Its All About the Gut

Among the latest and greatest breakthroughs of modern medicine is the mapping of the human genome with its vast potential for gene based therapies. I find this work extremely interesting although I’m not exactly sure where it will lead.  What’s even more interesting is the work being done to explore the genome of what is living in our gut that is not human.  This is referred to as our microbiome. It is the trillions of bacteria and other microscopic living organisms that are an integral part of us. They are found on our skin, in our mouth, throughout the inside of our body, and most famously in our gut (our stomach, small intestines, and large intestines).

Our microbiome is a large, diverse and dynamic population of micro-organisms. During birth and the first two years of life we acquire our “native bacteria.” This comes primarily from our mother from our birth and (hopefully) subsequent breast feeding. Thus, mom’s health and her microbiome are of extreme importance to baby and instrumental in shaping the future health of the child. After this “transient bacteria” is constantly ingested into our body from food, water, air, and if we choose probiotics. 

These organisms are counted in CFUs (colony-forming unit) of live organisms. In your gut they are specifically measured as CFU/g or colony-forming units per gram of solid material. Here’s where it gets interesting! While a CFU is not specifically a “cell” it is a close approximation. The stomach and the duodenum (first part of small intestines) have the smallest number of organisms around 103 (1,000) CFU/g. In the rest of the small intestines (the jejunum and ileum) the number increases from 104 to 107 (ten million) CFU/g. And by the time we get to the colon (large intestine) things are really cooking! There are now 1012 CFU/g. For you math majors that is one trillion – 1,000,000,000,000 – and that is per gram! 

It is believed that the entire human body consists of 1014 cells of which only 1013 are of human origin, the remaining 90% are bacteria.  That is why you will hear statements to the affect that we have more bacteria cells than human!

Across the human population it is estimated that there are 40,000 unique bacteria species. Every person has a unique profile of predominant and subdominant species.  Scientists have even found that some bacteria strains are only found in one person! 

So, what does this all mean? Human genome research has identified approximately 20,000 unique human genes. Your gut microbiome has up to 3.3 million unique genes, 150 times more than its human host. This means that the gut microbiome may perform functions not encoded in the human genome. In English – it means that your personal bacteria have significant influence on your health. Current research suggests that tendencies for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease may be more related to your gut genes than your own human genes! Are we inheriting “bad” genes or is it actually “bad” guts?

What do they do?  Why has this evolved as part of the human? The “good” bacteria have beneficial effects so we’ve allowed them to settle in. They ferment the non-digestible carbohydrates that we consume (for example certain types of fiber) which they feed on to survive and also produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFAs support our immune system (by being anti-microbial – killing bad bacteria and yeast) and fire our metabolism which aids in weight loss or the maintenance of a healthy body weight. The beneficial bacteria aid in our absorption of calcium, magnesium, and iron; manufacture Vitamins B5, B7, B9, B12, and K; synthesize amino acids; and keep the pH of the colon properly acidic.  At the same time they provide a barrier lining the gut to keep out potential pathogens.

What about when things aren’t quite right? Dysbiosis is used to describe when bad bacteria take control of an area. This can occur in the mouth (bad breath, periodontitis and gum disease); in the stomach (the bacteria Helicobacter pylori had been linked to ulcers); and in the small and large intestines. 

Common causes of dysbiosis include: sub-optimal mother’s gut microbiota, birth, and neonatal nutrition; antibiotics; stress; an unhealthy diet such as the Standard American Diet heavy on processed and refined foods and sugar, while low in vegetables; a decreased immune status (low secretory IgA); decreased gut motility; low hydrochloric acid production; altered intestinal pH (generally the colon is not acidic enough to create a hostile environment for bad bacteria and yeast/fungus); and an intestinal infection or infestation.

Many challenges have been linked to dysbiosis including autoimmune diseases, other digestive problems, and other general health issues.

Autoimmune diseases linked to dysbiosis include: Crohn’s disease; ulcerative colitis; rheumatoid arthritis; Ankylosing Spondylitis; Graves’ disease; chronic active hepatitis; and Type 1 diabetes.

Other digestive problems linked to dysbiosis include: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); bad gas; food sensitivities; chronic diarrhea and constipation; general poor digestion; diverticulitis; and gastrointestinal infections and intestinal overgrowth.

Other general poor health issues linked to dysbiosis include: lack of well-being, low energy, and fatigue; poor immunity, allergies, and chronic skin disorders; breast and colon cancer; metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and obesity; Type 2 diabetes; depression and anxiety; chronic pain syndromes; and possibly autism.

The gut balance program includes supplements to support the elimination of bad bacteria and the healthy re-population of your gut with beneficial bacteria.  It has an herbal formula that is antimicrobial (attacks bacteria, fungi and protozoa that should not be there), cleanses the intestines, and stimulates digestion. It includes a prebiotic to feed the good bacteria and support their population growth. Prebiotics are food ingredients that humans cannot digest which provide health benefits to the good bacteria in our gut. These include: non-digestible carbohydrates, glucans, galactans, resistant starch, pectins, hemicellulose, arabinoxylans, inulin-type fructans, and galacto-oligosaccharides. And, it includes a probiotic. Quite the complete package!

The program is designed in the short term to promote a healthy and balanced intestinal flora, cleanse the lower gastrointestinal tract, and maintain a healthy GI environment.  In the long term this supports healthy digestion, improves nutrient absorption, and supports a healthy immune system.

Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs. His office is in Mequon, WI. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, e-mail at bernie@brwellness.com, call (262) 389-9907 or go to www.brwellness.com.