Keeping the gastrointestinal tract clean, balanced, and functioning optimally should be of primary concern for anyone looking to optimize their health. Few people are aware that intestinal microbes are responsible for approximately 70% of your immune health. The human body houses anywhere from 10-70 trillion cells, depending on the source. If you think that’s a lot, the microbiome that takes up residency in the gut are 10 times greater in number! The total bacterial weight in your body is 3 lbs., weighing as much as the brain!
In order for the immune system to maintain its healthy function, the microflora, or gut’s terrain, must be in proper balance. That means that the good bacteria must outweigh the bad bacteria 85% to 15%. The so called “bad bacteria” are still necessary to keep the immune system functioning optimally. When in sufficient quantities, the good bacteria keep the “bad bacteria” in check. You may be more familiar with the term probiotics, which means “for life” in Greek, referring to the beneficial bacteria in the intestines.
Indispensable Benefits of Adequate Beneficial Bacteria:
- These bacteria help with the manufacturing of B-vitamins, help you to digest the food you consume, increasing the bioavailability of valuable nutrients like iron, zinc, calcium, phosphorus, copper, and magnesium.
- They inhibit the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria responsible for intestinal disorders like IBS, the production of damaging bi-products that can lead to liver congestion, brain dysfunction, and leaky gut which can initiate any number of disorders, especially autoimmune.
- Probiotics can dramatically decrease complications associated with constipation by greatly improving intestinal transit time, or regular bowel elimination.
- They help breakdown pesticides, GMO’s and other chemical residues for elimination .
- Beneficial microflora, also referred to as the “second genome”, influence the actions of hundreds of your genes, keeping them in disease prevention mode.
- They help to prevent psychological disorders like anxiety, depression, and behavior issues. It is now known that the microflora in our gut houses up to 90% of the serotonin produced in the body.
- Probiotics modulate the immune system, preventing under stimulation which can lead to diseases like cancer, or over-stimulation which is associated with allergies, chronic inflammation, and autoimmunity.
Unfortunately, most individuals living in today’s world have the gut’s bacterial ratio flipped, with the “bad bacteria” greatly outweighing the beneficial bacteria. This is FAR from an ideal situation! Not only are you fighting a war with very few soldiers, but the soldiers of the opposing country are now surrounding your home territory – now, with limited protection, your country and your soldiers are subject to a great deal of damage. Not a healthy or successful situation to say the least, being that your objective is to maintain an army of health promoting microflora. As a result, the over-abundance of pathogenic bacteria creates intestinal impairment, preventing the now smaller army of beneficial bacteria from protecting their territory. If you are looking to attain a healthy immunological response, ecological bacterial BALANCE is indispensable!
Numerous influences can prompt intestinal dysbiosis, or ecological bacterial imbalance. “Unfriendly” bacteria can over-colonize the gut due to the continuous presence of environmental toxins, stress, antibiotics, polluted shower and drinking water, irradiation, pasteurization, low fiber, and the consumption of processed foods, alcohol, excessive sugar, white flour products, commercial dairy, gluten, preservatives, cooked food, as well as the over-consumption of meat (especially when overcooked).
The overpopulation of bad bacteria, if not corrected, can affect all bodily processes and organs, creating numerous adverse health conditions:
- When the “bad” bacteria outnumber the “good,” the bad guys end up consuming your food and transforming it into highly poisonous toxins that damage your intestinal lining and microvilli. In turn, the intestines become inflamed and more permeable, compromising digestion, and allowing toxins to leak back into the bloodstream. This condition, known as leaky gut, is fairly common these days, and responsible for numerous conditions, especially autoimmune in nature. Leaky gut can also eventually cause the breakdown of the blood brain barrier, allowing toxic debris to enter the brain, leading to a crap shoot of neurological disorders.
- As a result, the pancreas and the liver become overworked, impacting their performance. When liver function is altered, it cannot process fat or dangerous toxins as efficiently, and bile acidifies. Poisonous by-products from pathogenic bacterial excretions like aldehydes, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, indoles, phenols, and secondary bile acids exacerbate the toxification issue, with the potential for liver disease. When the pancreas is stressed, insulin and enzyme production can be hampered. This can create blood sugar imbalances that can lead to diabetes, digestive distress that can lead to malnutrition, in turn subjecting you to weight gain at the very least.
- Food craving increase dramatically. Bad bacteria want to be constantly fed so they send signals to the brain to promote hunger. Not surprisingly, unhealthy food choices high in sugar are their favorite foods!
- Glucose production can be affected as bad bacteria consume ingested carbohydrates, dropping sugar levels, and limiting cell energy. This situation can add to the risk of chronic fatigue syndrome and hypoglycemic occurrences.
- Digestion is significantly compromised, leading to many intestinal disease conditions from gas and indigestion, to Crohn’s disease, IBS, and colon cancer.
- Critical electrolyte balance gets disrupted, hindering the flow of cellular aerobic energy, allowing for disease to prosper. Electrolytes like sodium and potassium are needed for normal aerobic functioning of cells and organs and play a vital role in maintaining pH levels.
