How our friendly bacteria effects our health
An increasing body of evidence is showing us that a suboptimal culture of bacteria in our gut effects our gut as well as general health. Over growth of “bad” pro-inflammatory bacteria leads to premature ageing and is the cornerstone to many symptoms and diseases.
This should not really be a surprise as there are trillions of commensal bacteria in our gut as well as lungs, skin, genital tracks. In fact, it has been estimated that there is more genetic material from these foreign organism that than in our own cells. We are not talking about bacteria which cause food poisoning (pathogenic bacteria) which causes acute illness but bacteria which normally colonise the gut since birth.
The consequences of poor gut health
Excess chronic inflammation of the gut wall caused by too many pro-inflammatory (bad ) bacteria over time will thin and damage the integrity of the gut wall. The same problem occurs in people intolerant to foods such as gluten, lactose and lectin, because they have increased concentration of a gut protein called zonulin, which also signals the junctions to open up.
The adjacent picture shows that, in this situation, the increased, poorly functioning gaps between cells allow partially digested food and other harmful organisms to penetrate the tissue beneath it. This reduced integrity has been nick named leaky gut syndrome. This weakened barrier not only allows toxins, including carcinogens, into the bloodstream it causes vitamins, minerals, polyphenols and proteins to leak into the gut depriving the body of these essential nutrients. In the long term, levels of vitamin A, vitamin D and zinc are particularly affected, which are important elements in antioxidant and immune efficiency.
Gut symptoms and diseases:
Some people live with poor gut health for years without noticing although may have to take more medication such as antacids, anti-spasmodics and laxatives. Many suffer from:
- Bloating and colicky pains,
- Unsatisfactory bowel movements,
- Excess offensive wind,
- Constipation, diarrhoea and indigestion.
Poor microbiota reduces butyrate levels, which means less fuel for new cell growth. Consequently, the dead cells that are being naturally sloughed off cannot be replaced quickly enough, leading to a thinning of the gut wall. In severe cases, this can lead to ulcers, and if an ulcer is further irritated by acid in the stomach and duodenum, it can erode an artery, causing bleeding.
While more research is needed, the evidence so far strongly suggests that a diverse bacterial microbiome can protect us from cancer by outcompeting (displacing) cancer-causing pathogens and reducing inflammation. The immune responses to gut bacteria can also help stimulate immune responses against cancer as well. There is a rapidly growing body of evidence from Laboratory and clinical studies revealing a fascinating role for gut bacteria in relation to cancer treatments. Scientists have recently discovered that particular species of gut bacteria increase the therapeutic benefit of chemotherapy and the new targeted biological therapies for melanoma and other cancers. These findings suggest that individual differences in microbiome composition may be one of the reasons these immunotherapies work better for some people than others.
In summary, poor gut health, in clinical studies, is linked to increased risk of:
- Food poisoning including Helicobacteria
- Food intolerance and food allergies
- Stomach and duodenal ulcers
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Bowel cancer
Symptoms and diseases outside the gut:
The toxins which leak into the body unchecked trigger an inflammatory reaction affecting the whole body, causing collateral damaging joint, bones, the heart and brain as well as individuals being more prone to immune related disorders and allergies. The paradox is that this heightened non-specific inflammatory state stressed the immune system makes it less efficient so individuals effected are more prone to auto-immune disease, infection from viruses and bacteria. In this state the levels of chemicals called inflammatory cytokines are sky high and it’s a strange quirk of nature that these cytokines also encourage cancers to form and grow faster.
A leaky poorly functioning gut, as well as cancer cause general distressing symptoms which have a significant impact on quality of life. The most well known systemic links to poor gut health include:
- Fatigue, low mood poor memory and cognition
- Reduced sports performance – read more
- Weight gain – read more
- More colds and flu
- Eczema and atopic skin conditions
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Dementia and Parkinson’s disease
- Premature ageing