Could your digestive problems be due to gut dysbiosis?
“All disease begins in the gut.” - Hippocrates of Kos (c. 460 – c. 370 BC) knew that gut health was key to your overall health and many diseases and seemingly unconnected symptoms you may have, and this was over two centuries ago. Luckily, we now have the technology and scientific knowledge to address an unhealthy gut microbiome and to implement dietary steps to improve the balance of your microbiome and ultimately your health.
Symptoms and conditions
The gut microbiome is involved in extensive cross-talk, via chemical messengers between the immune system, endocrine system (your hormone system) and your brain (via the vagal nerve and is termed the gut-brain axis) and it may surprise you to know that your gut produces around 95% of all serotonin (the neurotransmitter linked to depression) produced in your body.
When the gut microbiome, i.e. the friendly bacteria in your gut, is out of balance, this can lead to digestive symptoms, which I’m sure doesn’t surprise you, including:
- abdominal pain
- excessive wind or flatulence indigestion
- IBS type symptoms
- constipation or diarrhoea
But did you know that as a result of the cross-talk with other biological systems, a gut microbiome imbalance is linked to neurological and mood disorders, as well as blood sugar imbalances and even infections in other parts of your body, such as:
Allergy development, depression, neurogenerative diseases (e.g. Parkinson’s Disease), depression, blood glucose control and insulin sensitivity (e.g. diabetes). The wrong kind of bacteria can even migrate to your urinary tract and cause inflammation.
Having the right gut composition and certain types of microbiota can even help you lose weight from any weight loss dietary intervention.
Supporting the gut-associated immune system
Another surprising fact is that approximately 70-80% of the body’s immune system is located in the gut. The gut is like a tube and has a mucosal barrier which helps stop potentially harmful bacteria entering the bloodstream and, consequently, the rest of the body. Furthermore, a strong gut mucosal barrier helps prevent allergens from entering the bloodstream, which may help to prevent allergies, as food molecules are presented to immune cells in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT).
However, if the mucosal barrier is not as strong as it could be or you have the wrong mix of bacterial toxins, called endotoxins, could enter your bloodstream and low-grade chronic inflammation could result, leading to mood and brain disorders.
“The gut is not Las Vegas – What happens in the gut does not stay in the gut.” - Alessio Fasano PhD, 2014.
Bacteria in the digestive system
Friendly bacteria which attach themselves to the cells lining in the intestine, help to strengthen the gut barrier by producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), such as acetate, butyrate and propionate which are used as an energy source by the cells lining the gut. This means that these cells can produce more mucus with a thicker consistency, helping to maintain the gut barrier.
The production of SCFA also lowers the pH of the gut, which further inhibits the growth of pathogens. The gut microbiome plays a critical role in the maturation and regulation of the immune system and there is a substantial amount of research and significant scientific agreement that various probiotic species help support immunity.
The gut microbiome is also responsible for many other processes in the body:
- Production of digestive enzymes.
- Breakdown of nutrients.
- Waste management.
- Metabolic influences e.g. blood lipids (cholesterol), weight.
- Production of vitamins.
- Development and management of the immune system.
Why assess your gut microbiome?
Evaluating your intestinal metabolic activity is a key indicator of the status of your gut health and one of the best ways to assess one of the key contributing factors and possibly the underlying cause(s) of your symptoms and health issue, which we now know can be re-balanced. Hippocrates really did know that your gut health was key to your health and, ultimately, disease.