The fact that there is research on probiotics playing a role in health should come as no surprise to anyone except for the average pediatrician. But this article goes WAY beyond anything I’ve touched on before.
While this particular article is more of a review on the varied concepts of how the bacteria in our gut play a role in your health and disease, I felt this article was too important not to include as a blog article. Rather than a single concept, I will excerpt some of the points in this article with some brief commentary.
What I really like the most, however, about this article, is that it reinforces aspects I have been writing about for almost 15 years now. As much as I hate to point out when I’m right, I’m still sharing this info with you.
The human genome consists of around 23,000 different genes. Scientists have raised concerns over the years that this small number of genes does not code for enough unique proteins to account for the massive diversity in the way our bodies work and look. Enter the bacteria in your gut, collectively making up some 3.3 MILLION genes, responsible to hundreds of thousands of different chemical reactions and proteins produced. It is entirely possible that the bacteria in your gut is a large part of what makes your body do what it is supposed to do.
Let this sink in as you consider that things like antibiotics, stress, anti-inflammatories, poor quality diets and Splenda (YES—Splenda / sucralose—that evil chemical compound that everyone seems to think is ok) all alter the bacterial composition of your gut. And most often not in a friendly way.
The products that these bacteria can make such as proteins, carbohydrates and other molecules, can leave the gut and have effects elsewhere in your body. This is one of ways that gut bacteria can play a role in brain health, depression, anxiety and obesity.
The commensal bacteria in your gut (the ones that benefit us as much as we benefit them) provide certain nutrients to your body (like B12 and short chain fatty acids), breakdown indigestible compounds and protect against invasion from nasty bacteria that cause diseases.
The last point is particularly important. When you have the right blend of bacteria in your body, whether in the back of the throat, the stomach, the vaginal vault or the gut, they keep bad buggers from taking up residence. The evidence for this is strong—ear infections from staph or strep, yeast / candida, H. pylori and C. diff are just a few of the examples. Keep this in mind the next time your pediatrician wants to give your child antibiotics for anything non-life threatening. That antibiotic will likely increase the risk of future infections.
70% of the immune cells of your body at any given point are in the intestines. However, many of these immune cells will leave the gut and travel to other areas of the body. Startling, these immune cells (many T-cells) are programmed in the gut. In other words, if they are programmed by the gut bacteria to have anti-inflammatory actions, they will carry this function out to the rest of the body. Likewise with a pro-inflammatory immune cell.
This means that the bacteria in your gut are the principal drivers of your immune system. The wrong blend of bacteria can set you up for a nightmare of immune dysregulation, from frequent infections to autoimmune disorders.
By the time your child has reached 2 years of age, his or her bacterial composition in the gut more closely resembles an adult. It had been believed that this remained stable throughout life, but it is now understood that there are periods in the lifecycle where the bacteria in your gut goes through significant changes. This includes puberty and lactation.
I have always maintained that the first two years of your child’s life is one of the most critical for healthy development of the immune system, and this supports what I have promoted. I have frequently stated that antibiotics given to infants and toddlers is one of the most destructive things you can do to his or her long-term health. Despite this, some 90% of children have antibiotics by the age of 2.
Celiac disease, aka gluten sensitivity, has a genetic component, and yet less than 10% of those who are susceptible will go on to develop celiac disease despite exposure to gluten, and many times the condition develops many years after the first exposure. The answer may lie in the gut. In a small study comparing infants who were predisposed to celiac disease to those who were not, it was seen that the bacteria in the gut of the susceptible infants developed more slowly than the non-susceptible infants. In addition, infants exposed to gluten at 6 months were more likely to have antibodies to gluten than infants exposed after 12 months.
I have always maintained that the later infants are exposed to grains, the better off they will be. Unfortunately, I am usually fighting against pediatricians who say that 4 months is fine, especially if it will help the child stay full longer and sleep longer. By caving into this belief, you may be setting your child up for future immune imbalances over his or her lifetime.
This one was jaw dropping for me. We have always known that C-section babies have a different blend of bacteria in the gut, which may account for the increased risk of allergies and asthma. Turns out, this is not entirely accurate. PLANNED C-sections lead to altered gut flora, but non-elective C-sections do not. Something about labor triggers a change in the mom’s system, leading to the microbial transition of bacteria from the gut into breast milk.
What a concept! In other words, that same hormonal trigger that induces labor also allows bacteria to show up in breast milk, ensuring that the nursing baby is going to get the right blend of bacteria to colonize the brand new GI tract. I have often told moms who had C-sections that nursing can help counterbalance the negative effects of the C-section. Turns out I’m going to need to modify that statement in the future.
The gut bacteria can be negatively impacted by chemicals we are exposed to. Antibiotics are a given, but studies have shown that antibiotics disrupt to stability and diversity of the gut bacteria so much that, even FOUR YEARS LATER, it has not recovered. This means that any prescription for antibiotics, if not followed up with probiotics, destroys the gut. Period. How many prescriptions have been filled and used without a recommendation for probiotics after? Millions? More?
In addition, in mice studies, as little as two days’ worth of exposure to polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs–common chemicals in society usually from manufacturing) let to alterations in gut bacteria as well. I would not be surprised to find that BPA in plastic water bottles, Teflon in non-stick cookware and pesticides on our fruits and vegetables do the same.
Overall, do we need to have a discussion any longer about why a healthy bacterial flora is important? It goes so far beyond merely helping diarrhea or constipation. Until physicians begin to grasp the importance of the bacteria in our guts (after some 100+ years in the medical literature) we will continue to destroy the delicate balance that contributes to health.