Tuesday, May 29, 2018

How Gut Bacteria Affect Your Brain and Body

Most of us have a vague understanding of how the microbes in our guts can affect our health.  We may eat yogurt to keep things running smoothly and some of us even understand that probiotics in yogurt and other foods are especially important after we have had a course of antibiotics, so we can restore the good bacteria in our gut.  However, researchers are discovering that healthy gut microbes are more important than they initially understood.  In fact, maintaining good bacteria in your system can protect you from many health problems.

This week, we have a guest post from Jennifer Chin who has studied microorganisms in our digestive track and how wasabi and other healthy foods can provide your body with the important probiotics and prebiotics it needs in order to function at its best.  As the author of this blog, I especially appreciated how much scientific research she included in her helpful guest post.

Understanding the Importance of Your Gut Microbiome

Meet Your Microbiome: Your Gut and Your Health

Why Your Gut Needs Daily Attention

Think you're browsing the web alone right now? Think again. The human body contains around 100 trillion cells, though only one in ten of these is truly human. The remainder are made up of microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Individually, these microorganisms are called ‘microbiota,’ and collectively they’re known as your ‘microbiome'.

And, as you’re about to see, your microbiome has a substantial impact on your physical and mental health.

The vast and diverse microbiota that call our bodies home can be found on the skin, in our intimate parts, in our mouths, and, most of all, in our guts, where they feast on a constant supply of nutrients. In total, our microbiome weighs around two kilograms and is highly specific to each individual. As more and more scientific findings come to light, the medical community is beginning to recognize the human digestive system as a universe unto itself.

The Basic Microbiome Functions & Components

Our microbiota carry out important functions within our bodies. The most well-known include producing vitamins K and B, and aiding the digestive process, especially with the breakdown of certain foods the small intestine finds problematic on its own. Our microbiota also help us fight nasty microorganisms and prevent them from becoming pathogenic, or capable of causing disease, thus maintaining intestinal integrity and healthy intestinal mucosa.

In other words, our immune system very much depends on the barrier that our microbiome form inside us.

Photo credit:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gut_flora#/media/File:EscherichiaColi_NIAID.jpg
These microscopic colonizers keep us healthy

Meeting the Microbes: Bacteria, Yeast, & Viruses

Our guts contain the largest number of bacteria and widest variety of species. It’s estimated that around 4,000 to 5,000 species of bacteria live in the human gut. Some of these bacteria are neutral, meaning they take up space but don’t do anything in particular to boost health. Some are negative, and some are absolutely imperative for good health.

Fungi, particularly yeast, are also in abundance in the human gut. The Candida species (responsible for causing vaginal and oral thrush) can quickly become pathogenic in immunocompromised individuals.

The gut is also home to different viruses, especially bacterial ones that are responsible for colonizing various bodily sites. These viruses have been linked to some diseases, but more often than not, they live quite peacefully in little bacterial communities.

The Microbiome’s Impact on Physical Health

While our microbiome may seem small, it can indeed have a mighty impact on our health. According to a new studypublished by JCI Insight, gut flora could be blamed for arthritis and joint pain among obese people. Osteoarthritis is a side effect of obesity that plagues 31 million people in the United States. Previously thought to be a natural consequence of excessive stress on joints, the condition is now understood to be linked to bacteria in the gut.

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical center have identified dietand the direct effect it has on gut healthas a key driving force behind the debilitating disease. They found that lean mice had far less harmful bacteria in their guts than obese ones and that this bacteria was causing inflammation that lead to rapid joint deterioration. When the mice were supplied with prebiotic supplements, the negative symptoms were rapidly reversed and the joints of the obese mice quickly became indistinguishable from the lean mice—even though the mice did not shed weight!

Poor Gut Health Could Cause Heart Attacks

The curious relationship between the gut microbiome and atherosclerosis has recently been unearthed by researchers at Western University. Atherosclerosis is a condition that’s measured by the amount of plaque in the carotid arteries, and it is one of the leading causes of heart attack and stroke. A study found that patients with unexplained atherosclerosis (meaning that they did not present as high-risk) had higher levels of toxic metabolites produced by intestinal bacteria.

The study indicated that human gut flora played a pivotal role in an individual’s risk for developing atherosclerosis. This research is now paving the way for new dietary treatment options for patients at risk of developing the disease.  

Gut Health and Crohn’s Disease

Poor gut health has also been linked to several autoimmune diseases, such as Crohn’s disease. Penn Medicine researchers have identified a single bacterial enzyme called ‘urease’ that’s responsible for an imbalance in gut flora leading to the painful inflammatory bowel. They discovered that wiping out a large portion of bacteria in the gut microbiome, then reintroducing a good bacteria that lacks urease, was effective in treating Crohn’s.

While the link between the enzyme and Crohn's disease is still not fully understood, the study reinforces the strong link between healthy gut flora and physiological health.

The Link Between Gut and Brain

Psychobiotics is a revolutionary new science that aims to examine the relationship between the bacteria in our gut and our mental health. Scientists now believe that our microbiome could be responsible for various psychological conditions, such as anxiety and depression.

Photo credit:   https://pixabay.com/en/mental-health-brain-training-mind-2313426/
Good Gut Health Makes For a Healthy Mind

Researchers have discovered that the gut regulates the brain’s fear processor. This is because the amygdalathe part of our brain responsible for fear responses receives key signals from the gut. When examining mice, scientists found more acute reactions to fear in mice that lacked a healthy microbiome.

