The intestinal or gut flora is often considered another organ of the body because of its impact on our health. These micro organisms lining our intestinal tract are often called beneficial or friendly bacteria. Trillions of these micro organisms colonize the gut and make up an amazing ecosystem that lives in harmony throughout the gut. These friendly bacteria live in a highly organized micro-world with certain species predominating and controlling others. They play a number of vital roles in the body and without them we could not survive. It is absolutely imperative that we take care of the gut flora, as an abnormal or damaged gut flora is the main root cause of most disease. By taking care of the gut flora we may prevent or even reverse diseases like: heart disease, auto immune diseases, allergies or even cancer to name but a few. Beneficial flora is made up of beneficial or good bacteria called probiotic’s. They are the housekeepers of the gut, without them your gut cannot be healthy. These friendly bacteria fulfill a myriad of vital functions in the body. The whole surface of the digestive system in a healthy gut flora is covered and dominated by beneficial bacteria. In a healthy body these beneficial bacteria predominate and control all other microbes. They provide a natural barrier and protect us against all sorts of invaders such as bacteria, parasites, fungi, viruses, toxins etc. that we ingest every day. Apart from providing us with a physical barrier this beneficial bacteria produce antibiotic like substances that are anti fungal and anti viral and dissolve ‘bad’ bacteria. They also reduce pH near the wall of the gut making it uninhabitable for the ‘bad’ bacteria to colonize. Some of the many functions of the intestinal flora are listed below.
- Deprives invaders of nutrients and secrete acids that less-friendly microbes can’t tolerate. Control harmful microbes which enter the digestive system.
- Digests certain sugars and proteins and facilitates absorption of certain minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and iron.
- Have anti-tumor and anti-cancer effects.
- Helps detoxify drugs and other harmful compounds.
- Manufactures vitamin K and B vitamins sometimes otherwise in short supply.
- Metabolizes and recycles hormones, including estrogen, thyroid hormones, and phytoestrogens.
- Prevents bloating, gas, and yeast overgrowth.
- Produce enzymes that break down components, mainly fiber cellulose.
- Regulates appropriate storage of fat in the body.
- Stimulates immune system by increasing T-cells and promoting the formation of antibodies, producing natural antibiotics and antifungals.
- Strengthens the lining of the gut to help block dangerous pathogens, toxins, and allergens.
The beneficial gut flora plays a crucial role in our immune system, by keeping the body’s immunity active and able to work effectively. Amazingly enough, around 83% of our immunity is located in the gut wall. Nearly all disease can be traced back to a damaged or an abnormal gut flora. The gut flora keeps two functions of the immune system in balance and encourages the immune system to respond appropriately to ‘bad’ microbes. The first function is responsible for what we are exposed to in our environment. Chemicals, bad bacteria, dust, pollen, fungus, yeast, and other substances that are found in foods and the air that we breathe settle in our mucus membranes and passes on into the gut. Candida or yeast enters the gastrointestinal wall in the form of fungus where it develops very long, root like structures that penetrate the wall and break down the protective barrier between the intestinal tract and the bloodstream. This allows the entrance of foreign as well as toxic substances into the bloodstream where they can harm various body systems. When the gut flora is damaged, the ‘bad’ bacteria are able to break through the gut wall. This creates a condition known as leaky gut. The immune system becomes less efficient and starts letting in unwanted microbes and toxins through the gut wall and into our bodies through the blood stream. The second function of the immune system will try and compensate for the first response and will become hyperactive. This second response is responsible for allergic type reactions such as asthma, hay fever, allergies to dust, animals, and to food and so on. It is also the root cause of autoimmune diseases. The most common examples include: Celiac disease, Multiple sclerosis (MS), Graves’ disease, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) etc. The body cannot thrive without a well functioning gut flora. It is essential that we take care of our gut as it holds the roots to our health. Below are listed some of things that cause disturbances in the flora.
- Alcohol, recreational drugs, many prescribed drugs
- Any type of surgery or traumatic injury
- Cesarean Sections (yeast overgrows for both the mother and the baby)
- Consuming animal products contaminated with antibiotics or growth hormones, i.e. any meat or dairy that is not organic
- Excessive traveling, especially to other countries
- Exposure to artificial coloring, flavorings, and sweeteners
- Exposure to heavy metals (via tooth fillings, vaccines, food, and tap water)
- Infant formula use
- Insufficient sleep
- Insufficient vitamin D (in particular, not enough direct sunlight exposure)
- Pesticide / herbicide consumption
- Refined flours/high starch/carbohydrate foods/sugar
- Stress (depresses or even shuts down the Immune System)
- Use of corticosteroid and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Because we have all been exposed to some or all of these things it is wise to take the necessary steps to bring the gut flora into balance so that we may maintain our health.