Improve your gut health and improve your overall health. A healthy gut, full of beneficial bacteria, is one of the most important keys to great health. At first blush it makes little sense what a bunch of microbes and the intestine have to do with how we feel, or why we have certain diseases, but it’s true that the interaction of a healthy gut with our immune system is the cause, and the cure, for many common ailments.
Bacteria and Immune Function
There are over a 100 trillion bacteria that live in our intestinal tract – more than the 10 trillion cells in our body. Humans have about 23 thousand genes, while the intestinal bacteria altogether harbor about 3 million genes.
These bacteria are not parasitic passengers, but rather symbiotic participants in our overall health. They depend on certain nutrients and behaviors that have been forged over thousands of years. If we do right by them, they will support and modulate our immune system, defend against infections, help break down our food, generate essential vitamins, metabolize hormones and bile acids, supply the intestine with energy, and stimulate the normal motility of the intestine.
Did you know the largest part of the immune system surrounds the gut? The “gut associated lymphoid tissue” provides about 80% of the infection fighting white blood cells called lymphocytes. This lymphocyte arsenal includes immune system controllers called T cells, antibody producing B cells, and stealth defenders called natural killer cells.
The normal functioning gut wall “teaches” the immune system how to behave, starting at birth with the “inoculation” of bacteria during passage through the birth canal and furthered by breast-feeding. During the first few years of life the ingestion of bacteria on food, dirt, and other “normal” things continue to instruct, balance and support the immune system. Throughout life it is profoundly influenced by what is in the gut and what gets through the gut wall. A normal, balanced immune system relies on a normal gut.
Dysbiosis is a “microbial imbalance” in which the normal healthy population of intestinal bacteria is disturbed, and it can be just as devastating to our health as any other unhealthy organ, perhaps in more subtle ways. Unhealthy diet, antibiotics, chlorinated water, toxins, and more can cause dysbiosis. The immediate result of dysbiosis may be nutrient deficiencies, toxin accumulation, bowel irregularities, inflammation, pathologic microbial infections, immune system imbalances, and as defined next, a leaky gut.
With a total surface area of about 500 square yards, the intestine forms the largest interface between our internal system and the outside world. The gut lining is in constant contact with potential immune stimulators such as foodstuffs, toxins, microbes, parasites and allergens. Every single substance that passes through the gut wall is carefully “presented” to the immune system and undergoes a thorough identification process.
The lining of the intestine is covered with a “biofilm” of mucus and beneficial bacteria, much like a screen filter, providing a first line of defense against abnormal invaders. Below this filter lie block-shaped cells that are bound together by “tight junctions” providing very specific regulation of what is allowed to pass between the cells. Below these cells are the circulation and the immune system.
The term “leaky gut” refers to damaged tight junctions that allow substances inside the gut to pass freely between the cells into the circulation where the immune system is then activated. Many things, such as dysbiosis, infections, medications, toxins, nicotine, alcohol, stress and even foods, can cause leaky gut. Certain beneficial bacteria protect and repair the tight junctions.
In the case of leaky gut, the immune system is constantly activated and dumps inflammatory chemicals that wreak havoc throughout the body. Symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, anxiety, and depression are common with leaky gut. Weight loss is nearly impossible if one has leaky gut due to disrupted hormone systems caused by the inflammation. The immune system imbalances can lead to diseases associated with impaired defenses (e.g. bronchitis, sinusitis) or hypersensitive defenses (e.g. allergies, asthma, hives, autoimmune).
Healing The Gut
The good news is that the gut can be analyzed and healed. A combination of simple tests can uncover problems in the gut interior, gut wall, and the immune system. Stool tests reveal the status of enzymes, good and bad bacteria, parasites, digestive residues, and inflammatory markers. Blood tests can detect leaky gut, immune system activation and diagnose immediate or delayed food allergies.
Probiotics (pro + life) are live microorganisms, which can be put into our system to confer a health benefit. We are learning that the hundreds of different species of beneficial bacteria do very different things in the body and because of the variation in specific effects from specific probiotics, it is important to get a broad spectrum of bacteria.
Prebiotics are non-digestible nutrients that nourish and support the beneficial bacteria. Sometimes known as fermentable fiber, prebiotics include short or long chains of carbohydrates. The main types are inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), found in foods such as Jerusalem artichoke, onion, garlic, bananas, and asparagus. Plenty of plants in the diet provide for prebiotic soluble fibers. For healing leaky gut we use amino acid based formulas containing L-Glutamine or colustrum powder.
Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement for men and women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.