Since we’re approaching cold and flu season, I thought it would be beneficial to include a discussion on gut health in this month’s newsletter. “What does gut health have to do with cold and flu season,” you ask? First of all, let’s take a look at the gut and its inhabitants. Did you know that you’re the host to tens of trillions of microorganisms living in your gut, including at least 1,000 different species. That’s a total of 4.5 pounds of pure microbiota (formerly known as gut flora)! In fact, we are more microorganism than we are human, because our gut flora outnumbers our human cells 10:1, and their genes number 150 fold greater than our human genes.[i] These semi-discrete communities of microbes populate are the GI tract (intestines), with the largest population residing in the large intestine.[ii]
Collectively, the communities of microbiota are known as microbiome, and are as much a part of our individual identity as a fingerprint. At first, researchers thought there was a “core microbiome” shared by all humans, but this has not been the case as more and more studies draw their conclusions. In fact, some would say that we only share about 1/3 of the microbiome, and the remaining 2/3 is unique to each individual. The genetic diversity of the microbiome seems to depend on many variables ranging from diet, exercise, environment, to genetics, age, gender, physiological variation, and even culture.[iii]
When the microflora of the gut are in balance, that is, the right amount of beneficial bacteria to non-beneficial bacteria, both the host and the microbes experience a healthy symbiotic relationship in which both parties benefit, and most importantly, the host (us), remain in a disease free state. It has been well documented in past and present studies the crucial role microbiota play in maintaining our health & well-being, as well as, the negative influence an altered microbiome can have in the development of certain diseases such as: cancer, irritable bowel disease (IBD), autoimmune diseases, asthma, and diabetes; just to name a few.[iv]
Some of the important functional roles of the microbiota / microbiome are:
As you can see, we might not be able to survive without this unusual relationship that we have with the microbiome, which seems to be based on the mutual benefits gained by both the host and the microbe. Like I always say, “disease starts in the gut”, and this is why we must protect this crucial microenvironment in order to stave off preventable diseases. Check back for more articles on other areas of gut health and disease (dysbiosis, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and leaky gut), including GI immunity, antibiotics vs probiotics, and the gut-brain axis.
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