“All disease begins in the gut” said Hippocrates 2000 years ago and he was right. We are only now coming to understand the complexity of digestive processes and their role in keeping the body healthy.Most of us understand the digestive system to be a series of organs and glands that processes the food we eat. Food is broken down into molecules starting in the mouth and moving on to the stomach, where digestion and absorption of nutrients continue. Further along the gastro intestinal tract (GIT) there is a transfer of other nutrients and water across the mucous membrane wall into the blood stream in exchange for waste products that are excreted through the bowel.
While all this is true, there has been a frenzy of scientific activity in the past 5 years that has transformed the way we look at our body and our health. The objects of all this attention are the microbiome and the mucous membrane lining of the gut, and their interrelationship.
What is a microbiome?
The microbiome is a collective of microbes that live within us, mostly in the gut. Your gut is home to a ‘zoo’ of bacteria but not until the recent advent of genomic sequencing that can read the DNA of our cells did biologists appreciate just how many of them there were within us: For every one human cell in our body, there are 10 microbial cells. There is a diversity of genus and species of microbes including bacteria, yeasts, fungi and parasites. A healthy microbiome contains mostly the ‘good guys’.
The microbiome :-
- is a collective of trillions of microbes on and in our body, mostly in the gut
- is composed of primarily bacteria, but there’s also yeast, fungus, and parasites – some beneficial to the body and some are damaging
- that has a beneficial balance of good to bad microbes, is a healthy microbiome
This community of microbes in the gut plays an important role in digestion and overall health.
The role of the microbiome is to:
- produce and synthesise vitamins, and the absorption of calcium, magnesium and iron
- provide fermentation of non-digestible dietary residue
- provide protection to the lining of gut promoting cell growth on the wall of the gut
- increase serum levels of immunoglobulin which is our first line of defence against inhaled and ingested pathogens at the surface of the gut
A disrupted microbiome can result in a build-up of toxins that can lead to gut damage and chronic illness. How we treat our own microbiome determines the health and quality of our life.
Mucous Membrane Gut Lining
The mucous membrane lining of the GIT is the gatekeeper of our body. It is the long tube that runs through our body from mouth to anus, processing ingested foods. It controls what moves across into our body for assimilation and what doesn’t.
Its role is to:
- protect us from harmful pathogens
- assimilate nutrients into the bloodstream
- prevent large protein molecules from entering blood stream that may cause an immune response
- provide around 70% of our immune system defences
New theory holds that the intestinal barrier in large part determines whether we tolerate or react to toxic substances we ingest from the environment, including pathogens. A breach of the intestinal barrier causes an immune response which affects not only the gut itself, but other organs and tissues.
A damaged mucous membrane gut lining is called ‘leaky’ gut and it changes the way the food you eat is processed. ‘Leaky’ gut is a condition that occurs due to the development of gaps between the cells that make up the membrane lining your intestinal wall. These tiny gaps allow substances such as undigested food, bacteria and metabolic wastes, that should be confined to your digestive tract, to escape into your bloodstream — hence the term leaky gut syndrome.
Once the integrity of your intestinal lining is compromised, and there is a flow of toxic substances “leaking out” into your bloodstream, your body experiences significant increases in inflammation. Also, your immune system may become confused and begin to attack your own body as if it were an enemy (autoimmunity).
As we understand the extent of the gut floras’ role in protecting the gut lining, we can also understand how easily it can be damaged when the microbiome is out of balance. Without the protection of a healthy microbiome other areas of health can also be affected leading to chronic illness.
Scientists have linked ‘leaky’ gut to a range of illnesses.
- autoimmune conditions
There is growing evidence that increased intestinal permeability plays a pathogenic role in various autoimmune diseases including coeliac disease and type 1 diabetes. The hypothesis is that besides genetic and environmental factors, loss of intestinal barrier function is necessary to develop autoimmunity.
- allergies and eczema
- diabetes and metabolic syndrome and obesity
- hashimoto’s (autoimmune low thyroid function) and other thyroid conditions
- poor mental health and depression
- cardiovascular disease
- some scientists say there’s a link to cancer
So, a balanced microbiome and a strong gut wall not only means optimal digestive health but also ensures a lowered risk of chronic illness.