I just can't stop talking about the importance of healthy gut bacteria. I borrowed the title for this article from a book I have been reading by Alanna Collen. In it she discusses the importance of gut bacteria, also known as your microbiome. The title refers to the percentage of our bodies that are actually human cells. Of all the cells we walk around with each day, only 10% by number are actually our skin, blood, organs, tissues, etc. The rest are mostly bacteria with some fungi and viruses. Slowly science is realizing just how important all these bugs in our body really are. In order for us to evolve, we have had to hire out some of our essential functions. These bacteria help break down plant fibers, fight off bad bacteria, create vitamin B12 and shape the intestinal wall just to name a few. And in return we give them a nice place to live with lots of food. But what happens when this symbiotic relationship gets disrupted?
Most people think their gut is only for digesting food, but in fact the digestive tract is the central area for the nervous, hormonal and immune systems. This means that an imbalance in this area can have far reaching, and seemingly unrelated, effects throughout the body.
Improper or lacking gut bacteria (dysbiosis) are associated with digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and food intolerances. Any of these problems can cause debilitating symptoms. Several autoimmune diseases are also associated with dysbiosis. These include rheumatoid arthritis, MS, Type I diabetes and lupus.
Our digestive tract and our little bacterial friends play a role in regulating our mood. One of the functions of gut bacteria is to make neurotransmitters such as GABA. GABA is the calming chemical in the brain that decreases anxiety and helps relieve anxious depression. Therefore a lack of gut bacteria can lead to anxiety and depression. Gut bacteria are also involved in other mental health disorders. A recent study found that supplementing a baby with probiotics (supplement form of good gut bacteria) decreased the incidence of ADHD when these children became teenagers.
Dysbiosis is also associated with autism, allergies, eczema, asthma, some cancers and obesity. And these are just the health problems we know of so far. Research is only just beginning to understand the importance of the bugs that live in our digestive tract. Scientists keep looking for a genetic cause for diseases because we have the technology to change some genes, at least for the coming generation. But most of these disorders didn’t exist 100 years ago. Human genetics have not changed that fast. So that means something must have changed in our environment and lifestyles.
Next article I will talk about what you might be doing to upset your precious bacterial friends in your gut and how you can keep them happy and working hard for you.
In the meantime be nice to your microbiome!