Naturopaths have been banging on about gut health for decades, so the latest trends in "gut health awareness" is a bit of a "I told you so moment"!! Finally, what we have known about for ages is beginning to be verified by science, which is fantastic but somehow I don't think we are going to be given credit for the leading the way.
The current buzz in health is all about the microbiome, but what is it exactly?
The word microbiome is defined as the collection of microbes or microorganisms that inhabit an environment, creating a sort of “mini-ecosystem”. Our human microbiome is made up of communities of symbiotic, commensal and pathogenic bacteria (along with fungi and viruses) all of which call our bodies home. Research is still in its infancy and there is no "ideal" microbiome that has been found.
However, what has been uncovered comparing the microbiomes of the average Westerner and the average Hunter/gatherer is that a large variety of bacterial species in the digestive tract seems to be beneficial to our health. As bacterial diversity increases it supports our health and as it drops the incidence of disease increases. A lack of bacterial diversity has been linked to chronic health problems like obesity, insulin resistance, inflammation and bowel disease.
Microbiome function is perhaps even more important that bacterial diversity alone. In a health micrbiome, there are microbes that are preservers of metabolic function and can protect us against the pathogens. They work together and are highly adaptive in order to maintain diversity and metabolic function in an ever changing environment. A health microbiome produces substances (short chain fatty acids) which help to give us energy, reduce inflammation, influence satiety, improve gut motility and transit, maintain colonic pH and microbial balance.
If our microbiome is compromised, as is the common case in Westerners, our gut bacteria can turn against us. There are microbes (pathobionts) that can overgrow and turn pathogenic in an inflammatory environment and contribute to disease. The hallmark of an unhealthy microbiome is reduced bacterial diversity, an increase in pathobionts, changes in microbial composition and changes in function. Consequently, this leads to a collapse in the symbiotic relationship between us and our microbes, reducing our barrier protection, increasing gut permeability and increasing immune dysregulation and dysfunction. Hence protecting our digestive system and keeping our microbiome healthy is paramount.
With research, our understanding of how to ensure a healthy, diverse microbiome is expanding.
For many years Naturopaths have been prescribing probiotics to help improve digestive health to support the healthy bacteria that lives there. Poor diet, reliance on antibiotics and over sanitation have slowly eroded most peoples healthy bacterial colonies. Although we have been prescribing probiotics for many years now more and more is beginning to come out about what they actually do. Of the thousands of species out there, some are of great benefit to our health and some do little. Research is now focusing on specific strains and identifying what each strain does. Like a herbal materia medica (the clinical information about what a specific herb does), clinicians and Naturopaths will need to understand the variety of probiotic species and prescribe them for specific systemic conditions. Traditionally probiotics were thought to colonise in the bowel and assist its overall health. Now research shows that they preform specific actions as they pass through the gut without seeding.
These are some of the latest research discoveries about Probiotics.
Probiotics are NOT all created equal.
Of the hundreds and thousands of different probiotic bacterial strains only a handful have been thoroughly studied and proven to be beneficial to our health.
Probiotics are like personal trainers. They make our microbiome stronger, more diverse and healthier.
Probiotics DO NOT seed in the gut. ie they don't colonize and replace our gut bacteria. Instead they help the healthy commensual bacteria grow, they increase the production of healthy mucus and help strengthen the protective lining of the gut.
Bacterial diversity and function are king. Therefore having a rich variety of healthy microbes in our gut promotes health.
If we do not feed our microbiome bacteria with the food that it wants it will eat us!!!
The 2-3kg of bacteria in our bowels feeds on fibre and plant based food! Therefore if you want a healthy micro biome, you must EAT MORE PLANTS!!!!!!!!
In order to get the correct effect you need for gut health and microbiome diversity a WELL PRESCRIBED PROBIOTIC IS ESSENTIAL!
For a consumer the probiotic marketplace can be a confusing and overwhelming place. With so many commercially available probiotics its hard to work out which probiotic is best without a grounded understanding of why one ought to take a specific brand or type. This is where a trained health professional such as a Naturopath can help. Some health conditions require careful and considered protocols in order to get the best results. Hence undertaking the support of a Naturopath ensures that you will get the right perspective your health and on which probiotic is right for you. If you want to clear up any confusion it is best to book an appointment with our Naturopath to support you in getting the RIGHT prescription and advice about how you can strengthen digestive system and your microbiome.