How Your Gut Flora Influences Your Health
June 27, 2012
By Dr. Mercola
A new study in the journal Nutrition in Clinical Practice shows that microorganisms in the human gastrointestinal tract form an intricate, living fabric of natural controls affecting body weight, energy, and nutritioni. The findings may offer new ideas on how to treat nutrition-related maladies, including obesity and a range of serious health consequences linked to under-nutrition, the scientists said.
An article in Science Daily reported on the featured findings, statingii:
"The microbes in the human gut belong to three broad domains, defined by their molecular phylogeny: Eukarya, Bacteria, and Achaea. Of these, bacteria reign supreme, with two dominant divisions -- known as Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes -- making up over 90 percent of the gut's microbial population... Within the bacterial categories... enormous diversity exists.
Each individual's community of gut microbes is unique and profoundly sensitive to environmental conditions, beginning at birth. Indeed, the mode of delivery during the birthing process has been shown to affect an infant's microbial profile. Communities of vaginal microbes change during pregnancy in preparation for birth, delivering beneficial microbes to the newborn.
At the time of delivery, the vagina is dominated by a pair of bacterial species, Lactobacillus and Prevotella. In contrast, infants delivered by caesarean section typically show microbial communities associated with the skin, including Staphylococcus, Corynebacterium, and Propionibacterium.
While the full implications of these distinctions are still murky, evidence suggests they may affect an infant's subsequent development and health, particularly in terms of susceptibility to pathogens." [Emphasis mine]
How Your Baby's Gut Flora Impacts His/Her Future Health
The health implications of this variation in gut bacteria acquired from birth is exactly what Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride's research sheds light upon. Her research shows there's a profound dynamic interaction between your gut, your brain, and your immune system, starting from birth. She has developed what might be one of the most profoundly important treatment strategies for a wide range of neurological, psychological, and autoimmune disorders—all of which are heavily influenced by your gut health.
I believe her Gut and Psychology Syndrome, and Gut and Physiology Syndrome (GAPS) Nutritional program is vitally important for MOST people, as the majority of people have such poor gut health due to poor diet and toxic exposures, but it's particularly crucial for pregnant women and young children.
Children who are born with severely damaged gut flora are not only more susceptible to disease; they're also more susceptible to vaccine damage, which may help explain why some children develop symptoms of autism after receiving one or more childhood vaccinations.
According to Dr. Campbell-McBride, most autistic children are born with perfectly normal brains and sensory organs. The trouble arises when they fail to develop normal gut flora. In a previous interview, she explained the chain of events that is typical for many, if not most, autistic children:
"What happens in these children [is that] they do not develop normal gut flora from birth… As a result, their digestive system—instead of being a source of nourishment for these children—becomes a major source of toxicity. These pathogenic microbes inside their digestive tract damage the integrity of the gut wall. So all sort of toxins and microbes flood into the bloodstream of the child, and get into the brain of the child.
That usually happens in the second year of life in children who were breast fed because breastfeeding provides a protection against this abnormal gut flora. In children who were not breastfed, I see the symptoms of autism developing in the first year of life. So breastfeeding is crucial to protect these children.
... If the child's brain is clogged with toxicity, the child misses that window of opportunity of learning and starts developing autism depending on the mixture of toxins, depending on how severe the whole condition is, and how severely abnormal the gut flora is in the child."
It's important to understand that the gut flora your child acquires during vaginal birth is dependent on the mother's gut flora. So if mother's microflora is abnormal, the child's will be as well. Autism isn't the only potential outcome in this case. GAPS may manifest as a conglomerate of symptoms that can fit the diagnosis of either autism, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD), dyslexia, dyspraxia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, just to name a few possibilities. Digestive issues, asthma, allergies, skin problems and autoimmune disorders are also common outgrowths of GAPS, as it can present itself either psychologically or physiologically.
The Importance of Fermented Foods and Probiotics
Maintaining optimal gut flora, and 'reseeding' your gut with fermented foods and probiotics when you're taking an antibiotic, may be one of the most important steps you can take to improve your health. If you aren't eating fermented foods, you most likely need to supplement with a probiotic on a regular basis, especially if you're eating a lot of processed foods. As explained by Dr. Campbell-McBride, poor diet in general, and each course of antibiotics extols a heavy price:
"Every course of antibiotics tends to wipe out the beneficial bacteria and that gives a window of opportunity for the pathogens to proliferate, to grow uncontrolled, and to occupy new niches in your gut. The beneficial flora recovers, but different species of it take between two weeks to two months to recover in the gut and that's a window of opportunity for various pathogens to overgrow.
