Healing the Gut: All about the good bugs

Did you know that our body lives symbiotically with many bugs, called the microbiome? Did you know that many chronic diseases, such as allergies, skin issues, depression, obesity, hypertension and more are linked to a disruption of our microbiome? 

We are seeing a plethora of research today showing the benefits of a healthy microbiome, this being the collection of healthy bacteria in our body. The majority of this microbiome is located in our gut, which is why I discuss gut health with so many of my patients! Many of you may be familiar with the word “acidophilus” but that is only one strain of probiotics, or live bacteria, which lives symbiotically with us. Some other strains that are important are lactobacillus, bifidobacterium and saccromyces boulardii. Sound like gibberish? Luckily, it is helpful gibberish. 

A few important roles of probiotics:

  1. They protect against pathogens: A spectrum of immune conditions, from simple colds and flus to chronic immune deficiencies, such as Hashimotos and Crohns, can occur if we have a deficiency in probiotics. This is due to the fact that more that 70% of our immune system resides in our digestive tract and probiotics help to strengthen it. Some germs are actually good for us in this case. If we wiped out all those bugs, from over sanitization or antibiotics we decrease our bodies ability to protect us from when we need them the most.
  2.  They protect the gut lining itself: Heard of the term “leaky gut?” Our digestive tract is simply one layer of cells, with the blood stream directly beneath it. Therefore, it is quite fragile. An imbalanced flora can lead to permeability of these cells, by up-regulating a protein called zonulin, which has been shown to be correlated with auto-immune conditions, such as celiac disease, and other chronic diseases. This permeability leads to an increase in inflammation in the blood stream. Diagnosed with “IBS”? Probiotics may be the gut protection you need. 
  3. They calm the nervous system and affects the mind: I have spoken before about the correlation of depression and anxiety and an imbalanced microbiome. By protecting the gut lining, probiotics decrease overall inflammation in the body. Probiotics have also been shown to stimulate neurochemical production such as GABA and serotonin, our calming signals, and also communicate directly with the brain through the vagus nerve (one of the largest nerve in the body, connecting the brain and the gut.) 

My tips to help your gut: 

  1. Focus on Diet. The western-style diet of more carbohydrates and more sugar leads to higher levels of inflammation and gut permeability. They also feed the “bad” bugs, such as yeast and an imbalance ensues. By focusing on eating more vegetables and fibre and eliminating sugar and processed carbohydrates, the gut will thank you. 
  2. Get some Vitamin D. This multifunctional vitamin decreases zonulin in the gut, ultimately helping our probiotics to function more affectively. Summer in Nova Scotia is a great time to increase your vitamin D, so get out in the sun...for a reasonable amount of time!
  3. Eat your fermented foods. Kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut are all great ways to improve your gut flora with food.  **A note on kefir: Please read the bottle! All kefir is not the same. Avoid the flavoured versions with added sugar (just negates the effects). If you are sensitive to dairy, try coconut kefir, which actually has more probiotics per tablespoon (15 billion vs 2 billion). Finally, increase the dose slowly, starting with 1/2 tbsp, increasing to only 2 tbsp, added to other yogurt or smoothies. Too much all at once may cause more bloating. 
  4. Take a probiotic supplement. In my practice I usually start my patients on a supplement form as a larger correction is needed or a certain strain is important. The dose and strain depends on their concern. It may be hard to get enough probiotics in food form before the imbalance is corrected. Ask your ND what is right for you. 

So there you have it, probiotics have several important roles in our body, especially in the gut. If you have any questions on these little bugs please don’t hesitate to ask or reach out to me in a 15 minute free consults. Happy to help!

In health & happiness,

Dr. Karen


(Photo credit: www.mindbodygreen.com)