What is sometimes called the “forgotten organ,” the gut is an active and diverse microbial ecosystem that dramatically affects human health.
Shannon Frink, a registered dietitian with the Mary Lanning Healthcare wellness department, spoke about the link between the gastrointestinal system and overall health during a presentation Wednesday at the hospital called “Gut Reaction: Creating a Healthy Microbiome.”
Frink’s presentation is part of a series of Mary Lanning wellness classes the hospital is now offering to the public.
“This is kind of an interesting area of health that is evolving,” she said.
Babies are born without intestinal bacteria but that gut microbiome quickly begins to take hold and is established by age 3. However it can continue to change throughout life.
One third of each person’s gut microbiome is common to most people, while two thirds are unique.
“It’s as individualized as our finger print is,” Frink said.
The gut microbiome contains tens of trillions of microorganisms with at least 1,000 different specifies of known bacteria with more than 3 million genes, which is about 150 times more than human genes.
The goal is to keep that bacteria as diverse and active as possible.
The most effective way to do that, Frink said, is to eat a variety of probiotic and prebiotic foods.
Probiotics are good bacteria — live cultures — just like those found naturally in the gut. These active cultures help change or repopulate intestinal bacteria to balance gut flora.
Probiotic foods include fermented dairy such as kefir, yogurt, buttermilk, aged cheese with live cultures; as well as fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, cultured non-dairy yogurts, pickels and kombucha.
Prebiotics are natural, non-digestible food components that are linked to promoting the growth of helpful bacteria.
Prebiotic foods include: Bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, soybeans, whole-wheat foods, high-fiber foods and vinegar.
Frink said supplements can be helpful but are not as effective as getting those same nutrients from food.
There is also early data showing adequate vitamin D is important to maintaining a healthy gut biome. Foods containing vitamin D include mushrooms grown under UV lights, egg yolks, fatty fish and fortified milk.
The gut microbiome carries out a variety of known functions:
— Digesting dietary fiber to produce protective metabolites
— Influence serotonin levels
— Exerts anti-inflammatory activity
— Creates an unlivable environment for pathogens
— Detoxifies drug and other environmental metabolites
— Synthesizes essential vitamins, such as biotin, foliate and vitamin K.
— Competes with pathogenic and opportunistic microbes, maintain intestinal epithelial barrier
— Influences development and maintenance of immune system.
By performing these functions, the gut microbiome and its metabolites have been linked to protection from various diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, autism, neuropsychiatric disorders, irritable bowel syndrome and most, if not all autoimmune disorders, including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. read more…