What I see in the families of autistic children is that 100 percent of mom's of autistic children have abnormal gut flora and health problems related to that. But then I look at grandmothers on the mother's side, and I find that the grandmothers also have abnormal gut flora, but much milder."
In essence, what we have is a generational build-up of abnormal gut flora, with each generation becoming ever more prone to being further harmed from the use of antibiotics—and vaccines as well. To learn more about GAPS, please see this previous interview with Dr. Campbell-McBride.
How Your Gut Impacts Your Metabolism and Genetic Expression
As time goes on, we're gaining more and more information about the important roles gut flora plays in maintaining overall health. The good news is that this is an area you can exercise a lot of control over. Your diet can quickly alter the composition of your gut flora. Processed foods high in sugar and chemical additives and low in nutrients is a surefire way to decimate the beneficial bacteria in your gut, allowing the harmful pathogenic kind to thrive.
Research has also shown that your microflora has a significant impact on gene expression, such as the genes responsible for vitamin biosynthesis and metabolism. Probiotics have been found to influence the activity of hundreds of your genes, helping them to express in a positive, disease-fighting manner—some of which affect your body in a manner resembling the effects of certain medicines!
A recent study published in the journal Natureiii found that "gut microbial communities represent one source of human genetic and metabolic diversity." According to the authors:
"To examine how gut microbiomes differ among human populations, here we characterize bacterial species in fecal samples from 531 individuals, plus the gene content of 110 of them. The cohort encompassed healthy children and adults from the Amazonas of Venezuela, rural Malawi and US metropolitan areas and included mono- and dizygotic twins.
Shared features of the functional maturation of the gut microbiome were identified during the first three years of life in all three populations, including age-associated changes in the genes involved in vitamin biosynthesis and metabolism.
Pronounced differences in bacterial assemblages and functional gene repertoires were noted between US residents and those in the other two countries. These distinctive features are evident in early infancy as well as adulthood. Our findings underscore the need to consider the microbiome when evaluating human development, nutritional needs, physiological variations and the impact of westernization." [Emphasis mine]
Three Global Varieties of Gut Bacteria
You might not be aware of this, but scientists are now busy mapping the microbes in your body in much the same way as they mapped the human genome. The Human Microbiome Projectiv was launched in October 2008, with the goal to catalogue all the bacterial inhabitants in the human body. Researchers have identified most of the microbes in the human gut, but they still don't know much about the actions of each individual microbe, or how they work together. An article published in Wired Magazine last year discussed this fascinating workv. It also features an illustrative graphic of the primary microbes found in humans across the globe. vi
According to another study, also published in the journal Naturevii last year, each of us harbors one of three primary "communities" of bacteria. The health ramifications of each are still being teased out.
According to Wired:
"In terms of function, each of the enterotype-defining genera has been linked to nutrient-processing preferences — Bacteroides to carbohydrates, Prevotella to proteins called mucins, or Ruminococcus to mucins and sugars — but far more may be going on. "Exactly what they are doing in there is still to be explored," said Arumugam, who also mentioned enterotype-based differences in drug metabolism as another possible implication of the findings."
The Ideal Way to Optimize Your Gut Health
The ideal balance of beneficial to pathogenic bacteria in your gut is about 85 percent good bacteria and 15 percent bad. Maintaining this ideal ratio is what it's all about when we're talking about optimizing your gut health. Historically, people didn't have the same problems with their gut health as we do today for the simple fact that they got large quantities of beneficial bacteria, i.e. probiotics, from their diet in the form of fermented or cultured foods, which were invented long before the advent of refrigeration and other forms of food preservation.
You can ferment virtually any food, and every traditional culture has traditionally fermented their foods to prevent spoilage. There are also many fermented beverages and yoghurts. Quite a large percent of all the foods that people consumed on a daily basis were fermented, and each mouthful provides trillions of beneficial bacteria—far more than you can get from a probiotics supplement.
Here's a case in point: It's unusual to find a probiotic supplement containing more than 10 billion colony-forming units. But when my team actually tested fermented vegetables produced by probiotic starter cultures, they had 10 trillion colony-forming units of bacteria. Literally, one serving of vegetables was equal to an entire bottle of a high potency probiotic! Fermented foods also give you a wider variety of beneficial bacteria, so all in all, it's your most cost effective alternative.
Fermenting your own foods is a fairly straight-forward and simple process, and can provide even greater savings. To learn more, please listen to my interview with Caroline Barringer, a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) who has been involved with nutrition for about 20 years. She's now one of Dr. Campbell-McBride's chief training partners, helping people understand the food preparation process.
Download Interview Transcript