Graduate Practitioner, Paua Clinic
The human body is a complex, interconnected ecosystem and the gut is where the body interacts with the outside world. The gut acts as the frontline of the immune system, as it is constantly exposed to new microbes and molecules that come from the things we eat and drink. We have around 4 kilos of bacteria living in our large intestine; tens of trillions of micro-organisms including 1000 known species of bacteria that perform many functions vital to health and survival, and this microbial population is so complex, that researchers are referring to it as an organ in its own right, similar in size and weight to the liver. In fact it is said to rival the liver in the number of biochemical transformations and reactions in which it participates. Welcome to the incredible world of your micro-biome.
FUNCTIONS OF THE MICROBIOME
- Helps the body digest certain foods that the stomach and small intestine have not been able to digest.
- Enhances gastro-intestinal motility and function, digestion and nutrient absorption.
- It helps with the production of some vitamins (B and K).
- It helps us combat aggressions from other microorganisms, maintaining the wholeness of the intestinal mucosa.
- It plays an important role in the immune system, performing a barrier effect and maintaining intestinal barrier integrity, helping to prevent food particles and pathogens from “leaking” into the blood supply.
- Produces short-chain fatty acids (a pre-biotic food for good bacteria to feed on).
Many areas of health can be compromised when the bacterial balance of the gut flora (or microflora) is altered. The microflora can be divided into beneficial bacteria and harmful bacteria, and when the beneficial species are not present in sufficient numbers or when harmful bacteria are relatively high, then dysbiosis results. Poor diet, stress, antibiotic use and environmental toxins can cause dysbiosis, damaging the tight junctions between the intestinal cells. Leaky Gut or gastrointestinal hyper-permeability, is the result of this and allows toxins, microbes and undigested food particles to enter the bloodstream. Typical symptoms of Leaky Gut can include food sensitivities, thyroid problems, mood disorders, inflammatory skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis and auto-immune diseases. Other symptoms could include, bloating, gas, cramps, aches and pains, plus many others.
This all may sound rather grim, but the good news is that naturopaths are very skilled at treating dysbiosis and leaky guts. Some of the interventions we use are elimination diets (identifying and removing certain aggravating foods), the use of healing herbs such as slippery elm, marshmallow, chamomile and liquorice, the introduction of healing foods such as bone broth, and the use of supplements that discourage and inhibit the growth of gastrointestinal pathogens whilst repairing and protecting the intestinal mucous layer such as probiotics and probiotic foods, glutamine, pectin and collagen.
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