February is Heart Health month. So, of course, I’d like to speak to you about your …gut!
Once laughed at by conventional medicine, dysbiosis (imbalanced intestinal flora) is now verified to be a major cause of disease.
There is an explosion of research in the field of microflora or microbiome. These terms refer to the bacteria and other organisms that naturally inhabit our gastrointestinal tract. The skin and other body surfaces also are home to bacteria. The composition of your microbiome is a major determinant of your health.
The human gastrointestinal tract typically contains hundreds of trillions of bacteria, weighing a few pounds in total. There are perhaps 36,000 different species of bacteria that can be found in humans but any given individual has only a fraction of this number. Collectively, the intestinal microflora has metabolic activity on par with the liver; it is really like an organ and affects the function of all the other organs in the body.
Our intestinal bacteria influence a multitude of diverse bodily functions. Just a few of these include: vitamin production, immune system regulation, intestinal cell nourishment, maintenance of proper intestinal permeability (protection against leaky gut syndrome), metabolic, and hormonal activity. Some species of bacteria are more beneficial than others. When an individual has an imbalance of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, various health problems develop. Too much of some, not enough of others, can be detrimental. It is important to have a good diversity or variety of species of bacteria in the intestinal tract. What can happen if you have an imbalance of intestinal bacteria, known as dysbiosis? Allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, obesity, autoimmunity, diabetes, psychiatric conditions, and heart disease, to name a few. An amazing array of conditions can be caused in part by dysbiosis.
What are some of the common causes of dysbiosis? If you’re mother had dysbiosis, you may have been predisposed. Vaginal delivery and nursing inoculate the baby with the normal flora. Therefore, cesarean section delivery and formula feeding set the stage for dysbiosis. Having an overly clean or sterile home environment is a contributor to dysbiosis. Many dietary factors, including an overly processed diet, result in dysbiosis. Excessive dietary sugar and fat promote the growth of “unfriendly” bacteria and yeast. Studies have found the artificial sweetener Splenda to alter intestinal flora. Plant foods such as raw fruits and vegetables contain naturally occurring bacteria, so if your diet lacks these, you’re in trouble. Plant foods also contain prebiotics or microbiota-accessible carbohydrates, which is food for intestinal bacteria. Prebiotics foster the growth and/or metabolic activity of intestinal bacteria. Antibiotics kill good as well as bad bacteria. One course of antibiotics can cause dysbiosis that persists for at least a year! I believe that even topical antibiotics, which are used for skin conditions, can produce dysbiosis. Maldigestion, including that resulting from chronic use of stomach acid-suppressing medication, may spur dysbiosis. As with virtually all health conditions, stress may be a factor in dysbiosis.
How do you know if you have dysbiosis? Vibrant Wellness laboratory’s new test called the Gut PAC evaluates dysbiosis. Gut PAC analysis uses microchip technology to identify and quantify genetic material of hundreds of species of bacteria from a stool specimen. Several these bacteria have been found in research to indicate microflora diversity. Low diversity means dysbiosis. The Gut PAC report gives a Diversity Index value. If this is Low, dysbiosis needs to be addressed. The Gut PAC can identify not only the presence of dysbiosis but the nature of it. Is there lack of a species of “good” bacteria? Is there excessive pathogenic bacteria, such as clostridium difficile?
The Gut PAC reports values for 120 common bacteria that have scientific evidence associating them with different health conditions. These conditions are listed alongside the bacteria correlated with them. Some bacteria are problematic when lacking, others when present in excess. The different health conditions reported on the Gut PAC include:
· Intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome)
· Intestinal Health
· Cardiovascular Health
· Autoimmune Health
· Metabolic Health
Results of the Gut PAC lead to treatments that are mostly natural. Sometimes, additional testing or medication may be indicated. Typically, however, dietary changes and nutritional supplements are the solution to most of what may be out of balance on the Gut PAC. Results of the Gut PAC often identifies the importance of using one type of probiotic over another; if you are lacking Lactobacillus plantarum or Bifidobacterium Animalis, for example, these can be consumed as probiotics. After several months, another Gut PAC can be performed to evaluate effectiveness of treatment, although, improvement in symptoms and health are other indicators of success.