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Gut Health Series – Part 1 of 3

I predict that gut health is going to be one of the biggest topics of the next few decades and that within the next five years we will all be sending off stool samples to be analysed for an assessment of our gut microflora. Accompanying our results will be a probiotic pill (or even a suppository) made to a bespoke recipe to meet our individual gut microflora needs. But before we get to such drastic action, and if you prefer to leave all that for the sewage system, there is a lot you can do to improve your gut microflora.

Back in March I wrote a blog post on fibre, but given the topic of gut health and even faecal transplants keeps coming up in the most unlikely settings, I felt a separate series of posts on gut health, and specifically microbiota, was warranted. This one is an introduction to the subject and then there are two more to follow on probiotics and prebiotics, which are key to a deeper understanding on the subject.

So why do I think that this is such a fundamental and exciting topic? As well as being important in general bowel health, the gut microflora is now being linked to mental well-being, including depression and behavioural disorders such as autism as well as obesity and immune disorders. The gut and brain seem to be inextricably linked.1,2 Animal studies have demonstrated, and human studies are beginning to suggest, that manipulating gut microflora can affect wider health. An example of such an association includes a study that transplanted faeces from humans with clinical depression into rats, which led the rats to display symptoms synonymous with depression, however rats transplanted with faeces from humans without clinical depression displayed no change in symptoms.1,3 There is therefore something different within the make up of the faeces from depressed humans compared to non-depressed humans that has an impact on the brain and affects the behaviour of the rats.

Our bodies play host to an astounding number of microbes, particularly in our large intestine. We are actually made up of more microbial cells than human cells! 1 There are bacteria that are beneficial to our health (such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria etc.), and there are bacteria that are detrimental to health (such as Clostridium difficile and Staphylococci etc.).1 We are therefore striving to reach a balance where the good outweigh the bad within our gut. We are born with a sterile digestive system that becomes colonised through exposure to micro-organisms right from the moment of delivery. Method of delivery (caesarean vs. vaginal); method of feeding (breast vs. bottle) and skin-to-skin contact can have a big effect on the initial colonisation. The introduction of foods then causes major changes in the make up of the gut flora. It then stays relatively stable throughout adulthood other than through events such as illness and taking antibiotics and diversity decreases in old age.4 There are therefore key events throughout our lives that determine the make up of our gut flora and if we become imbalanced with more bad than good bacteria, as a result of illness for example, this may further negatively impact on our health. As we know that what we eat can influence our gut microbiota,5 making changes to our diet to promote the growth of healthy bacteria seems like a good idea.

Micro-organisms residing in the gut are known to have a key role in immune function. 1 Apparently 70% of our immune system is in the gut.1,5 How incredible is that? Having a healthy gut has therefore got to do wonders for your immune system and put you in good standing for health. Who knew that we relied so heavily on the role of bacteria and other microorganisms to stay healthy?

As a mother of one child with severe allergies and eczema and one child with no allergies and no eczema, I am fascinated by how my allergic child may have come to have these allergies in the first place. Whether she is just genetically predisposed or how much has been influenced by her environment since she was born, but also more importantly what can I do now that might be able to strengthen her immune system through her diet. 

In the following two posts I will be looking at how we might be able to positively influence our gut microbiota, specifically looking at probiotics and prebiotics and the role these may play. I will be concluding with my five tips for improving your gut health, so keep a look out.

References

  1. British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) Free webinar: Why is everybody talking about gut microbiota? Accessed 22nd October 2019.
  2. Nutrilicious Free Nutriwebinar: Dietary fibre: an old concept in new light? With Dr Megan Rossi, RD. Accessed 22nd October 2019.
  3. Kelly et al. Transferring the blues: Depression-associated gut microbiota induces neurobehavioural changes in the rat. J Psychiatr Res. 2016 Nov;82:109-18.
  4. Nutrilicious Free Nutriwebinar: The Gut Microbiome Feeding The Gut For Optimum Health. Accessed 22nd October 2019.
  5. British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) Free lunchtime webinar: The prebiotic potential of our diets – fibre and more. Accessed 22nd October 2019.

rachel

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