21 Apr The Gut Microbiome: Who’s hosting whom?
Your Gut is your second brain
You have 10 times more bacteria in your gut than cells in your body. Those bacteria also comprise 99 percent of the DNA in your body. So, If only 1 percent of our DNA is human and 99 percent is alien, you have to ask the question, who is hosting whom?
Most of these bacteria take up residence in the folds of the digestive tract. Imagine a badminton court: now, if you were to lay out flat the passages of your small and large intestine, it would be the same size as half of a badminton court! These bacteria are found in your digestive tract, skin, eyes, airways, blood, mouth and vagina. The digestive tract is home to more than 500 species of bacteria, comprising about 100 trillion bugs altogether. They can make our bodies work better or worse.
Why is gut bacteria important?
Collectively, these bacteria are tremendously important for our overall health. We give them a home; in exchange, they do a variety of things for us. For instance, they help digest food, synthesize certain vitamins, and play a huge role in immune defense. They also act as a barrier to help our bodies filter and appropriately absorb nutrients from what we eat.
Where do gut bacteria come from in the first place?
The first two years of life are critical for microbiome colonization and for our long-term immune responses. A baby is exposed to these bacteria on their trip down the birth canal, via breast milk, and sucking. The bacterial colonization is dependent on many factors like mother’s microbe status, mode of delivery, use of antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors and other factors. After this stage, we depend on Probiotics and Prebiotics from the food we eat to keep our gut microbiome strong.
What are Probiotics & Prebiotics?
There are ‘good’ bugs called probiotics, which we can constantly replenish. These probiotics also need nourishing food to help them grow. Prebiotics are the fiber-rich foods that probiotics feed and grow on. Sources of probiotic food are yogurt, kefir, kombucha, fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, oolong tea, miso, tempeh etc. Prebiotics can be obtained from onion, asparagus, leeks, garlic, banana and Jerusalem artichokes. Beneficial bacteria do not permanently stay in the gut, so we need to regularly get them from food or supplements otherwise we may end up with Gut Dysbiosis.
What is Gut Dysbiosis?
Gut Dysbiosis refers to a microbial imbalance in the digestive tract. Researchers have looked at few pathways by which gut dysbiosis can cause low-grade inflammation and hence may lead to obesity, autoimmune diseases, gut health problems, food allergies, depression or fibromyalgia. Also, many other serious conditions have been linked to gut health in scientific studies, even Alzheimer’s, Autism and Depression!
What are the Symptoms of Gut Dysbiosis?
Common symptoms of gut dysbiosis can be bloating, cramping, gas, indigestion, fatigue, weight gain, skin conditions and many more non-specific symptoms.
I think I may have Gut Dysbiosis, what can I do?
Therapeutic diets and certain probiotic and prebiotic supplements can resolve dysbiosis. I would advise you to work with a functional medicine practitioner experienced in this area and begin to make your own probiotic foods at home.
Great, how can I start?
This brings me back to the same question with which we started as to who’s hosting whom? I don’t have an answer to this yet, but I do believe that we are living in a symbiotic relationship with them, and a healthy gut microbiome is essential to have optimum health. You can contact me through the form below for any questions on gut health and its importance to overall health and vitality.
Dr. Menka Gupta, MBBS, MSc Personalised Nutrition (UK), Functional Medicine