Wednesday, Feb 21, 2018 | Last Update : 08:11 PM IST
In fact, the 38-million bacteria in the human gut dictate our lives much more than we realise.
The gut or gastrointestinal tract dictates not only the physical diseases but also the mental anxiety and the response to stress that we suffer from. It starts at the mouth and ends at the back passage or anus. Dubbed as the second brain, it plays a vital role in aiding the immune system, producing the feel-good brain chemical, serotonin, making energy available to the body from the food we eat, and disposing of foreign substances and toxins.
So, what is microbial gut?
A term which makes us feel a bit awkward, unhealthy and also weird is actually the most important part of the human body. Made up of bacteria, viruses, fungi and small worms — the microbes and immune system are intricately linked to each other and also play a close role in the functioning of our brain and protecting our immune system. This huge flora in the intestine is a mix of good and bad bacteria and its diversity in terms of the composition is the sign of good health. A diverse gut consists of all the components which help fight diseases and also ensure that the body and brain are healthy.
What makes the gut diverse?
The foods that humans eat, environmental conditions and socio-economic factors determine the composition of the gut. Dr Abhishek Katakwar, laparoscopic, robotic bariatric and metabolic surgeon at the Asian Institute of Gastroenterology, explains, “At birth the gut is sterile. The first colonisation is by maternal and environmental bacteria and then through feeding and other contacts.
“At the age of 2.5 years, the gut resembles that of an adult in terms of composition. The composition is affected not only by age but also by diet and socio-economic conditions. 60-80 per cent of our immune system is located in our gut. “Gut imbalances are caused due to diet, genetics and environmental factors. The imbalance leads to obesity, hormonal imbalances, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, eczema, and other chronic health problems.”
How do gut imbalances occur?
According to various studies, gut imbalances occur when unwanted bacterial products called endotoxins are found to leak through and enter the blood stream. When this happens, the immune system recognises these as foreign bodies and mounts an attack on them leading to a chronic inflammatory response. Diet-induced inflammation triggers insulin resistance causing type-2 diabetes, leptin resistance, and obesity and fatty liver disease.
The attack on the immune system also leads to immune disorders such as inflammatory bowel disorder and triggers other auto-immune diseases. Foggy brain, headaches, eczema, depression and chronic fatigue are also linked to the imbalance in the gut where the concentration of bad bacteria increases leading to more endotoxins causing the tilt.
How to manage one’s gut?
Australian authors of The Mystery Gut, Professor Kerryn Phelps and Jaimee Lee Chambers, state that “if one knows how to control gut health they can overall control their health and change their lives”. Professor Phelps explains that symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements are directly connected to the gut but other unrelated symptoms like anxiety, continuous rounds of headaches, and excessive fatigue are also related to gut health.
The gut is a complex neurological system and it has been found that Western foods like white sugar, fatty foods, soft and refined white carbs are found to have an adverse effect in the composition of bacteria. Nutritionist Fatima Rehmat says eating regular meals on time is very important to maintain a good gut health. “Make sure that there is enough fibre, fluids and also plant-based foods like salads, coloured vegetables like beetroot and carrots on the plate. They help in preserving the diversity which is extremely important for a good gut health,” the nutrionist explains.
Does gut health bounce back to normal?
Rebuilding your gut with good bacteria is not a tough task but requires determination to accept the different foods and dietary changes to allow it to bounce back, says Dr R. Vidyasagar, a senior gastroenterologist. “Often we find people can’t give up on fast foods and high sugar diets. The craving often gets the worst of them. It is important to make the shift in the pattern of eating slowly and then the effects are seen. But most of them want short-cut methods and quick results which is not advisable.”
Gut health bounces back with diet change, stopping antibiotics, dealing with stress, sleeping properly and ensuring that there are enough prebiotics in the food. Bacteria is not a bad word and not all of them are harmful. Good bacteria are required for the healthy functioning of the body. They are found in natural foods and are called prebiotics. The human gut’s first source of healthy bacteria is from the foods that we eat. Healthy bacteria play an important role in shaping the gut and their numbers must definitely be high to allow it to maintain the good health of the body.
Any loss of balance between the good and the bad bacteria gives rise to the symptoms of the struggle within the body — like bloating, stomach pain, abdominal pain and cramps, loose motions, burping, gas, headaches, anxiety and also sleeplessness due to the uneasiness. These are indications that if the prebiotics in the food is not sufficient, there is a need for probiotics in the body. Dr Naveen Polavarapu, consultant, gastroenterologist and transplant hepatologist at Apollo Hospitals, explains, “Probiotics are live bacteria and are usually prescribed when the body is on antibiotics to combat the side effects on the gut. Probiotics have the tendency to get affected by the gastric juices but prebiotics are immune to all the gastric contents and can act better when compared to a probiotic.”
Deceived by the taste of good and tasty foods. Seasoned and good tasting and good-looking foods are the major reasons for sickness in the present times. Foods naturally do not need to taste good, they can taste sour and still be good for the body hence developing and adapting different tastes is important for the body.
Opt for healthy foods — cauliflower, cabbage, blue berries and other plant-based foods are good for gut health. Cut down on sugar and very high fatty foods. Cut down on antibiotics. It is important to stay hydrated.
What is prebiotic?
It’s a specialised fibre that nourishes the gut flora already present in the gut.
Foods containing prebiotic:
Raw dandelion greens
What is probiotic?
Probiotic is a live bacteria present in yogurt, other fermented foods and also in pills which are prescribed for improving gut health.
Foods containing probiotics are yogurt and all dairy products, apple and cider vinegar, naturally fermented pickles in salt water help to generate a lot of good bacteria.
Probiotics are prescribed for immune disorders, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and other chronic diseases. But all probiotics are not equal and have to be taken only after consultation from physicians.
Flora is funda of healing
Gut flora sounds very eek to many but it is this flora that has the healing capacity of battling autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and many others. A team of researchers are working hard to establish this fact of how this community of micro-organisms in our gut play a critical role in our health. For this reason, cleaning of the gut through enema is a very popular therapy as it helps clean the colon system and also remove the faeces which may be stuck in the large intestine.
Researchers believe that there are certain diseases which are triggered when there is an imbalance in the gut flora. With 80 known immune diseases it is still not clear what triggers it. The only aspect noted is that the immune system produces antibodies to fight infections which are attacking the body’s own tissues. This has been one of the major reasons for research where the bacterial composition inside is being looked into to understand the cause of the diseases.
The five main principles are:
Check the colour of your poop.
Talk about it when it is not normal and do not hide facts about it.
Check every time before you flush.
Do not hesitate or feel awkward if something is going wrong, be open and discuss about it.
Problems like constipation must not be hidden as they are often the root cause of a deep problem and it continues to manifest for long if hidden and not dealt with properly.