Gut health – one of my favourite subjects!

I have found myself really drawn to those magical little friends that live in our gut. So many issues that I am interested in will refer to a possible link with the gut microbiome. The list is growing, from obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, auto immune diseases, heart health, cancers of the gut…..I could go on. The AfNutr Twitter chat recently delved into the area of Food and Mood, there was no denying that the gut is linked to our mental well being.

The list of long term health conditions where the profile of the gut bacteria is significantly different between groups of individuals with active disease and those without the disease at all or those in a period of remission is growing. We need to know so much more.

Is the disease state causing the change in the bacteria in the gut? Is it changes in diet and lifestyle caused by the disease impacting the gut bacteria? The way we eat is affected when we have some level of pain or stress. Our physical activity changes. Diet is also altered when we are feeling less well or are suffering from fatigue.

Or is it the other way around. Are changes in the microbiome making people more at risk of developing conditions? Are the same genetic influences that predispose us to certain conditions affect the environment in our gut and as a result cause differences in the microbiome? Does this mean that some people have to eat differently to maintain a healthy diverse microbiome? Does medication used to treat conditions have an effect? Researchers are trying to answer these questions.

I believe that it is multi-faceted and that it could be a mixture of several things on both sides.

Recently, it was confirmed by scientists in Geneva that there is a link between Alzheimer’s and the gut microbiota. The next step is to see if manipulation of the microbiota can reduce the risk or slow down the development of this degenerative disease. The answers may take a while to come. There are so many different microbes in the gut and everyone’s microbiome is unique, there are so many possible interactions. However, there is a lot of hope that the microbiota might be key to improving the outcomes of people at risk or diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Studies looking into dietary effects on conditions where there are differences in the microbiome between people with or without the disease, often see improvements with a diet rich in plant based foods or with the Mediterranean Diet. Such eating patterns are often associated with reduced severity of symptoms, better management of symptoms or later onset of diseases (those that are more common in older age). Is this happening in part through positive effects on the microbiome?

There is, however, no doubt that the microbiota is a part of us. Like another internal organ that communicates with us on a chemical level. A truly symbiotic relationship where there is so much benefit for both sides that it is almost like we are one organism.

We feed the bacteria and provide them a safe, anaerobic environment within our gut. They break down food components that we can’t, releasing compounds that we would not have access to – certain vitamins for example. They breakdown some compounds that are not beneficial to us, that may cause us harm in the longer term. They stimulate the gut to produce hormones that signal to our brains that for now we need no more food – adding to the sense of satiety which helps to control appetite. There are studies showing that mood can be affected by eating diets that have a positive effect on the gut. In individuals with anxiety or depression the effect can work to improve the effectiveness of any treatment regime.

Have I caught your interest? Do you now have questions about this internal zoo? Then join me in my foray into the world of Facebook Live. The first conversation is with fellow AfNutr Twitter moderator and Registered Nutritionist Dr Laura Wyness, on the general topic of gut health on the 16th Dec at 19:30 UK/20:30 European. Join my Facebook Group ,Let’s Talk Food and register for the event. I look forward to seeing you there.

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