Gut Health Basics: The Gut Microbiome, Probiotics, Prebiotics, & More
Next Health Staff | | 0 comments
The incredible complexity of the gut and its importance to our overall health is a topic of increasing relevance in the scientific community. We are now understanding the gut is truly the epicenter of mental and physical health as it supports the immune system, cardiac function, hormone production, and so much more.
In considering the gut as a key factor in any health optimization journey, it is necessary to understand what the gut is, how it influences bodily systems, and the ways in which we can support it:
Defining The Gut
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the path of the digestive system. The GI tract includes the esophagus, stomach, and intestines. The term, “the gut” typically refers to the small and large intestine.
The small intestine connects the stomach to the large intestine and is responsible for absorbing water and digested nutrients. The small intestine also receives digestive enzymes from the pancreas and liver then moves the food along into the large intestine.
The large intestine is responsible for further absorption of water. The large intestine is also home to arguably the most important part of the gut, the gut microbiome. There are trillions of bacteria throughout the intestines but most microbes are found in a “pocket” of the large intestine called the cecum. This is the gut microbiome.
There are up to 1,000 species of bacteria in the human gut microbiome, all of which play a different role in the body:
The gut microbiome is responsible for approximately 75% of the immune system. The gut contains beneficial bacteria (microflora) that colonize the mucosal lining of the intestinal tract, which act as a barrier against foreign invaders.
These microflorae also communicate with immune cells when bad bacteria is detected. Research indicates that, because the gut microbiome has evolved with the immune system, bacteria in the gut “teach” T cells to distinguish foreign invaders from our own cells.
As a result, when bacteria in the gut are not thriving or there is an imbalance of bacteria, immunity is greatly compromised.
Bacteria in the gut are responsible for promoting HDL (“good”) cholesterol, which helps remove LDL (“bad”) cholesterol from the arteries and bloodstream. There is also evidence to suggest that microflorae can help reduce triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a type of blood fat that can increase your risk of heart disease when their levels are too high.
While beneficial bacteria in the gut promote heart health, harmful bacteria in the gut can negatively impact the health of your heart. Evidence suggests that “bad” bacteria can increase levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a chemical that contributes to the blocking of arteries.
Hormone Production & Mental Health
The gut microbiome is responsible for producing approximately 95% of your serotonin. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is nicknamed the “feel-good” hormone because it elevates mood and overall mental wellness.
The gut is also connected to the brain through millions of nerves. This connection allows for two-way communication: the thought of food can release stomach fluids before the food gets there, and the gut can send messages back to the brain. When the gut is not healthy, meaning the stomach and/or intestines are compromised, it can lead to anxiety, stress, and depression.
When there is an imbalance of healthy to unhealthy bacteria in the gut, known as gut dysbiosis, it can lead to weight gain. There have been studies where the gut bacteria from obese patients are transferred to the gut of mice, which resulted in weight gain in the mice. Additionally, because of the brain connection described above, an imbalance in the bacteria that send “hunger” and “full” signals can contribute to weight gain as well.
Supporting Gut Health: The Basics
As is the case in supporting any vital organ, diet is the best place to start when promoting the health of your gut.
It is easiest to break food up into these two categories: gut destroyers and gut healers.
Gut destroyers are food that harm the lining of your intestines and cause an imbalance in bacteria, leading to suboptimal health:
Bacteria, mainly pathogenic bacteria, are proven to be fueled by sugar. For example, yeast does not feed on yeast, it feeds on sugar. Despite the importance of avoiding sugar, especially refined sugar, the United States Department of Agriculture reports that the average American consumes between 150 to 170 pounds of refined sugars in one year.
GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, contain an herbicide (glyphosate) that upsets the balance of bacteria in the gut. This is not surprising considering that herbicides are designed to kill bacteria. Glyphosate is shown to not only reduce levels of healthy bacteria, but fuel the growth of harmful bacterial strains.
Studies show that gluten can upset the balance of your gut even if you do not have a gluten sensitivity. Most gluten products in the United States contain amylase trypsin inhibitors (ATIs), which can cause an inflammatory immune response.
Inflammation in the gut can lead to increased permeability of the intestinal lining, allowing toxins, food particles, and other harmful substances to enter the bloodstream. This is called “leaky gut syndrome.”
Frequent alcohol consumption is another contributor to gut dysbiosis. This is due to the same reasons as sugar because harmful bacteria in the gut can feed off the high sugar content of alcohol. Alcohol can also cause leaky gut syndrome as it increases intestinal permeability.
However, red wine is considered an exception to this rule. Red wine contains polyphenols, which support probiotic activity and help balance the gut.
