Never before has there been so much interest in the gut, and the bacteria that inhabit the gut. Research is finding more and more evidence that shows how intimately connected the gut is with every system in the body. We speak to integrative doctor Sedicka Laskery about the microbiome and its widespread effect at, not only creating and maintaining health, but preventing disease conditions.
The microbiome is the collection of microbes that inhabit a certain environment. In our case we're talking about the microbes that inhabit the gut. They're essentially a mini 'ecosystem' with communities of bacteria (along with fungi and viruses). More than 100 trillion microorganisms live in our gut, mouth, skin and other mucosal surfaces in and on our bodies. Leading scientist Deepak Chopra likes to emphasise that only 10% of the cells in our bodies are actually human, the rest are bacteria.
Microbes work in many different ways. They support life enhancing activities like food digestion, synthesising essential nutrients and vitamins, and preventing disease- causing pathogens from invading the body. They're fundamental to our immune systems. They can be likened to an army, fighting off invading pathogens and managing and supporting good tissue. There is a symbiotic relationship between the body and the microbes except in cases of auto immune disease where the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy self-tissue. There is a growing amount of research linking the gut microbiota and the body's immune system in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and some cancers.
THE GUT BRAIN AXIS
The gut microbiota communicates with the central nervous system and influences brain function and behaviour. The vagus nerve (the main central nervous system nerve) connects organs between the brain at its top end and the intestines at its bottom end. This communication highway allows the brain, lungs, heart, spleen, liver, kidneys, pancreas, stomach, and intestines to 'talk' to one another. A dysfunction in the gut-brain axis is linked to disorders like depression and autism spectrum disorder, metabolic disorders like obesity, and gastrointestinal disorders including inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
BREAKDOWN OF GOOD BACTERIA
Lifestyle factors can cause a breakdown of good bacteria and alter the microbiome. These lifestyle factors can be anything from diet; lack of exercise; altered sleep; inflammatory emotions; poor bowel elimination and digestion. Dysfunctions like low stomach acid; small intestinal bacterial overgrowth ; gut dysbiosis and leaky gut syndrome can result. When there is a breakdown in the balance between 'protective' intestinal bacteria versus 'harmful' intestinal bacteria it is called 'dysbiosis'. All the following conditions and diseases have been linked to dysbiosis: Autoimmune, allergic, metabolic and alcoholic liver diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, colorectal cancer, bacterial infections, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis. Diet plays a key role in the development of inflammatory bowel disease. We now know that the interaction between diet and microbes in a susceptible person contributes significantly to the onset of disease.
In terms of weight loss, microbes may play a bigger role than previously thought. Given that microbes co-evolved with us and constantly depend on the diet we feed them, it's really no surprise they are able to influence our eating preferences to improve their own chances of survival! Detrimental microbes that might feed off sugar may create a craving for sugar so they can feed themselves ' gut microbes have a significant role in influencing cravings.This suggests that having an imbalance of microbes could be a major barrier to weight loss.
An impaired gut-brain axis has been linked to Irritable bowel syndrome. Changing the microbiota can influence the symptoms of this syndrome. Interestingly, irritable bowel syndrome is common alongside psychiatric disorders including panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and social phobia. The gastrointestinal tract is well known to be sensitive to stress and stress mediators. So many people experience an instant sensation in their stomachs when they feel stressed or anxious. Stress can influence the composition and function of the gut microbiota, and in turn induce anxiety and depression.
HEALING THE GUT
In essence, a healthy gut microbiome provides diverse microbial groups in the right balance. It has the ability to resist harm and return to healthy state when the body is temporarily ill or out of sorts. Focusing on good gut health can prevent disease. Dr Sedicka emphasises how important a preventative mindset is rather than waiting for disease to appear. The gut microbiome has an intricate nature and thrives on a holistic approach to cultivate balance and restoration if needed. Functional Medicine has a nutritional process of 5 steps to restore good gut health: Remove; Replace; Re-inoculate; Repair and Re-harmonisation. Healing might entail a combination of nutritional therapies: nutraceuticals; medical herbs; and proper supplementation with an individualised eating plan. This is recommended alongside lifestyle adjustments in the physical; emotional; spiritual and energetic realms to create the right balance and activate the self healing intelligence innate within us.
MENTAL HEALTH AND GUT BACTERIA
There's so much interest in how certain gut bacteria relate to mental health and mood that there's even a term to describe it: psycho-biotics. Psycho-biotics are probiotics relevant to psychiatry. These 'mind altering' or shall we say 'mind influencing' probiotics have the potential to treat certain neurological and neuro-physiological conditions.
It's no wonder experts are speaking about the microbiome as a new frontier in neuroscience. They've discovered that more than 50 percent of your body's dopamine and 90 percent of your body's serotonin are produced in your gut, along with about 30 other neurotransmitters. Dopamine and serotonin are involved in regulating eating behaviour. Gut microbiota can be a key regulator of mood, cognition, pain, and obesity. It makes sense that poor mental health has long been associated with an increased likelihood to eat unhealthy foods.
ABOUT DR. SEDICKA LASKERY
Dr. Laskery uses integrated therapeutic interventions to assist the body to heal and also to prevent medical conditions. She believes in a holistic approach to lead the body towards higher levels of wellbeing and balance. For more information visit her website or find her on Facebook. www.icwcape.wix.com/icwcape
“Wellness Warehouse strives to help you live life well but because we are retailers and not medical practitioners we cannot offer medical advice. Please always consult your medical practitioner before taking any supplements, complementary medicines or have any health concerns and ensure that you always read labels, warnings and directions carefully, prior to consumption.”