Imagine if the millions of microscopic beings that line your intestinal tract controlled more than just your food direction. A walk through your local health food store quickly shows the extent to which misinformation and confusion around gut health abound — you see hundreds of choices for prebiotics, probiotics, fermented foods and more claiming to help protect you from cancer, depression and everything in between. Do they actually work? But do they really work?
The elusive and mysterious study of the microbiome (the bacteria and other microorganisms that live in our bodies) and the potential powers our gut health holds, is one area doctors still have much to learn about ― even those who study it every day. Experts admit that they are only scratching the surface of understanding how gut health impacts the other parts of the body.
Ashkan Farhadi, a gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center and director of MemorialCare Medical Group’s Digestive Disease Project in Fountain Valley, California, cautions against focusing on any one study or company that claims make conclusions about gut health.
“Unfortunately, our understanding of their importance and function is lagging way behind what is advertised in the media. For example, we are dealing with a whole spectrum of species of germ in the gut but only have antibiotics that kill almost all germs indiscriminately,” he said, adding that it’s really not surprising that even experts in the field even have “no idea” about the importance and function of germs.
Below are the specific areas that they would like to see more of in an increasing body of evidence. gut health may be key to overall health.
Amazing how fast the gut balance can change
Can we give our gut health a “makeover” in just a day, rather than a whole year of eating differently? Farhadi suggested that it might be possible, noting experts continue to study the dynamic microbiome.
“With one full day of a specific diet, it can change. With putting someone through stress, the germs’ composition could change,” he said.
It is difficult to determine the cause of gut bacteria changes so rapidly. However, experts believe that it can be controlled and improve other conditions.
How gut health affects weight
Experts continue to study the link between diet and weight. This is an example: one study published in SeptemberWe examined stool samples and blood samples from people who lost weight. Researchers found a connection between the person’s microbiome and weight loss. Researchers found that the people in the weight loss group had microbiomes similar to those of the overweight. increased number of genes that sped up the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
The study authors conclude that diet is not the only thing contributing to weight loss. “Your gut microbiome can help or cause resistance to weight loss and this opens up the possibility to try to alter the gut microbiome to impact weight loss,” lead study author Christian Diener, a scientist at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, said in a statement.
Other research has also supported this conclusion. microbiome’s impact on weight loss. Rudolph Bedford, a gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, said this doesn’t mean that focusing solely on gut health will lead to weight changes. But he does believe it plays some role ― especially when it comes to weight-related illnesses like diabetes.
“[Our microbiome] may help in controlling blood sugar, and may affect the risk of you developing diabetes,” he said.
There is a connection to autoimmune diseases
What are the causes of autoimmune diseases Researchers are trying to figure out how these two things might interact.
Farhadi stated that the microbiome is an integral part of immune function. The microbiome is responsible for allowing bacteria access to your immune system by making the intestines less permeable when there’s stress. It can trigger an immune response by alerting the body to germs. Scientists have confirmed this. However, scientists may know more.
“What if this is exaggerated? This could be a way for your immune system to pick up the virus and start fighting it off. Like Crohn’s disease, like inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis … maybe this is a mechanism for the mechanism to go haywire … for function to start not behaving.”
This is why he isn’t surprised that diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis are treated in part with probiotics. “We kind of crudely know that the gut and autoimmune processes can have some connection. … We want to work on that front.”
Mental health and gut health: How to shift your mental health
Researchers are also looking at how gut health can impact mental well being.
“We don’t know much, but we have some evidence,” Farhadi said of the connection between gut health and mental health. “There are a lot of studies on the role of bacteria in depression, our moods, our confidence, and other studies that show when we go through stress, the composition of bacteria changes.”
Bedford stated that bacteria can make chemicals in the stomach, including serotonin (a feel-good hormone which helps to stabilize the mood). He said people with various psychological disorders can have different species of bacteria in their gut compared with others who don’t.
There’s more to learn, and much we don’t know: “We have trillions and trillions and trillions of bacteria,” Bedford said. “And only because we use so many antibiotics, so many processed foods now ― all of which affect the microbiome ― we are finding more and more things that occur when that microbiome is altered.”
In the meantime, here’s what to do to improve gut health
As we await answers to how our body functions (Bedford joked we should return in 10 years), experts have some suggestions for positive changes you can make right now.
- Antibiotics should only be used if they are medically required
- Enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains.
- Look for probiotics with Lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria. Don’t fall for claims on labels like, “contains 50 billion bacteria.” (Bedford said to remember you have trillions in your gut — “50 billion is a grain of sand on the beach.”)
- Eat legumes, beans, and broccoli to get plenty of fiber. among others.
- Fermented foods include sauerkraut, yogurt, and other fermented items. kefir.