Gut microfloras and their implications for our health

I’ve definitely been enjoying the first few days of my break, I’ve been trying to write two blog posts a day to have them in my arsenal for the future… or maybe I could up to a few more than 2 posts a week during my winter break, what do you guys think?

My roommate drove down to Alabama for a climbing trip last night (I had to work :(); I am already feeling a little lonely at my place lol… although I am keeping pretty busy with work, blogs and climbing, I’m just a little needy apparently lol. I’m excited to go home this Saturday (and also to give that high school presentation on Friday :))

Here’s a picture taken of me at my climbing gym in the summer :)

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Bacteria make up the bulk of the biomass in the human gut; identifying factors that control the diversity and health of our gut microflora has become an exciting area of research. So what’s the big deal? This blog post will be about our microbial inhabitants that reside in our large intestine. Hope you enjoy!

So let’s start from the beginning… Our guts are sterile at birth and rapidly develop as a result of environmental exposures and diet. Breast milk, for example, contains many antibodies and lactose which promotes the establishment of lactobacilli (which promotes a normal immune function).The first weeks, better yet, days is vital for gut colonization. Depending on our blood pH, nutrient availability and bacterial exposure, different floras will arise.

Microbe exposure results in a quickly changing gut flora in infants, it isn’t until about 3 years of age that the microbes stabilize. Since bacterial exposure is much different around the world, gut flora will consequently be much different in each individual. For example, people who live in poorer communities have drastically reduced incidence of allergies, autoimmune disorders and inflammation (even if they move to cleaner environments later in life); this is a result of many factors including their gut flora. Early development of our gut floras through infancy puts us at lower or higher risks for many disorders (including diabetes and obesity). Something to add, antibiotics may modify our gut microbiome and immune response, especially when taken in our early lives.

After weaning, fibre becomes very important- fibre, along with inulin and oligosaccharides (which are resistant to mammal food breakdown enzymes), pass into the large intestine where our gut flora resides. These non-digested carbohydrates become a major energy source for the bacteria; our diet determines which microbial species that will be successful. When there are lower carbohydrates and/or more refined carbohydrates in our diets, less undigested food will make it to the large intestine and thus less energy will be provided to the gut flora.

In animal models, gut flora can promote either extreme or minimal tendencies to gain weight. Furthermore, obese animals have microbiomes with a higher ability to harvest energy from high carb diets. The common north-American diet consists of highly refined carbs and fat and lower complex carbs; this has been linked to the rise of obesity. Fructose and artificial sweeteners have also been linked to this trend. These sugar compounds, particularly fructose, changes our microbiome with altered metabolic capacities. Furthermore, a procedure that replaces the bacteria in the large intestine of an obese individual with metabolic syndrome with that of a lean relative actually produces rapid improvements in insulin sensitivity (sustained for weeks!).

So you’ve probably heard of probiotics and prebiotics, what are they? Probiotics are microbial foods that are taken to correct our gut flora. Prebiotics provide suitable carbohydrates to preferentially stimulate a certain microbe. Effectiveness of pro and prebiotics is quite controversial and further research is definitely needed.

So some concluding thoughts; our gut microbiomes, largely determined by the first few years of our lives, puts us at different risks for many diseases including diabetes and obesity. Fibre is an important component to keep a healthy gut flora, as well as a reduction of refined carbs, fructose and artificial sweeteners. Although short term diet adjustments have been shown to improve gut flora temporarily, long term life style changes are the best way to support permanent beneficial changes. For this reason (and others), crash dieting is probably not the best way to get healthy but rather a permanent healthy lifestyle change.

Anyways, time to go to the library to do some more research :D, hope you all have a splendid Monday!

Jen

Backhed F, Ding H, Wang T, et al. (2004) The gut microbiota as an environmental factor that regulates fat storage. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.4;101:15718–15723.

de Vos WM, de Vos EAJ.(2012) Role of the intestinal microbiome in health and disease:from correlation to causation. Nutr Rev.;70(Suppl.). doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00505.x.

Flint HJ. (2012)The nutritional impact of the human microbiome. Nutr Rev.;70(Suppl.). doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00499.x.

