My late friend, Dr. Lendon Smith, said to me one night as we sat in his office talking, “It’s all in the stomach, Phil. It’s all in the gut.” Today we know that the microbiome consists of over 100 trillion microbes that live in and on our bodies. The microbiome only recently has become a major center of research and study for medical science. For centuries medicine has recognized that our gut affects other parts of our life systems but today this system is being referred to by many in this research field as “The Next Frontier of Medicine.” Those 100 trillion microbes living in and on our bodies touch every aspect of our health. Modern medicine today is beginning to understand the many implications of the untold stressors that target our body’s digestive system. Your health is affected daily by the way these unseen microbes work tirelessly to form and support your immune system, breakdown our foods for digestion, and yes, even influence how much you weigh. When the microbiome is not functioning properly this can lead to a weakened immune system, assorted digestive issues, even including what is called “Leaky Gut”, poor mood swings, and a weakened overall health.
WHAT IS “LEAKY GUT”?
“Leaky Gut” can be caused by an assortment of lifestyle choices. These may include chronic stress, excessive alcohol consumption, large amounts of sugar intake, excessive yeast growth, nutritional deficiencies and other choices. An unhealthy gut lining may have increased permeability in the intestinal wall, resulting in “Leaky Gut.” When the digestive tract is healthy and functioning properly it breaks down foods, absorbs nutrients, efficiently eliminates waste and protects the body from harmful substances. With more than 4,000 square feet of surface the intestinal lining is designed to allow small amounts of water, and beneficial nutrients to enter the bloodstream when working properly. However, if it is stressed and unhealthy it can develop widening gaps which may allow partially digested food particles or toxins to pass into the bloodstream leading to a variety of health issues including “Leaky Gut.”
SO, WHAT IS THE GUT-BRAIN AXIS?
There are many reasons for keeping the microbiome and the GI tract healthy and working properly. Science has now proven that your gut and your brain actually communicate both physically and biochemically. Information is transmitted back and forth, from the brain stem to the bowels, through the nervous system. This amazing bi-directional communication system is called the Gut-Brain Axis (GBA). It is through this intricate connection that the gut microbiome can actually signal your central nervous system and influence many bodily functions like mood, immune responses, digestion and even your heart rate. Using the vagus nerve, the gut microbiota can signal the nervous system and thus influence those many systems of the body. This way of “linking” the gastrointestinal tract and the nervous system can help to explain why healthy intestinal function is so very important to the overall bodily functions. The condition of your GI tract and all it entails can dramatically affect your physical, mental and emotional health.
YOUR HEALTH AND YOUR MICROBIOME
The vibrancy of your microbiome can affect your overall health. The way we live in todays modern lifestyle can adversely affect the balance of beneficial bacteria in your gut microbiome. This may even lead to a weakened immune system, having a poor mood, and possibly contribute to many digestive issues, including Leaky Gut. It becomes essential to provide the system nourishment and to help strengthen the gut lining to provide a stable, healthy intestinal environment. This will allow healthy microbes to flourish and provide the digestive, immune and cognitive support your body’s needs. Using supplemental enzymes, especially as we age, may often help improve your digestion and absorption of nutrients from food, while reducing typical discomfort that may be caused by foods we eat. Your microbiome supports microbial fermentation of dietary fibers in the lower intestine and manufactures butyrate, a short chain fatty acid. Butyrate provides fuel for cells in your gut lining, supports your immune system, functions of the colon and also helps protect the digestive tract. Flavenoids have been shown to support a healthy microbiome and digestive system. Flavenoids are a wide group of phytonutrients found in most fruits and vegetables. The bright and vivid colors in many fruits and vegetables come from these flavenoids. With 70% of the immune system living in your digestive tract it is easy to see the necessity for maintaining a strong, vibrant, healthy microbiome. Another factor that is helpful in maintaining a healthy microbiome are probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria that are very similar to organisms found in the gut. Prebiotics, typically dietary fibers, are nondigestible nutrients which stimulate the growth and vitality of good bacteria in the digestive system. Maintaining a healthy microbiome in the digestive tract may be one of the most beneficial things you can do in keeping your body strong and vital well into old age!