The Role Of Bacteria In Your Gut
One of the least discussed yet most important functions of the human body is maintaining balanced bacteria in your gut, also referred to as gut microbiome or probiotics. Your digestive tract has millions upon millions of bacteria that need to work together to help break down food, improve your immune system, and much more. In addition, research shows that the microflora in the body impacts a variety of other systems throughout the body.
Your gastrointestinal tract contains both beneficial bacteria and harmful bacteria. The beneficial bacteria in the gut help with digestion and seek to destroy the bad bacteria in the body. The bad bacteria in the gut come from environmental toxins, bacteria in the soil and bacteria in the foods you eat.
When the harmful bacteria outnumber the beneficial bacteria, systems throughout your body can function poorly. A variety of medications like antibiotics, NSAIDs, birth control pills, toxins, stress, infections and a poor diet, can all contribute to a bacterial imbalance in the gut.
The bacteria in your body can impact all aspects of your health, including –
- Mood changes
- Immune conditions
- Neurological disorders
- Insulin sensitivity
You can help improve the number of healthy bacteria in the gut through self care – such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating right, and getting enough sleep. Additionally, consuming fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kefir can lend to keeping your gut in check. Fermented foods are filled with beneficial bacteria to help increase it’s presence in your body. Let’s take a look at some of the body systems and symptoms that can occur when the delicate balance of the digestive tract becomes imbalanced and harmful bacteria are increased.
Believe it or not, researchers are now beginning to understand that gut feelings are actually caused by a “second brain” in the gut. This is referred to as the enteric nervous system. This system is found in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract and contains more than 100 million nerve cells. When irritation occurs in the gastrointestinal tract, signals in the enteric nervous system may send signals that may trigger changes in the mood.
UCLA researchers have found that the bacteria in the gut can affect brain functions. Participants in the study consumed beneficial bacteria throughout the study to determine if their brain functions were changed. The participants were divided into three separate groups. One group received yogurt that contains probiotics, another group received a yogurt-like substance containing no probiotics and the third group received no product at all. MRIs were taken prior to the study and at the conclusion of the study. The MRIs showed that changes occurred in the brain. The study concluded that gut flora can cause long-term consequences on the brain’s development and may result in a number of neurological disorders and brain disease, including Alzheimer’s disease, autisms, Parkinson’s disease.
Research has shown that digestive abnormalities may lead to numerous autoimmune disorders, including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Researchers at the University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research suggest that autoimmune has three common factors- antigen exposure, genetic susceptibility and intestinal permeability. Emerging research on how bacteria in the gut can cause autoimmune disorders and how improving gut health may help improve or reverse autoimmune conditions is ongoing.
Metabolism and Nutritional Imbalances
The beneficial bacteria in the gut help break down food into usable nutrients. When the bacteria are unable to break down nutrients, nutritional imbalances can occur. When the body is not receiving the necessary nutrients, it can slow down metabolism that can lead to obesity and low energy.
Researchers are only beginning to understand how the gut flora affects health and prevents disease. The microflora in the gut helps break down food into nutrients, improves immunity, regulates metabolism and helps protect against disease. Additionally, when the microflora in the gut becomes unbalanced, it can cause a plethora of problems including depression, inflammatory bowel disease, brain disorders, and autoimmune disorders.
Good gut bacteria, probiotics, are fed by prebiotics, which is often found in various soluble fiber-full foods or supplements. It makes having a well balanced diet even more important.
In Good Health,