In a continued effort to bring new medical information to the readers of this column, this month’s article will focus on how important your gut and digestive system is to your overall wellness. Did you know you have more bacteria in your gut than cells in your body? Did you know you had more bacterial DNA in your gut then you have human DNA? You have about 1 trillion cells in your body and 10 trillion bacteria inside your body. About 70% of your immune system surrounds your GI tract. What you eat, what bacteria exist in your GI tract and inflammation in your GI tract, all combine to affect your overall wellness in ways we are only beginning to understand.

New research shows that the foods that we eat can promote the growth of certain types of bacteria which may increase your risks of obesity, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, mental health and inflammatory bowel disease. There are now ways to test what type of bacteria exist in your GI tract. If you have the wrong types of bacteria or overgrowth of certain species, this is termed dysbiosis. Your diet has a lot to do with the type of bacteria that exist inside you. The prevalence of antibiotics within our food chain as well as consumption for non-life-threatening illness, increases your chance of dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is an undesirable shift in the composition of the microbiota resulting in an imbalance between protective and harmful bacteria that can lead to a plethora of chronic diseases if left unchecked. A high-fat, high sugar (standard Western) diet may induce dysbiosis in the gut through the actions of bile which can affect the growth of some microbes. Chronic dysbiosos can alter the environment (pH) in the gut and thus invite pathologic bacteria, fungi or parasites to flourish. This can result in lower levels of beneficial short-chain-fatty-acid producing bacteria, promoting intestinal hyper permeability (leaky gut) and inflammation. This can result in a compromise of the gut/blood barrier allowing larger food particles to interface with your own immune system turning your body against the foods that normally nourish it. This inflammatory cascade can then affect every system of your body decreasing your vitality and overall wellness.

This process, dysbiosis, can lead to leaky gut. Intestinal permeability affects the intestinal epithelium which is the largest expose surface area of the human body and its ability to act as a barrier against potential harmful molecules, bacteria and foreign substances is critical to gut immune health. The permeability of this barrier is finely regulated by the presence of tight junctions-molecular complexes that seal the spaces between the intestinal epithelial cells. This guides passage of select molecules (nutrients) through the transverse cellular spaces in your gut. These cells produce mucus and antimicrobial molecules to further protect against noxious or infectious agents. Breakdown of this barrier can cause disruption of the normal mucosa immune homeostasis that can lead to uncontrolled chronic intestinal inflammation, microorganisms, immune stimulating products all into the general circulation. For this reason, gut health affects the way, your brain works, your endocrine system, hormone systems, bones and joints and overall immune function. So in 2017, it’s never more true that you are what you eat! This will affect how long you live, and whether you get heart disease or cancer.

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