Could Gut Health Be At the Root of Your Health Issues?
Do you struggle with niggling symptoms that won’t let up?
Maybe you experience seasonal allergies, food sensitivities or a skin condition…
Or maybe you’re suffering with a chronic condition such as autoimmunity.
In either case, you may have even been told that there is nothing you can do. Many conventional treatments attempt to control these symptoms, but none truly address the root cause.
But what if these symptoms were actually stemming from poor gut health?
While at first, many of these health conditions may seem unrelated to our gut – it might surprise you to learn that the gut has a much larger impact on our health than previously thought. In fact, research over the past decade is discovering that the gut has many far-reaching effects on our health + wellbeing!
The Role of Gut Health in our Wellbeing
Over 2000 years ago, Hippocrates famously stated that “all disease begins in the gut”… and he was absolutely onto something! Fast forward to today, and a growing body of evidence is suggesting that a healthy gut really is the foundation of our health and wellness.
So why is gut health *so* important? Aside from helping us to break down + absorb nutrition from our food, the gut also houses over 100 trillion bacteria (1). This forms an inner ecosystem known as our gut microbiome. Much like a jungle, our microbiome is a highly complex and diverse environment, comprising over 500+ species of bacteria, fungi and yeasts (2). Ongoing research into the composition and diversity of our microbiome has discovered many profound ways in which these microbes interact with us. Studies have even found that these microbes communicate directly with our brain (via the gut-brain axis) and thus have far-reaching effects on our health + wellbeing.
What’s more, our gut is also closely connected to our immune system. In fact, about 70% of our immune system resides in and around our gut (3). Considering that many common diseases today are related to uncontrolled or misdirected immune responses (think: allergies, food sensitivities, autoimmunity), you can appreciate just how significant this fact is!
The problem today, is that good gut health is not the norm. In fact, poor gut health is extremely common in our Western society. Dysbiosis and leaky gut are two underlying factors that contribute to many of our modern day health concerns.
Recall that our microbiome is a complex and highly diverse ecosystem. Like any other ecosystem, it exists in a delicate balance – with each bacterial niche competing for food, resources and real estate to survive + thrive.
In a healthy microbiome, our “good” bacteria outnumber “bad” bacteria. These “good” bacteria take up space in the gut, effectively crowding-out opportunistic strains and preventing them from taking up residency. As a result, populations of “bad” bacteria are tightly controlled… and we experience all the benefits that come with a balanced microbiome!
Now, imagine what happens when this delicate ecosystem becomes disturbed.
Add stress, poor diet and antibiotics… and suddenly we have the perfect conditions to support an uprising of “bad” bacteria. As these opportunistic strains start to overgrow, numbers of good bacteria are diminished. This results in what we call “dysbiosis”, or an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Keep in mind that this often involves the overgrowth of several different species (rather than simply “candida”).
In the short term, dysbiosis can cause a number of uncomfortable digestive symptoms (ever taken a course of antibiotics? 😳). However, longstanding dysbiosis can lead to leaky gut, immune dysregulation and several diseases that are becoming increasingly common in the West. For starters, dysbiosis has been associated with obesity, inflammatory bowel diseases, neurological disorders and even certain cancers (4).
In order to thrive + be at our best, we want maximise nutrient absorption and minimise inflammation wherever possible. This is achieved in part by the intracellular tight junctions that line our digestive tract. When these tight junctions are intact, they form a barrier between the outside world and our bloodstream. This prevents large, unwanted particles from entering our circulation where they don’t belong!
As it sounds, leaky gut (AKA “increased intestinal permeability”) is a condition where the cellular tight junctions lining our gut start to widen. This effectively allows larger particles including proteins, bacterial byproducts (i.e. LPS or endotoxin) and toxins to “leak” across into our bloodstream. This stimulates a systemic, low-grade inflammatory response.
So why do these tight junctions become leaky? One mechanism is through the upregulation of a protein known as zonulin, which modulates tight junction permeability. When elevated, zonulin causes these tight junctions to widen. Two well-established triggers that cause leaky gut include dysbiosis and gliadin (a component of gluten!) (5).
Over time, chronic low-grade inflammation (via leaky gut) may trigger autoimmunity in predisposed individuals – think hashimotos, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis… some fairly serious issues!
Related: 5 Reasons To Live Gluten Free
Risk Factors for Poor Gut Health
There are several risk factors which may contribute to dysbiosis and poor gut health. It’s likely that you’ve been affected by at least one (or all!) of these factors, which include:
- C-section birth: The composition of the microbiome in infancy is influenced heavily by the mother and mode of delivery. Unlike vaginally born babies which receive vaginal microbes, those born by c-section are colonised predominantly by skin bacteria and have a less diverse microbiome (6). Interestingly, a C-section delivery is also associated with a greater risk of developing asthma, obesity and inflammatory bowel disease in later life (7, 8, 9).
- Formula feeding during infancy: Breast feeding is another way that bacterial strains of the mother are shared with the baby (10). Even in small amounts, formula feeding can alter the diversity and composition of the infants microbiome.
- Antibiotic exposure: Quite literally, antibiotics destroy our gut bacteria. Depending on the spectrum of the antibiotic used, this may affect a number of strains both directly and indirectly by disrupting the microbiome and permitting the overgrowth of opportunistic bacteria (11).
- Western Diet: Diets high in refined sugars and carbohydrates provide a food source for pathogenic bacteria and contribute to dysbiosis.
- High level of hygiene: Our modern tendency towards being overly-hygeinic also reduces our exposure to healthy microbes. This even includes other commensal parasites, such as helminth worms which were once a healthy part of our gut microbiome (12).
- Stress: In its many forms, stress damages our gut and contributes to dysbiosis by lowering our stomach acid and enzyme secretion. This in turn, alters the pH of our digestive system and can cause a dramatic shift the microbiome (13).
Common Signs & Symptoms
Although seemingly unrelated, many common conditions today are linked to poor gut health. This may include:
- Food sensitivities
- Asthma and allergies (14)
- Malabsorption and nutrient deficiencies
- Autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis + hashimotos (15, 16)
- Obesity (17)
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (18, 19)
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) (20)
- Digestive symptoms including constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and reflux
- Skin conditions including acne, eczema + rosacea (21, 22, 23)
- Mood disorders including anxiety + depression (24)
Start Your Gut Healing Journey
By now, I hope you can appreciate just how important gut health is to our overall physical health + wellbeing!
If you’re ready to start healing your gut, be sure to download our FREE Week 1 Plan. It includes all our essential tips and tricks to start the gut healing journey, plus a detailed Meal Plan outlining breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for your first week!