The gut-flora connection is becoming one of the most talked-about topics in medicine. We all know that our guts are home to trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms, but what we might not realize is how these microbes affect everything from asthma to depression. Studies have shown that there’s a correlation between changes in bacterial populations and diseases like colitis, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and more. So what does this mean for us?
It means that even though you can’t see your gut flora (bacteria don’t show up on an x-ray), it could still be affecting your health. In this article, we will explore what you need to know about this connection, including how it can be manipulated to improve your health!
Gut Flora Affects Health!
To start, let’s look at the different ways in which gut flora may affect our health. Here are some examples: It helps protect us from pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms like viruses and bacteria) by competing for nutrients and attachment sites with the bad bacteria. It helps regulate our immune system, which means that when there’s an imbalance in gut microbiome populations, it can affect an overreaction of the immune system (i.e., asthma attacks)
The bacterium Bacteroides fragilis has been shown to improve symptoms of depression in mice by increasing the level of tryptophan hydroxylase. If you don’t know what this is, don’t worry! Essentially, it’s a chemical responsible for producing serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine – all three are neurotransmitters associated with mood regulation.
There is also some evidence suggesting that changes in gut flora could play a role in cancer development. So how does our gut microbiome get all wonky-looking? One of the most common ways is by taking antibiotics, which can kill off both “good” and “bad” bacteria indiscriminately! This is why it’s important to take probiotics (a dose of good bacteria) while you are on antibiotics – studies have shown that doing so can reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
If you think about it, this makes sense; after all, we want our gut microbiome to be healthy enough that they can help us digest food and regulate our immune system – not be wiped out by some amoxicillin! However, there are other factors at play too, like genetics.
For example, some people have a genetic mutation that prevents them from producing the amino acid tryptophan. Some gut bacteria feed on tryptophan, and so these populations thrive when we don’t produce enough of it! With that in mind, let’s look at an example: say you eat a green pepper, which contains vitamin C. Your body isn’t able to absorb all of the available ascorbic acid (vitamin C), so it passes through your intestines unabsorbed and gets digested by those happy little gut-flora cells.
Of course, they are happy because this is how they survive – not only are they getting food, but they get to break down something indigestible! The remnants are then excreted, and the gut-flora cells that got food pass away. The remaining population has now increased because not all of them got eaten by your body – some passed away naturally.
What does this have to do with tryptophan? Well, let’s take a look at what happens next: say you eat another green pepper containing vitamin C the next day. Again, your body isn’t able to absorb it all, so whatever passes through gets broken down by gut flora – but this time, there’s already an established population of bacteria that love to break down ascorbic acid! So they happily continue digesting until their numbers decrease enough for new gut microbiome populations to move in and take over.
These new populations don’t like vitamin C, so they go in and break it down instead. Now imagine this happening for days at a time – the gut flora that produces tryptophan start to die out because there’s not enough vitamin C available! Then you eat something with lots of tryptophan in it (like turkey), but your body isn’t able to use all of it.
What happens then?
The leftover tryptophan gets broken down by the microbiome…except now there are no bacteria left to do the job! You see where this is going, right? This means that if you eat too many foods with very little tryptophan in them (i.e., vegetables) for an extended period of time, you might end up with a vitamin C deficiency. And what happens when your body doesn’t have enough vitamin C? One symptom is depression because your body can’t produce those important mood-regulating neurotransmitters.
But wait! There’s more: try not to think about the microbiome as just some separate entity that resides in our guts and affects everything we eat or do. It’s actually an integral part of us – not only does it regulate our immune system, but it also plays a role in regulating hormones, which is why it is very important to take care of your gut flora!
It’s easy to see that gut health is a huge factor in depression and mental health. The best way to take care of our gut flora is with probiotics, which can be found at your local grocery store or pharmacy for cheap! Try taking it daily and you’ll start feeling better in no time. This information should make you more informed about the importance of caring for your guts’ well-being!