Balancing Act: Gut Health


Gut Health gains recognition form the scientific community

All Diseases Begin in the Gut
(Hippocrates, 460-370 BC)

gut_brain_art

I spent some of my break reading the book Full Body Presence, which starts by exploring an interesting connection between that visceral/gut reaction we often casually mention and – the validity of it.  Most have us have come to understand the intimate connection between our brain and gut, consciously or unconsciously.  Ever get a knot in your stomach before making a difficult phone call or a big test?  Or come home from a stressful trip and realized that you haven’t had a BM in several days?  To take it even further, have you ever heard that your gut is the brain of your immune system … that a healthy gut can contribute to a robust immune system?

The relationship between our gut and brain has been well established at this point as well the relationship with the immune system.  We are now coming to learn through scientific advances that the microbial environment in our gut navigates our health in more ways than just immune function.

Taking just any high dose probiotic may not be the best way to ensure that you are populating your gut with all the best microbes (although in some cases – it certainly may be).  Specific strains of probotics work to treat specific disease.  For example, strains such as, Lactobacillus (plantarum) and Bifidobacterium (infantum, animalis, longum) have been researched for their specific ability to improve enterocyte tight junctions and promote anti-inflammatory cytokines, so may be beneficial in conditions such as Autism.

And we have come to know that foods rich in prebiotics and fiber may be a good way to maintain a healthy gut flora in many folks.  I’ve been wanting to share the latest on gut health with you all since this article came out in the British Journal of Nutrition about prebiotics and (DOI: 10.1017/S0007114510003363 ).  This paper showed a reduction in incidence of colon cancer, IBS, diabetes and obesity, a reduced risk of gastroenteritis and infections in those treated with foods rich in prebiotics (foods such as onion, artichoke, chicory & garlic are all rich in fructooligosaccharides – also known as prebiotics).  It also showed improvement in well-being and reduction in the incidence of allergic symptoms such as atopic eczema.  As someone who has struggled with eczema for most of my adult life, I know I’m reaching for the FOS rich foods myself😉.

Chicory_root_extract

Chicory Root is rich in fructooligosaccharides

The scientific community has done it again and published this paper in Nature (DOI:  10.1038/nature11400), backing up what Naturopathic Doctors have been observing all along.  Gut health has a lot more to do with our overall health than one might assume.  The researchers behind this recent Nature paper gave mice sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics (penicillin & vancomycin) for 7 weeks.  The mice given the antibiotics had a significantly greater fat mass than the untreated mice.  The gut microbes were altered by the antibiotics in such a way that microbes that digest complex carbs flourished, leading to greater production of short chain fatty acids, which are in turn shunted to the mice’s livers, leading to an increase in fat production.

This paper did not look at what type of impact probiotics or prebiotics would have on the outcomes in these mice, and would be an interesting follow-up study for those of us who believe in ‘healing the gut first.’  Many  NDs focus on achieving and maintaining a healthy gut environment for optimal health, and the use of specific probiotic strains for specific conditions for your individual body and constitution, is often overlooked in the general populace.

Take home message?

Listen to your gut, and work with your healthcare professional (ideally an ND, or someone well trained in integrative medicine) to achieve optimal gut health.  The impact could be more global that you ever expected.

And Happy New Moon everyone – may all your new beginnings unfold with joy!

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Resources:

  • M. Roberfroid et al.  (2010)  Prebiotic Concept and Health.  British Journal of Nutrition.  (DOI: 10.1017/S0007114510003363 )
  • Ashwood P, Krakowiak P, et al.  Elevated Plasma Cytokines in Autism Spectrum Disorders Provide Evidence of Immune Dysfunction and are Associated with Impaired Behavioral Outcome.  Brain Behav Immun.  PMID: 20705131. 
  • Careaga M, Van de Water J, Ashwood P.  Immune Dysfunction in Autism: a Pathway to Treatment.  Neurotherapeutics.  PMID: 20643381.
  • The gut microbiota, obesity and insulin resistance.  Mol Aspects Med.  PMID: 23159341
  • Everts, Sarah.  Chemical and Engineering News.  October 10, 2011.  Feeding Your Gut Microbe.
  • http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204468004577164732944974356.html