Understanding our own bodies is difficult enough, but now we’ve also got to make sense of how the droves of foreign (but symbiotic) microbes living in our guts interact with our health.
Scientists have referred to the gut as the “second brain.” Why? Because it contains a vast network of neurons. In fact, it contains over 100 million neurons, which is more that what’s found in your spinal cord.
Just like the neurons in your brain, the neurons in your gut communicate with neurotransmitters. One particular nerve, called the vagus nerve, communicates directly to your brain. This is why your digestive system responds to stress and outside stimuli.
Researchers from the University of Michigan have published a study showing how probiotics reduce stress induced gut inflammation. Psychological stress from work, school, marriage, relationships, finances, any chronic stress, releases the stress hormone cortisol, which stops the digestive process causing inflammation and damage to the gut. Allowing large food particles and toxins to enter the bloodstream, where they are attacked by the immune system, creating inflammation in the body and brain.
Your gut can become inflamed and damaged from physical sources as well. Such as antibiotics, alcohol, diet, chlorinated drinking water, mercury, lead, GMO Food, preservatives, food additives and more.
Most people, including many physicians, do not realize that 80 percent of your immune system is located in your digestive system, making a healthy gut a major focal point if you want to maintain optimal health. Remember, a robust immune system is your number one defense system against ALL disease.
Our relationship to gut flora is confusing and rather precarious. If the right conditions are met, we exist in harmony. If good bacteria is stable, breaking down fiber (like pectin and inulin) into short chain fatty acids (like butyrate), and working harmoniously with the body, gut inflammation is suppressed, intestinal permeability is reduced, and multiple health biomarkers (lipids, insulin) improve. But we must remember – gut flora doesn’t exist for our benefit. Even if gut flora species were sentient, they’d only be acting out of self-interest. They wouldn’t “care” about us. They’re just trying to survive. It just so happens that keeping us happy by mediating immune responses and tight junction function, helping identify harmful intruders, and producing short chain fatty acids like butyrate puts the flora in good standing with our immune systems. They scratch our back, we provide room and board and don’t dispatch antibodies to destroy them.
Gut flora influences the human immune response (provides a blockade against damaging bacteria; gives a “safe word” to avoid the immune system wasting resources on attacking; influences size of the thymus). Mice without gut flora have a severely truncated immune response, for example.
Now what is the primary immune response to damaging stimuli? Inflammation. In correct doses, inflammation is a boon, necessary for healing and protection from foreign invaders. But in excess, inflammation is at the heart of many diseases. Gut inflammation especially is associated with a number of autoimmune diseases. Leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, for example, is associated with inflammation of the gut, and with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO, occurs when the gut flora is compromised. Remember, normal gut flora acts as a physical barrier to foreign flora; they are stubborn tenants, old ornery relics of the neighborhood who refuse to leave and who dissuade pathogenic flora from settling in. If the good gut flora is gone or disrupted, pathogenic bacteria can populate the gut at will. The result is SIBO, and it leads to gut inflammation and intestinal hyper permeability.
It’s all a vicious cycle. Inflammation leads to disturbed gut flora (or maybe it’s the other way around – the classic chicken and the egg dilemma), SIBO, malfunctioning toll-like receptors, and leaky gut, allowing proteins to enter the body and provoke an inflammatory response by the immune system. More inflammation, more bacterial overgrowth, maybe a bout of antibiotics thrown in for good measure which wipes out the bacteria, leaving a clean slate and prompting another mad dash by microbes to fill the vacancies, and the result is – potentially – a permanently altered/disrupted distribution of gut flora both supporting and supported by chronic systemic inflammation. Where does it end? How do we fix it?
(Part Five of this series will list the top probiotics to help repair your gut and keep it healthy).
“Probiotics Reduce Gut Inflammation” from Depression Anxiety Diet, June 14, 2013 http://www.depressionanxietydiet.com/probiotics-reduce-gut-inflammation
“Can Probiotics Help Reduce Anxiety?” by Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN, Life Extension blog.lef.org/2012/10/can-probiotics-reduce-anxiety.html
“Putting Out the Fire: Gut Flora and the Inflammatory Cycle” by Mark’s Daily Apple http://www.marksdailyapple.com/gut-flora-inflammation/#axzz3ATtIxTit
“Probiotics Found to Help Your Gut’s Immune System” by mercola.com July 05, 2008 articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/07/05/probiotics-found-to-help-your-gut-s-immune-system.aspx
“Probiotics: One of The Most Important Supplements You Can Take” September 24, 2011 by mercola.com articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/09/24/one-of-the-most-important-steps-you-can-take-to-improve-your-health.aspx