Other Gut-Destroyers Include:
- Prescription antibiotics
- Lack of exercise
- Lack of sleep
- Overuse of antibacterial products
Just as you need to eat healthily, so do the bacteria in your gut. A diet that regularly includes gut-healing foods (examples listed below) can help alleviate bloating, discomfort, skin problems, brain fog, and more. However, it is important to also eliminate gut-destroying foods and other factors to heal and optimize your gut.
Probiotics are live strains of bacteria that support the population of good bacteria in your gut. Examples of probiotic-rich foods include:
Sauerkraut is shredded cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria. This fermentation process promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria, which help heal the gut. In addition to being rich in probiotics, sauerkraut contains in vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber, sodium, iron, and potassium.
Kimchi, pickles, and other fermented vegetables also help support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Yogurt is considered one of the best sources of probiotics. Milk in yogurt is fermented by probiotics (typically lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria). Yogurt can even be beneficial for those who are lactose intolerant because some of the lactose in the milk is converted to lactic acid by bacteria, meaning it may not elicit an inflammatory reaction.
It is important to note that not all yogurt contains live probiotics and some yogurt is full of refined sugar, doing more harm than good for the gut. Make sure to choose yogurt with live or active probiotic cultures.
Miso is a Japanese seasoning that is typically made by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji (a type of fungus). Miso is also made by mixing soybeans with barley, rice, and rye. This paste is then used in a miso soup, which is popular for breakfast in Japan as it preps the gut with live probiotics for the day ahead.
Additionally, miso soup is a great source of protein and fiber along with vitamin K, manganese, and copper.
Many people are familiar with the fact that probiotics are beneficial for gut health and even take them in supplement form.
But did you know your probiotics are reliant on prebiotics?
Prebiotics are specialized plant fibers that fuel the growth of good bacteria and stimulate growth among pre-existing beneficial bacteria:
Garlic is a great prebiotic food as it contains inulin, a non-digestible carbohydrate that is a great food source for beneficial bacteria. Additionally, garlic is antimicrobial and an antioxidant, meaning it helps combat harmful bacteria and assists in flushing out toxins.
Apples are rich in fiber, particularly pectin, a soluble fiber. Pectin is known to have prebiotic qualities and support gut health. It is important to keep the skin on the apple in order to receive these benefits.
Apples are also great sources of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, manganese, and copper.
Onions are versatile and easy to incorporate into a number of dishes to fulfill your need for prebiotics. Onions, like garlic, are rich in inulin and fructooligosaccharides (FOS). FOS fuel gut microflorae, help break down fats and increase the nitric oxide production in cells, which boosts immune function.
Onions are also rich in quercetin, which has anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.
Other Gut-Healing Foods Include:
- Bone broth
- Chicory root
- Sweet potato
Although diet is essential in supporting the health of your gut, it is difficult to get all the nutrients you need from food alone. This is because the digestive process destroys a lot of the necessary vitamins and minerals needed for optimal function. That is why Next Health offers the Gut Health IV to deliver gut-healing nutrients straight into the bloodstream, allowing for maximum bioavailability.
The Gut Health IV is scientifically formulated to heal gut permeability and decrease common irritants such as bloating and inflammation with powerful ingredients such as glutamine, glycine, and other potent amino acids. This IV can be done in a series until overall gut health is optimized.
Take The Guesswork Out of Your Diet
Unfortunately, not all the foods listed above will be the right answer for everyone’s wellness journey. This is because “healthy” foods can lead to suboptimal health due to food sensitivities.
Next Health offers advanced Food Sensitivity Testing to measure your immune response to 96 different foods and food additives. This test measures both IgA and IgG reactions, two markers of immune activation, to determine how your body is responding to each food.
Equally important to identifying the foods you should eliminate from your diet is identifying the foods that you are not sensitive to. This provides more dietary freedom to enjoy foods that you might be unnecessarily avoiding.
The results of your food sensitivity test results will be reviewed by our team of wellness experts in order to provide you with specific dietary guidance. You will learn exactly how you can adjust your diet to reduce symptoms and optimize your health and energy.
It is important to note that just because you are currently sensitive to a food, does not mean you have to eliminate it from your diet forever. After working with our medical experts to improve your gut health, it is likely you will alleviate some sensitivities.
Have questions about optimizing your gut health? Call or text us at: (310) 295-2075
Fu J;Bonder MJ;Cenit MC;Tigchelaar EF;Maatman A;Dekens JA;Brandsma E;Marczynska J;Imhann F;Weersma RK;Franke L;Poon TW;Xavier RJ;Gevers D;Hofker MH;Wijmenga C;Zhernakova A; “The Gut Microbiome Contributes to a Substantial Proportion of the Variation in Blood Lipids.”
Circulation Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26358192/.
Patterson E;Ryan PM;Cryan JF;Dinan TG;Ross RP;Fitzgerald GF;Stanton C; “Gut Microbiota, Obesity and Diabetes.” Postgraduate Medical Journal, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26912499/.