The Gut Microbiome: How Can These "Non-Self Cells" Impact Your Health?
* the opinions expressed are those of the author and not Nutrition Ink.
You may have noticed that probiotic, gut-healing everything seems to be the latest nutrition trend. However, the ancient Hippocrates once said, “all disease begins in the gut.” Although this may seem assumptive, new research seems to prove Hippocrates had the right idea.
Gut flora, or the bacteria living in our guts, live symbiotically within the human body. They dwell in our bellies and eat the undigested fibers that we cannot utilize and provide us with vitamins and nutrients that promote colon health (Gropper & Smith, 2013). The human body naturally hosts more than a trillion bacterial cells that are known to be either beneficial or potentially harmful to health (Harvard, 2016). Not only this, but research is now showing that these “non-self cells” can actually communicate with the human brain much like our own cells can (Stefano et al, 2017).
This prompts the question: what type of non-self cells are you fostering?
To answer this question, we turn to diet. New research has found that the Western Diet, which is rich in processed foods, added sugar, and solid fat, can lead to what is called gut dysbiosis, or the imbalanced ratio of healthy to unhealthy bacteria in the gut (Zinocker & Lindseth, 2018). It has also been found that as diet changes, gut flora can undergo metabolic shifts that help them survive in this new environment. Although this shift is beneficial for their survival, these changes that occur when we eat unhealthy foods can increase inflammation in our guts (Zinocker & Lindseth, 2018).
Rooted in the Greek word for fire, “inflammatio,” you could see how inflammation could potentially cause some problems. Much like when your finger swells up after getting a splinter, inflammation in our gut is also a sign of distress. When these non-self cells send out distress signals, they can actually communicate with the brain through the vagus nerve, which in turn elicits an immune response (Browning et al, 2017). Pathogenic bacteria, as well as bacteria that change when our diet changes, can lead to a state of low-grade inflammation, which is associated with many chronic disease states, including heart disease (Hakansonn & Molin, 2011).
So what can we do to keep our gut microbiome happy? Probiotics, or live strands of beneficial bacteria, can be supplemented to provide the body with biodiversity, to correct dysbiosis associated with a diet rich in processed foods. Because beneficial bacterial strands primarily use undigested fibers in the colon for energy, prebiotics (rich in fiber) can also be supplemented to provide “food” for your microbiome (Gropper & Smith, 2013). You can also choose a symbiotic, which contains both pre- and probiotics. By eating a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods, you can keep your gut (and its residents) happy and healthy.
Browning et al. (2017). The vagus nerve in appetite regulation, mood and intestinal inflammation. Gastroenterology, (152)4, 730-744. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5337130/
Gropper, SS. Smith, JL. (2013). Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism (6 ed). Belmont, California. Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Hakansson, A. Molin, Goran. (2011). Gut Microbiota and Inflammation. Nutrients, 3(6), 637-682. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257638/
Harvard University. (2016). Can gut bacteria improve your health? Harvard’s Men Health Watch. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/can-gut-bacteria-improve-your-health
Stefano, G. B., Ptacek, R., Raboch, J., & Kream, R. M. (2017). Microbiome: A Potential Component in the Origin of Mental Disorders. Medical science monitor : international medical journal of experimental and clinical research, 23, 3039–3043. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28636585
Zinocker, Marit K. & Lindseth, Inge A. (2018). The Western Diet–Microbiome-Host Interaction and Its Role in Metabolic Disease. Nutrients, (10)3, 365. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5872783/