Gut Health: The Key to our Overall Health and Immunity

The gut is home to about 1,000 trillion bacteria with which we live in harmony.  These bacteria perform a number of functions vital to health. They harvest energy from diet, protect against infections, and provide nutrition to cells in the gut.  Our gut flora is so important that any disruption can result in life-threatening conditions.  An imbalanced gut bacteria (more bad bacteria than good bacteria) or diminished bacteria in general (a sterilized gut) will affect your immune function, absorption of essential nutrients, and can promote a perfect environment for the development or maintenance of mental-emotional disorders and serious physical pathologies such as neurological diseases.

WHAT KILLS GUT FLORA? Number one is ANTIBIOTICS as they sterilize the gut; they kill all of the good and bad bacteria in our intestines.  This is why when the primary infection is treated with antibiotics and the gut is not looked after properly, a secondary infection often results. Other big gut killers include the use of steroids and birth control pills, drugs, stress, poor nutrition, infections, disease, bottle fed infants, old age, pollution, radiation, alcohol, and dental work, and environmental toxins.

Research is now supporting that gut bacteria influences brain development and even behaviour. One study of interest shows that serotonin and dopamine are regulated by colonizing gut bacteria – so these substances (that are often related to depression etc.)  don’t develop normally in “bad” guts.   This finding is also important because several common types of GI disease (Ex. IBS, IBD, Crohn’s), are frequently associated with anxiety or depression.

Alternatively, our emotions seem to affect that status of our gut to begin with.  Studies show that stress can change the balance of bacteria that naturally live in the gut.  These bacteria effect immune function, and may help explain why stress deregulates the immune response and therefore greatly impacts our immunity to cold & flu viruses and other various
infections.  Stress has proven to cause changes in not only the NUMBER of gut microorganisms, but also their COMPOSITION and DIVERSITY.  This could be why inflammatory bowel diseases and even asthma tend be worse during periods of pressure.

Another new area of research is the role of vitamin D and the gut.  Scientists have now found that the vitamin D receptor is a key player amid the gut bacteria.  Besides our skin, a main receptor site of Vitamin D is our gut.  So not only is Vitamin D key to a normal healthy gut flora, but deficiency of Vitamin D may be linked to an imbalanced gut in the first place.  Supplementation is therefore often ineffective unless your gut is healthy.

Vitamin D deficiency is a known factor in the pathology of inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) and colon cancer.  Scientists have associated Vitamin D and the receptor with various forms of cancer, as well as osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and infection.

Moreover, studies have shown that the Vitamin D receptors in the gut play a key role in defending the body from assault by salmonella and squelching inflammation.  Scientists have
shown that Salmonella was much more virulent and aggressive in mice in which the Vitamin D receptor had been turned off.

Immunity and autoimmunity is also an area in which we must look at the gut.  Studies show that when your gut bacteria are altered, your immune function is altered.  Therefore, there is a big association with low gut bacteria (and/or disproportionate amounts of bad bacteria) and autoimmune diseases.  The disharmony increases inflammatory mediators in the gut, and resultantly an inflammatory cycle in the brain! Resultantly researchers are beginning to shed light on the role of the gut and various Neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, MS,
Parkinson’s, as well as Autism and ADHD.

For example, multiple sclerosis (MS:  An autoimmune disorder that affects the brain and spinal cord) is proving to be effected by gut health.  Research supports that specific intestinal
bacteria have a significant role in affecting the nervous system during MS.   This is not to say that gut bacteria are a direct cause of MS rather, the bacteria may be helping to shape
the immune system’s inflammatory response, thus creating conditions that could allow the disease to develop.  They are suggesting that gut bacteria may be the missing environmental component.  Therefore, probiotic bacteria that can restore the normal immune function of the gut (and the brain) are advisable in cases of autoimmune disease such as MS.

Within the human digestive tract is a teeming mass of hundreds of types of bacteria, a pot pourri or microbes numbering in the trillions that we can’t ignore because they help us digest food and keep bad bacteria in check.  Gut health has a major impact on our health and is essential in the treatment of many diseases. If you want to focus on any area of your health, I would suggest you start with the gut pronto!

STEPS TO GOOD GUT HEALTH

  1. Replenish you healthy gut flora!  It is of upmost importance to take a high quality probiotic especially before, during and after antibiotic use as well as
    when traveling internationally.  A diet rich in probiotic yogurt alone is often not enough for even the average person.  Remember there should be
    trillions of good bacteria!  Ask your Homeopath for guidance on what probiotic is best for you.  Diet wise kefir or non-sweetened organic
    yogurts containing live probiotics are your best sources.
  2. Eat a high fibre diet that is rich in fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains.  This will reduce irritation of the digestive system and keep your bowels
    moving. Psyllium hulls are the best and most natural fibre supplement that you can take right in the morning before eating in warm water. Be sure to take any
    fibre supplements away from you probiotic and other vitamins or mineral. Note: When you increase fiber in your diet you must increase your water intake as
    well!
  3. Drink at least half your body weight in ounces of spring or filtered water a day.  This can include non-caffeinated herbal tea and diluted 100% fruit/vegetable
    juices.  Keep water beside your bed and drink around 2 cups right after waking and before brushing.  This awakens your insides and pushes important
    and healthy bacteria down into the intestines that are created in your mouth during sleep that help with digestion. It is also great to add lemon or lime to your water especially in the morning as lemons have natural cleansing and detoxifying properties.
  1. Only use antibiotics and other drugs and medications when it is absolutely essential.  Alternatively see your homeopath for  your health complaints and keep immune boosting products on hand in case of infection such as oregano oil and vitamin C.
  2. De-stress. Stress is a major player that can affect all areas of health in very negative ways.  Take time to relax and be sure to exercise as often as you can.  Yoga, meditation, and tai chi are great for winding down and developing mind body awareness.  If you are having trouble coping with stress on your own seek the help of a Homeopath.  An individualized homeopathic remedy can help you rebalance mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Andrea Hauser, Homeopath