How Your Gut Flora Impacts HealthThere’s no denying the fact that the health of your gut flora directly impacts your overall health and risk for chronic disease. With gut flora starting to colonize from the day you are born, and changing throughout your life, it’s essential to take the steps necessary to make sure you are giving your gut the best chance at establishing a healthy balance. From immune system support to reducing your risk of chronic disease, gut flora has the potential to completely transform your health for the better. But, with poor gut flora balance, you put yourself at an increased risk of things like obesity, inflammatory disease, and diabetes. Let’s take a detailed look at what gut flora is and the steps you can take to make sure that you are establishing a healthy balance to help support your body and optimize your health. 1) You may be familiar with gut flora being called gut bacteria, microbiota, microbiome, microflora, or intestinal flora, but these are all referring to the populations of bacteria inside of our intestines. Our gut contains tens of trillions of these microorganisms with roughly 1,000 different bacteria species. What’s even more shocking is that microbiota can weight up to 2 kg, and about two-thirds of the gut bacteria is specific to each unique person. So, every person will have their very own unique bacteria population residing in their intestines. (2) With trillions of microorganisms living in our gut, it makes sense that taking care of gut health, and doing what we can to support optimal gut flora is essential for overall health. When Does Gut Flora Start to Develop? One of the most impressive things about gut flora is that it really starts to support our bodies and overall health from birth. A newborn baby’s digestive tract is actually colonized by important gut flora from the mother. This process starts with a vaginal delivery, but if a baby is born via cesarean section, this colonization of important gut flora can also start from skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding. (3) Let’s take a look at when gut flora starts to develop, and exactly why healthy gut bacteria is so important for optimal health. Three days after birth, the composition of gut flora is going to depend on how a baby is fed. Bifidobacteria is the primary microorganism present in breastfed babies digestive tract. Studies have found that by the time a child reaches the age of three, gut flora becomes similar to adults, and starts to stabilize. It will then continue to change and develop throughout life. (4) This is one reason why supporting optimal gut flora is so important. It literally starts from birth, and mothers have the ability to give their baby the best start by supporting her own gut health during pregnancy, and then passing on beneficial bacteria after birth if she chooses to breastfeed. During those first three years of life, optimal dietary choices and probiotic supplementation can also play a very large role in giving a child the best start when it comes to optimal gut flora. And, with gut health being central to the overall health of the body, we need to keep this in mind. However, not all is lost if gut flora was suboptimal during those first three years of a child’s life. There are many ways to rebalance this flora and remember, that it’s always evolving, so we can always implement the necessary changes to get it back in balance. Gut Flora Functions Now that we know that gut flora starts to colonize as soon as birth, let’s take a closer look at two of the biggest roles gut flora plays in overall health. It all has to do with immune system support and metabolic functions.
- Immune Support: Surprisingly,there is quite a bit of communication between the immune system and all of the bacteria in the gut, and a huge part of the body’s immune system is actually in the gut. (5) In fact, 80% of the lymphocytes in the body are located in the intestinal wall in the gut-associated-lymphatic tissue, aka GALT.
- Metabolic Effect: In addition to immune system support, gut flora also plays a role in providing essential vitamins as well as nutrients. Gut flora can also help with the digestion of certain foods like resistant starches and FODMAPS that were not able to be digested in the small intestine. (8)
- Gut microbiota can help produce certain vitamins, particularly B vitamins which are necessary for converting food to energy.
- Healthy gut bacteria can fend off harmful gut bacteria and help support the intestinal mucosa and the gut mucosal barrier.
- A healthy balance of gut flora can help protect the body from pathogens.
- Gut flora can help support drug metabolism.
- Gut flora plays an important role in immune modulation.
- Eczema: Skin-related issues are very closely related to gut health. Eczema happens to be a big sign of gut imbalance. Studies have found that changes in microbial balance in both the gut and on the skin has been linked to altered immune responses and the development of conditions like atopic dermatitis. (11) There’s a big link between the gut and skin, and more and more research is being done to evaluate the connection between the gut-skin axis further.
- Diabetes: Changes in intestinal bacteria has been linked to inflammation, intestinal permeability, and can be a cause of insulin resistance. (12)
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): Imbalanced gut bacteria is closely linked to inflammatory bowel disease, and some studies have even gone as far as saying that imbalanced gut bacteria a prerequisite for this inflammatory disease. (13) Those who suffer from Inflammatory Bowel Disease are also commonly deficient in certain strains of healthy gut bacteria such as bifidobacteria.
- Metabolic Syndrome: Metabolic syndrome involves a cluster of different health issues, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and excess weight around the midsection. Having imbalanced gut bacteria may put you at an increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome, and with metabolic syndrome comes the increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. (14)
- Obesity: Having enough beneficial bacteria has been found to help prevent obesity. (15) There’s a very close connection between the two, and just one more reason to focus on supporting optimal gut flora.
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