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Last year we shared with you all the valuable knowledge we gained from reading the book, Brain Maker by Dr David Perlmutter. This year we have chosen to focus on a book called Gut Reactions, by Justin & Erica Sonnenburg who are leading scientists and have used ground-braking research to explain how we’ve neglected our gut (a vital organ) for far too long and what we need to do to get our guts back on track. Your gut is one of the most important organs in the body. And yet most of us know very little about how it actually works. From your weight, to how you age, to allergies and diseases – your gut controls it all.
“As scientists try to unravel the causes behind the prevalence of predominantly Western afflictions such as cancer, diabetes, allergies, asthma, autism, and inflammatory bowel diseases, it is becoming clear that the microbiota plays an important role in the development of each of these conditions and in many other aspects of our health. Our bacterial inhabitants touch all aspects of our biology in some way, directly or indirectly. The inhabitants of our gut have evolved inside us over millennia, but today they face new challenges. The modern world has changed the way we eat (highly processed, calorie-dense, industrially produced foods) and how we live (homes sanitized with antibacterial cleaners and the overuse of antibiotics), and these changes threaten the health of our intestinal microbiota.
More than we ever suspected, our gut microbiota sets the dial on our immune system. Our immune system is central to all aspects of our health. When it works well, we fight off infections efficiently and extinguish malignancies at their earliest appearance. When the immune system operates suboptimally, numerous ailments can result. If the gut bacteria are healthy, it’s likely that the immune system is running well. If the gut bacteria are not healthy, we are at increased risk of developing autoimmune disease and cancer.
Every person’s alliance with microbes begins at birth. Although we are sterile within the womb, upon arriving in the outside world microbes rapidly colonize the body’s virgin habitat. These microbes come from our mothers, friends and family members, and the environment. As life progresses, our resident microbial communities are shaped by factors such as whether we were born naturally or by C-section, if we were breast or formula fed, how often we use antibiotics, if we own a dog, and by the food we eat.
Each of us has a microbiota as unique as our fingerprint that impacts our predisposition to different diseases. The microbiota can malfunction and contribute to the development of diseases and conditions, such as obesity, that we once thought were attributable solely to lifestyle. ‘And because of the microbiota’s capacity for change it enables us to alter our overall health as we age. Proper care of and appreciation for the microbiota is essential for good health. We can use this new information to answer many questions, including:
How can we guide microbiota assembly at birth so children get on the path to heaving a healthy microbiota?
How can we optimize our microbiota through adulthood to strengthen our immune system and decrease the risk of autoimmune diseases and allergies?
What specific dietary changes can we make to nurture our microbiota?
When we need to take a course of antibiotics, how can we regain a flourishing microbiota?
How can we minimise the decline that occurs in the microbiota as we age?
How can we find the right combination of microbes for our own personal gut?
Our gut is home to more than 100 trillion bacteria. If you lined up all of your bacteria end to end, they would reach the moon. These bacteria are found throughout our digestive system and, depending on their type, may decide to live in your stomach (although most don’t because of the stomach’s harsh and acidic climate) or small intestine, but most end up residing in the large intestine. Hundreds of species of bacteria, together totaling in the trillions, live in the large intestine at a density of 500 billion cells per teaspoon of intestinal contents.
Clearly there is no shortage of bacteria in our gut, which can make this next statement a little hard to believe. Our gut bacteria belong on the endangered species list. Why? Our overly processed Western diet, overuse of antibiotics, and sterilized homes are threatening the health and stability of our intestinal inhabitants. In the near future, might we have half of the bacterial species our ancestors had, or even less? If so, what will this mean for us? We have already begun to see the effects of the Western lifestyle on our health in terms of obesity, diabetes and autoimmune diseases. These diseases are not typically found in societies with a more diverse microbiota.
These microbes are our partners throughout life, and if we can nurture and care for them, they will in turn protect us, the human bodies that they call home.”
We will be going into more detail over the coming months on how to take care of your gut and in doing so taking care of your overall health so stay tuned for more from Gut Reaction.
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The Content on this page was taken from the book, Gut Reactions by Justin & Erica Sonnenburg