What is gut bacteria, the gut microbiome and why are people talking about it so much lately? There has been a huge surge of interest recently, off the back of a lot more research into this area.
Here are some of the key terms that are worth knowing:
1. Gut: Your gut is your oesophagus, stomach, colon, appendix, large and small intestine. Basically, it’s one long tube that runs from your mouth to your anus.
Did you know that this is where 70% of your immune system is – yes, 70%! You have immune cells in your gut that communicate with other immune cells in your body to make sure things are running properly. If they aren’t, these immune cells will activate cytokines (inflammation markers) to tell the brain and other immune cells that there are suspicious microbes, toxins and food proteins that need to be removed so they don’t go into the blood or the lymph. So if you’re sensitive to gluten and you’ve had some food with gluten in it, the immune cells in your gut will let your brain’s immune cells know that everything isn’t copacetic and something has to be done immediately.
Your gut is also connected to your brain. You know that feeling of butterflies you get in your stomach? That’s your gut communicating with your brain via the enteric nervous system and the vagus nerve.
2. Enteric Nervous System: Did you know that there is a communication pathway between your gut and your brain? And it’s completely separate to the central nervous system – it acts like a second brain. A second brain! It has a number of functions, including controlling the signals of fullness that go from your stomach to your brain, how quickly you digest food and even certain emotional responses. Interestingly, the enteric nervous system is also connected to the autonomic nervous system – you know, fight or flight (sympathetic) and rest and relaxation (parasympathetic) – so the way you eat – rushed and on the go vs. relaxed and evenly – can have a real effect on how well you digest your food.
3. Gut Microbiome / Bacteria: This is important. In a nutshell, your gut microbiome is the balance between good and bad bacteria in your stomach, colon, large and small intestine. And not to worry, the good and bad bacteria in your gut are a good thing – there are billions of them and they are part of you! The key is to have a balance of the two, and that the bad don’t dominate the good. For example, we all have the Streptococcus and H.Pylori bacterium in our guts. They become problematic when there are too many of them.
4. Gut Dysbiosis: This is very common, unfortunately. It’s an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your gut, in favour of the latter. This isn’t good and can lead to a number of problems, including food intolerances, frequent colds, flu and fatigue, skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis and a number of different autoimmune conditions. Gut dysbiosis is commonly caused by antibiotics (which can wipe out all of the good bacteria in the gut), c-sections, formula, artificial sweeteners, stress, too much processed food and a lack of insoluble fibre in the diet.
5. Prebiotics: These are foods that help support the growth of good bacteria in the gut, so can boost your immune system. Food for your gut bacteria? This is a good thing. Onions, leeks, garlic, asparagus and bananas are all prebiotic foods. Eat them regularly, if you can.
6. Probiotics: Probiotics are another name for the good bacteria that line your gut and something that you want to have a lot of. Most probiotic food is fermented, which makes sense, right? Bacteria aids the fermentation process and you want good bacteria to make this happen. Sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, greek yoghurt, kefir, natto (fermented soy beans), unpasteurised cheeses, kombucha and bone broth are all great probiotic foods.
There are also some fantastic probiotic supplements on the market. These can give your gut bacteria a little push if you been on a round of antibiotics or are feeling like your immune system needs some extra support. I really like BioCare and VSL (these are powerful!).
Take care of your gut and it will take care of you!