacterial environment (microbiota) of the gut affected how different parts of the brain functioned. One group of women consumed probiotics 2 times a day for 4 weeks, while another group was given a placebo with no probiotics, and the third group had none at all. The results showed colonizing the gut with good bacteria affected mood, emotion, and sensory processing in the brain, as well as the more commonly known positive effect probiotics have on metabolism and obesity.

This UCLA study showed the women who took the probiotics showed altered brain function both at rest and when challenged with an emotionally charged situation. Researchers are also looking at gut composition and its relationship to many other brain diseases such as Parkinson’s and  Alzheimer’s.

High on the list for affecting our gut bacteria mix is what we put in our mouths! A diet rich in fruits and veggies results in a different bacterial composition in the intestines than eating a SAD, or Standard American Diet, high in processed foods. Part of the reason is that certain types of fiber "feed" the good bacteria, and processed foods typically have been stripped of fiber content. We call these types of fiber prebiotics, and prebiotics feed the probiotics. A high fat, low fiber diet (high in sugar and processed foods) can cause dysbiosis (imbalance in the gut bacteria), which can lead to leaky gut and low grade inflammation.  Inflammation is at the root of all chronic disease.

Food sensitivities, gluten intolerance, high stress lifestyle, poor sleep, and other imbalances all also contribute to poor gut health. Research is also showing us that what we eat as infants can have long term health affects as bottle-fed babies may never have optimal gut bacteria balance throughout their life.

Recent research is looking at the relationship between the gut microbiome and body weight.  Several studies have shown altered gut bacteria balance in obese individuals vs. those at a health weight.  This affects the digestive tract’s function.  Changes in gut motility, increased hunger due to increased hunger hormones, increased leaky gut and inflammation, and an over absorption of energy from foodstuffs all have been shown to be related to the type of bacteria in the gut of the obese subjects. 

Optimal Health Solutions Functional Medicine Assessment starts with digestive health.  Developing a gut restoration program (4R program) assesses your triggers, works to remove the inflammatory cascade, reintroduces the right types of probiotics, assesses and supports your digestion and works to heal the gut. Specialized testing can look at gut composition, neurotransmitters (which are affected by gut health and affect mood),nutritional deficiencies, detoxification status and more if desired.

Consider how your gut health may be affecting how you feel each day. It is the foundation of health. Remember, "If your gut isn't healthy, you are not healthy!!"

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