By Dr. Mercola
Three recent studies highlight the importance of maintaining a healthy gut to avoid disease and optimize your health. The first, published in the journal Cell1, shows that "host-specific microbiota appears to be critical for a healthy immune system."
According to Medical News Todayii:
"Human microbe-colonized mice have gut immune systems that look essentially identical to germ-free mice," said Dennis Kasper of Harvard Medical School. "Even though they have the same number and diversity of bacteria, their immune systems don't develop properly.
... The results might have implications for understanding the health consequences of our shifting diets, our excessive use of antibiotics, and our modern-day obsession with showers and antibacterial household cleansers, the researchers say.
"Because the intestinal microbiota can regulate immune responses outside the gut, the absence of the 'right' gut microbes may conceivably shift the balance toward disease in individuals genetically predisposed to autoimmune diseases," they write, noting that our relationship with our gut microbiome today may be threatened by a combination of heavily processed foods, frequent treatment with antibiotics, and advances in hygiene.
... Although modern medicine and technology may offer alternative ways to fight disease, Kasper says, "the current prevalence of autoimmune diseases - such as asthma, multiple sclerosis, and inflammatory bowel disease - may be, at least in part, the consequence of the increasing vulnerability of the coevolved human-microbe relationship."
For those of you who have been reading this newsletter for any length of time, this is not at all surprising. I've written extensively on how the bacteria in your gut influence your overall health—physical, mental, and emotional. What this research does tell us though, is how important it is to have the correct types of microbes in your gut. Not just any microbe will do...
Unfortunately, as noted above, common lifestyle factors such as processed foods, antibiotics (both those prescribed and those found in conventionally-raised meats), birth control pills, and excessive cleansing and cleaning with antibacterial soaps and household cleaners all conspire to shift your intestinal microflora toward one that no longer supports your immune system.
Gut Microbes in Constant Combat with Viruses
You've probably heard that about 80 percent of your immune system resides in your gut, and the next study underscores this fact. It also provides yet another clue as to the kind of constant pressure your gut bacteria is under to keep your immune system humming.
The study, featured in Genome Researchiii, looked at a common set of viruses linked to gut bacteria in humans. These viruses, which feed off bacteria, are called phages, and they pose a constant threat to the health of the bacterial community living in your gut.
Phages can actually outnumber bacteria 10 to 1, which in itself is a testament to the power of your beneficial gut bacteria (and by extension your immune system) to keep disease at bay. But it also helps explain why just a few days of careless eating can sometimes make you feel a bit listless, or why chronic poor health is at such epidemic levels.
Between chemical assaults, inadequate nutrition, excessive sugar consumption and an overabundance of natural viral "co-hosts," your microflora has one heck of a job to maintain order and balance... And as soon as that balance is thrown off kilter, it will begin to reflect in your immune function.
Here, the scientists wondered how they might identify viruses that target gut microbiota; whether these viral communities differ between individuals and global populations; and how this might relate to human health and disease.
As reported by Medical News Todayiv:
"Israeli researchers decided to use coded information from a bacterial immune system to get to the bottom of these questions. They discovered a process... to identify and evaluate phages in European individual's gut microbiota, discovering that almost 80 percent of phages are shared between two or more individuals. They then compared their data to samples they took previously from American and Japanese individuals and to their surprise, they also discovered phages that exist in their European data set.
According to [senior author Rotem] Sorek, this means that people's gut microbiota are repeatedly infected with hundreds of virus' types. "These viruses can kill some of our gut bacteria. It is therefore likely that these viruses can influence human health," he said. The researchers highlight that it is of key importance to gain a better understanding of the amount of pressure that is placed on the 'good' bacteria, which is crucial to maintain health...
Scientists are now able to investigate how phage functions in the gut change over time and what impact this may have on diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, as well as finding more effective methods to treat these diseases." [Emphasis mine]
How Your Gut Flora Influences Your Health
An earlier study published in the April issue of Nutrition in Clinical Practicev also shows that microorganisms in the human gastrointestinal tract form a highly intricate, living fabric of natural controls that affect body weight, energy, and nutrition.
A couple of the key findings in this study were that each individual's community of gut microbes is unique, and the groundwork for each person's gut flora is laid from birth. In fact, the mode of delivery during the birthing process has been shown to affect an infant's microbial profile. This is in part why it's so important for pregnant women to become mindful of their gut health, as it will affect not just their own health, but also that of their child. It's not a static thing, however. Your gut flora is highly susceptible to environmental changes, and can rapidly respond to alterations in diet for example.
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride's research also demonstrates the 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 born with severely damaged gut flora are more susceptible both to disease and to vaccine damage, which may help explain why some children develop symptoms of autism after receiving one or more childhood vaccinations, while others do not.
Previous 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!
"Reseeding" Your Gut with 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. Poor diet in general, and each course of antibiotics extols a heavy price, as it tends to wipe out the beneficial bacteria in your gut, giving pathogens free rein to proliferate unchecked.
Historically, people used to get large quantities of beneficial bacteria, i.e. probiotics, straight 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. As a result, they didn't suffer the same kinds of problems with their gut health as so many do today.
It's worth noting that each mouthful of fermented food can provide trillions of beneficial bacteria—far more than you can get from a probiotics supplement, which will typically provide you with colony-forming units in the billions. I thought this would be a good analysis, so I tested fermented vegetables produced with our probiotic starter culture to determine their probiotic potency and was astounded to discover 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 a more cost effective alternative. Fermenting your own foods can provide even greater savings, and is actually easier than you might think. 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.