- Red blood cells get weighed down and have a hard time squeezing through the capillary walls, starving the body of oxygen. Now the body has to rely on organs, muscles, and bones to donate nutrients to generate additional red blood cells.
- Consequently, the immune system is completely overworked, creating all types of conditions like food allergies, chronic candida overgrowth, asthma, autoimmune diseases, constipation, yeast infections, irritable bowel syndrome and even cancer.
On the other hand, the proliferation of friendly or good bacteria has abundant benefits. Friendly bacteria are amazing detoxifiers. They are also responsible for educating the immune system of which the microbiome is responsible for at least 70%! A balanced microbial ecosystem is necessary for enzyme manufacturing and digestive processing, making macro and micronutrients more bioavailable to the body.
EXTENSIVE STUDIES NOW SHOW THE ADVANTAGES OF A BALANCED INTESTINAL ECOSYSTEM:
In a 2011 study Monira calculated the gut microbiota of healthy and malnourished children. It was found that healthy children had a “significantly higher number of operational taxonomic units in their guts than that of the malnourished children (healthy vs. malnourished: 546 vs. 310)” and that in malnourished children, the pathogenic bacteria were over “174-fold higher than their healthy counterpart.” In other words, it was shown that friendly bacteria colonized most of the gut of healthy children, and that bad bacteria reigned in malnourished children. (1)
In 2005 Parracho studied the microflora of children with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) who tend to experience numerous gastrointestinal problems. Their flora was compared with that of two healthy control groups. It was shown that the flora of ASD patients contained a higher incidence of the Clostridium histolyticum (pathogenic bacteria) than that of healthy children. So again, gut health was correlated to overall health and well-being. (2)
In a 2012 double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized parallel group study, researchers administered probiotic formulations (PF) in subjects for 30 days. They found that daily sub chronic administration of PF significantly reduced anxiety-like behavior in rats and alleviated psychological distress in volunteers. (3)
Furthermore, friendly bacteria were shown to be a causative factor in the treatment of conditions of the digestive tract, as well as of systemic disorders.
In a 2004 study, Rastall showed that beneficial bacteria have positive effects on microflora balance, immune function, and the treatment of pathogenic bacteria and infection in canines and felines. (4)
In 1999 Fooks emphasized how the proliferation of the good bacteria over the bad positively influences gut tumors, blood lipid levels, and resistance to pathogens. (5)
In a 1995 critical review, Gibson pointed out how besides the nutritional benefits of friendly bacteria, their involvement in treating diverse conditions is becoming more recognized and accepted, even in conventional medicine. Friendly bacteria have shown positive results on the prevention and treatment of pathogenic bacterial translocation, infections, antibiotic associated colitis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, colorectal cancer, necrotizing enterocolitis, ileocecitis, pancreatitis, high cholesterol, and multiple organ failure syndromes. (6)
An additional interesting point to remember is that the gut has its own nervous system. The enteric nervous system is often referred to as the “gut brain”, consisting of some one hundred million neurons! In fact, the majority of serotonin (a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in mood regulation) is mostly produced in the gut, not in the brain. This is why you hear people say they have butterflies in their stomach before a new job, or a big exam, or they have a gut feeling about something, which may prevent them from engaging in a dangerous situation. Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda have always linked overall health and wellness with the interconnectedness of organs and systems, specifically correlating psychological health with the digestive system. Therefore, a healthy gut can make for a happy person! The same goes for a healthy mind. The way you think can have a positive or negative effect on overall digestive function. So, if you are constantly overstressed, worried, and anxiety ridden, your digestive health will certainly suffer!
Now you see how extremely important it is to keep your gut flora in equilibrium, not only for proper digestion but for overall immunity! The over-population of unfriendly bacteria makes the body very acidic and compromises organ functioning. Friendly bacteria aid in acid/alkaline balance, helping to digest food and prevent disease, as well as elevating mood and overall sense of well-being. In addition, the establishment and maintenance of healthy gut microflora should be of major concern for both expecting mothers and the parents of growing children, especially considering the great prevalence of autistic disorders nowadays.
1- Monira, S., Nakamura, S., Gotoh, K., Izutsu, K., Watanabe, H., Alam, N. H., … & Alam, M. (2011).
2- Parracho, H. M., Bingham, M. O., Gibson, G. R., & McCartney, A. L. (2005). Differences between the gut microflora of children with autistic spectrum disorders and that of healthy children. Journal of Medical Microbiology, 54(10), 987-991.
4- Gut microbiota of healthy and malnourished children in Bangladesh. Frontiers in microbiology, 2.
Rastall, R. A. (2004).
5- Bacteria in the gut: friends and foes and how to alter the balance. The Journal of nutrition, 134(8), 2022S-2026S.
Fooks, L. J., Fuller, R., & Gibson, G. R. (1999).
6- Gibson, G. R and Roberfroid, M. B. (1995). Dietary modulation of the human colonic microbiota: Introducing the concept of prebiotics. Journal of Nutrition, 125, 1401-1412.
Prebiotics, probiotics and human gut microbiology. International dairy journal, 9(1), 53-61.