Maureen Molinari, MS, RD, LD, CDE
“All disease begins in the gut.” Hippocrates
Research Linking Gut Flora and Inflammation To Chronic Illness
Scientists compared gut flora or bacteria from children in Florence, Italy who ate a diet high in meat, fat, and sugar to children from a West African village in Burkina Faso who ate beans, whole grains, vegetables, and nuts. The bugs in the guts of the African children were healthier, more diverse, better at regulating inflammation and infection, and better at extracting energy from fiber. The bugs in the guts of the Italian children produced by-products that create inflammation, promote allergy, asthma, autoimmunity, and lead to obesity.
Why is this important?
In the West, our increased use of vaccinations, antibiotics and enhancements in hygiene have lead to health improvements for many. Yet these same factors have dramatically changed the ecosystem of bugs in our gut, and this has a broad impact on health that is still largely unrecognized.
Other similar studies have found that clearing out overgrowth of bad bugs with a non-absorbed antibiotic can be an effective treatment for restless leg syndrome and fibromyalgia.
Even obesity has been linked to changes in our gut ecosystem that are the result of a high-fat, processed, inflammatory diet. Bad bugs produce toxins called lipopolysaccardies (LPS) that trigger inflammation and insulin resistance or pre-diabetes and thus promote weight gain.
It seems remarkable, but the little critters living inside of you have been linked to everything from autism to obesity, from allergy to autoimmunity, from fibromyalgia to restless leg syndrome, from delirium to eczema to asthma. In fact, the links between chronic illness and gut bacteria keep growing every day.
- Human intestinal tract contains 100 trillion species of microflora
- Very diverse population
- 15,000 – 36,000 species
Key for our health
- Promotes normal GI functioning
- Protection from infection
- Important for metabolism
- Immune function
- Part of the essential microflora
- Selectively promote the growth and activity of a limited number of autochthonous (bacteria already there, indigenous to the gut) bacterial species, and thus conferring a benefit for the host1
- Naturally present in vegetables and fruit such as garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, tomatoes, bananas, plums and apples; in grains and cereals like bran, and in nuts like almonds. For this reason, vegetables, fruits and cereals should be part of a balanced and healthy diet.
Live cultures improve GI microflora
Lactobacillus predominates the small intestine
- Vaginal dysbiosis
- Probiotics antagonize the growth of disease causing microorganisms
What shifts the health of the microflora in favor of disease causing bugs?
- Antibiotic use
- Poor diet
- Excessive alcohol
- Exposure to environmental pollutants
**Probiotics can balance the microflora**
Considerations for taking Probiotics
· May be taken with antibiotics, immunosupressents and other drugs that disrupt microflora
- Lactose intolerance
- Abdominal distention
- Food allergies
· Side effects could be a slight worsening of symptoms
So what can you do to keep your gut flora balanced and your gut healthy, and thus overcome or avoid these health problems?
Four Steps to a Healthy Gut (and a Healthy Body)
Follow these four simple steps to begin re-balancing your gut flora:
1. Eat a fiber–rich, whole foods diet—it should be rich in beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, all of which feed good bugs.
2. Limit sugar, processed foods, animal fats, and animal protein—these provide food for unhealthy bugs.
3. Avoid the use of antibiotics, acid blockers, and anti-inflammatories—they change gut flora for the worse.
4. Take probiotics daily—these healthy, friendly flora can improve your digestive health and reduce inflammation and allergy.
And if you have a chronic illness, even if you don’t have digestive symptoms, you might want to consider what is living inside your gut. Tending to the garden within can be the answer to many seemingly unrelated health problems.