So, there's obviously something not right going on. Even with so many drugs, surgery options, diets, and diet pills out there, people are still getting bigger and sicker. So, scientists are doing more and more research to find what the secret is to the obesity epidemic - why are obesity, inflammatory and chronic illness rates continuously increasing?
Breakthrough research has been conducted on the influence of 'good' bacteria on our health, and the evidence is definitely in favour of this bacteria. We have always thought of bacteria as our enemy, but there's now grounded evidence telling us that some bacteria are actually our friends - especially our gut bacteria.
What is gut bacteria?
Our gut bacteria (or microbes) are tiny little creatures that live in our large bowel - and there are 100 trillion of them! We simply cannot live without them, but unfortunately, we have always treated them as the 'enemy' and have tried to completely wipe them out. But now, evidence shows that the more gut bacteria we have, the better our health will actually be.
These live microorganisms (bacteria) are responsible for promoting normal GI function, protecting the body from infection, and regulating metabolism and the mucosal immune system. In fact, they comprise more than 75% of the immune system. If that’s not enough, they also have an important role in maintaining and protecting the GI barrier. An intact GI barrier maintains gut health, while a problem with its microbiota composition will affect the body’s defense systems and can create a condition known as leaky gut syndrome, which can compromise gut health and lead to diseases such as inflammatory obesity, types of cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, and depression.
So how do we get these bacteria back to where they once belonged?
When it comes to gut health, diet and nutrition therapy should be the first route, not any alternatives. In Western medicine, we are often prescribed medication as the first go-to treatment. For example, several drugs exist to treat acute inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but none to prevent it. However, we now know that based on several studies, we should be focusing more on prevention instead of cures. Sometimes, a cocktail of too many drugs can actually wipe out the crucial gut bacteria – especially excessive use of antibiotics.
Research currently states that an imbalance within the gut will impair the gut barrier and increase risks related to gut health. Imbalances can be caused by an unbalanced diet, lack of exercise and/or chronic stress. Recent studies have shown that diets high in processed foods such as excess deep fried/takeaway options actually disturb the GI barrier, which can lead to fatty liver disease and inflammation.
Positive changes in the diet have been shown to help prevent major diseases such as obesity, allergy, and cancer. We are close to finding out the key role that diet and lifestyle play in maintaining gut health and preventing GI diseases, including infection, IBD and food allergies, so I always ensure that all my patients’ guts are functioning without issues, to prevent diseases, by going through the following criteria. Do you have or lack any of the following? If so, it would be worthwhile having a consult with me for a check-up.
“Criteria for a Healthy GI Tract” (1)
Specific Signs of Gastrointestinal (GI) Health
Normal nutritional status and effective absorption of food, water, and minerals
Regular bowel movement, normal transit time, and no abdominal pain
Normal stool consistency and rare nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating
Absence of GI Illness
No acid peptic disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, or other gastric inflammatory disease
No enzyme deficiencies or carbohydrate intolerances
No inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, or other inflammatory state
No colorectal or other GI cancer
Normal and Stable Intestinal Microbiota
No bacterial overgrowth
Normal composition and vitality of the gut microbiome
No GI infections or antibiotic-associated diarrhea
Effective Immune Status
Effective GI barrier function, normal mucus production, and no enhanced bacterial translocation
Normal levels of immunoglobulin A, normal numbers and normal activity of immune cells
Immune tolerance and no allergy or mucosal hypersensitivity
Status of Well-Being
Normal quality of life
Qi (ch’i), or positive gut feeling
Balanced serotonin production and normal function of the enteric nervous system
(1) Bischoff SC. ‘Gut health’: a new objective in medicine? BMC Med. 2011;9:24.
So, what can you start doing from today to optimize your gut health and reduce any risks relate to an unbalance of gut microbiota? You can start by increasing your probiotic and prebiotic intake.
What are probiotics?
They are live microorganisms found in bacteria, yeast or fungi. I like to think of them as "good" or "helpful" bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy. We can find them in food such as yoghurt, kefir, soft cheeses (especially smelly ones!), sourdough bread and most recently given limelight: kombucha tea.
What are prebiotics?
To allow these good bacteria to survive in our gut, we need to feed them ‘prebiotic’ foods. These are non-digestible fibres that help the good bacteria to stick in our gut and grow. Prebiotics are in many fruits and vegetables, however most abundantly found in foods such as: asparagus, artichokes, honey, legumes, garlic and onion.
So why is this so important?
Well, apart from the fact that these gut bacteria help us stay healthy and keep our immune system working at it's best, research in mice has showed that gut bacteria actually influence obesity! It was shown that obese mice had less numbers of gut bacteria and also had less variety of them, whereas lean mice had a whole army of bacteria in so many different shapes and sizes. Although more research is still needed in this particular area, I think we have enough information to know that we need to keep our gut bacteria growing in size and variety.
So for now, all we can do is make sure we are:
1. eating a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit,
2. staying physically active to reduce stress levels,
3. having sources of probiotics
4. having sources of prebiotics
5. and steering clear of deep-fried/takeaway type of food.
I can assure you that starting with these 5 simple changes will no doubt help kick-start your journey to ultimate health.
Image Credit: Amazing Science