The Gut Impacts Psychiatric Disorders

But fear responses are not the only psychological reactions the gut controls. The bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain has also been associated with neuropsychiatric disorders, such as depressive disorder, schizophrenia, and autisticdisorders. Other studies have linked the gut microbiome to neurologic disordersincluding Alzheimer’s, MS, and ALS. Gut microorganisms are even capable of producing neuroactive substances like serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for making us feel happiness.

As the effect our microbiome has on our psychological health becomes more apparent, researchers hope to develop some experimental treatments for anxiety, such as dietary intervention through probiotics. Some experts have suggested "psychomicrobiotics" as a novel way to treat psychiatric disorders.

How to Nurture Gut Microbiome

The good news is that, while each of our diverse mini-universes of gut microbiota may be vastly different, there are certain steps we can take to ensure our gut is nurtured and able to thrive. Given the way in which our microbiome is linked to physiological and psychological wellness, it’s important to examine the ways in which we can influence it. 

 Photo credit:  https://pxhere.com/en/photo/922773
Yoghurt & Oats Are a Great Source Of Probiotics And Prebiotics

Eat A Diverse Diet

A varied diet, consisting of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and antioxidants, can have a huge impact on your gut flora, in a very short amount of time. A poor, undiversified diet is the number one contributing factor in an unhealthy gut. Eating the same foods all the time leads to a lack of diversity within the gut bacteria because the diet is what provides the bacteria with the nutrients needed to grow and thrive.

Modern, western diets consist of high amounts of processed carbohydrates, fats, and sugars, all of which help bad bacteria to thrive while doing nothing for the good bacteria. Without a healthy population of diverse bacteria, the bad kinds can more easily become pathogenic. So instead of opting for convenience food or relying on the same foods all the time, change up what you eat, and opt for real foods.

Consume More Probiotics

While probiotics are a bit of a buzzword at the moment, with moms even buying specialized options for children, there’s a good reason for this trend. Consuming more probiotics can help increase the abundance of healthy bacteria in the gut. Fermented foods such as kimchi, yogurt, kefir, tempeh, and kombucha are all great sources of probiotics.

Add Some Prebiotics

Adding prebiotics to your diet is also a fantastic way of boosting the beneficial gut bugs. Prebiotics contain lots of fiber, which passes through the body undigested but helps promote growth for the microbiota. Good sources of prebiotics include bananas, asparagus, lentils, oats, and nuts.

How Our Gut Bacteria Got Here

As important as it is to consider what we can do to help our gut microbiome to thrive, it's equally crucial to be aware of the patterns and cultural norms which got our bodies off-track, to begin with.

Unhealthy Lifestyle & Dietary Choices

Poor lifestyle choices – such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, not getting enough sleep, skimping on fruits and vegetables, and a lack of exercise – have been shown to have a negative effect on gut health. As repetitive as the advice may seem, a conventionally healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet with added pro- and prebiotics, exercise, and sleep, is the best route to a diverse microbiome, which in turn means an abundance of health and happiness.

Fewer Natural Births

The womb provides a sterile environment for babies to develop. During birth, they come into contact with a whole host of beneficial bacteria, from the birthing canal, which then forms their unique microbiome. Babies born via cesarean are not exposed to their mother’s microflora and are often at a higher risk of developing autoimmune diseases and asthma later on.

Due to this, babies delivered via C-section today are often given a vaginal swab, to ensure they’re given the same protection as babies birthed vaginally. Healthy microbiome development in infancy also depends on babies receiving their mother’s colostrum through breastfeeding, a secretion rich in natural antibodies.

Obsessive Cleanliness

It also appears that our modern obsession with cleanliness is actually working against our health. Antibacterial agents and other harmful chemicals found in soaps and detergents are having an adverse effect on our gut microbiome. One study even linked overt cleanliness with an increase in autism.

To this end, perhaps letting children dig around outside is more beneficial than previously thought. Instead of keeping our kids in plastic bubbles, or automatically scrubbing them down at the first appearance of dirt, the old saying that “a little dirt never hurt” seems to prove a positive parenting motto. 

Antibiotic Overuse

One of the biggest destroyers of our microbiome is antibiotics. Antibiotics eradicate the pathogens that make us ill. Although they are completely necessary at times, general antibiotic prescriptions often aren’t even related to the offending strain, thus offering no health benefits, while bringing on a serious decline in gut flora. That is why experts are strongly urging doctors to curb extraneous prescriptions and to only suggest antibiotics for serious illnesses. The fewer and less diverse bacteria we have, the sicker we become, as individuals and as a society.

Only the Beginning

As the complex relationship between gut flora and health is slowly uncovered, we may be on the way to discovering another great hope in preventative medicine. These discoveries draw stark parallels with the complex consequences of the human genome project.

Unlike our genes, however, we can easily influence our microbiome, and we must learn to care for the microscopic colonizers which so drastically impact our physical and mental health. When considering your daily health and wellness regimen, be sure to also incorporate steps to keep your gut microbiome functioning at its best. After all, your body—and your mind—depend on it.

About the Author:

Bio:  Jennifer Chin is the Community Manager at Your Wasabi in Abbotsford, BC. Our goal is to provide anyone, anywhere, with 100% genuine wasabi for their health.

All of our wasabi is grown, dried, and processed on our farm in British Columbia, which is family owned and operated, and always will be. Find out more about Your Wasabi and how you can discover the hidden health benefits of wasabi here:  yourwasabi.com
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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for bringing Jennifer Chin's important article to your readers, Deb.


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