Jackson AA, Gibson NR, Bundy R, et al. (2004) Transfer of (15)N from oral lactose-ureide to lysine in normal adults. Int J Food Sci Nutr.;55:455–462.

Ley RE, Lozupone CA, Hamady M, et al. (2012)Worlds within worlds: evolution of the vertebrate gut microbiota. Nat Rev Microbiol.;6:776–788.

Relman DA. (2012) The human microbiome: ecosystem resilience and health. Nutr Rev.;70(Suppl.). doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00489.x.

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22 comments on “Gut microfloras and their implications for our health

  1. A Table in the Sun says:

    Nice overview of gut flora. Once it gets out of whack, it is extremely tricky to restore, so take care of your bellies, everyone.

  2. emileeorear says:

    Thank you for this. Awesome post.

  3. Table: Yes, it is. I’ve shifted my diet dramatically away from the way I used to eat. Not that I ate poorly, I just didn’t eat consistently well. Since I have upped the amount of probiotics and other gut-friendly foods into my diet, my whole GI activity is different. In fact, the first few days my body was acting like “what’s up” and I didn’t feel so well. But after a while it calmed down and now I feel better than I have in, well, probably my whole life.

  4. hellyharbord says:

    Hi Jen, Thank you for stopping by and liking my blog :-)
    I must say I have been glued to your all your articles, they are brilliant. especially this one…At the moment (as stated on my blog) I am attending therapy for Bulimia nervosa and one of the conditions is to see a dietian a few times a year! I have been once it lasted for about 20minutes and I must say I did not learn a thing…he just gave me a eating plan and didnt really explain anything to me…Ive read your articles and even just understanding how my gut works is really helping me to also understand what I may be doing to myself. Your a very intelligent and interesting person and I look forward to your updates!
    Helen xxx

    • Thank you so much! I’m happy that you like my blog so much :D. My mantra is definitely education over just telling people what they should and shouldn’t eat. Thank you for your kind words and I wish you all of the best for your continued recovery! You only have one body to work with, so take care of it!:)

  5. Very practical info. Hope to find out more posts soon!

  6. Hi Jen,
    Great thoughts here! Don’t forget to mention the different effects of soluble fibers vs. insoluble fibers, both of which are vitally important. It would be great to hear your take on how they effect the gut. Also, you noted that the gut flora “stabilizes” at the age of 3 – where everything else in the body is continually growing/changing/adapting throughout our entire life. Should this lead me to believe that the gut, unlike the rest of my body, is static after a certain age?

    • certain components of your gut are determined predominately within the first 3 years and wont change much, I believe your enterocytes are an example. But you definitely have room to improve, it will just be a bit harder than it would have been if you started off with a healthy microflora. Hopefully this answered your question :)
      Happy holidays!

  7. Amazing post as usual Jen, definitely one of the best blogs out there at the moment.

  8. bjjcaveman says:

    Great post. I’ve heard the entire microbiome actually be described as a separate organ! If you take all the gut flora in your body and weigh it, it comes to about 2 lbs…. Similar to be weight in your heart. There’s also research out there now suggesting a link between your gut flora and your mood. They can apparently release various signals that get transmitted to your brain via the vagus nerve, and depending on your flora composition can influence a persons mood! This is all very preliminary research though.

    • Interesting! Hot area for research, will have to find some of those papers when I finally get around to doing an article on diet and mental health! Do you have any links? Thanks for the comment :)

  9. kleyau says:

    Jen, do you take any pre or probiotics yourself?

  10. steffturner says:

    Great post Jen! I’m very interested in this subject. I try to incorporate fermented food in to my diet regularly. A shot of home made Kefir every morning, a little sauerkraut or kimchi with my meals. I have a very strong immune system and almost never catch the “bugs” that my family bring home. I’m also a very happy person… one of your commenters thinks there might be a connection there too. Very interesting! P.S. Thanks for all your support of my Blog…Happy Holidays!

    • Thank you :D I think that there’s most definitely a relation to our gut microflora and mental health (a newly growing area of research), obviously something is working for you; keep it up :). I’m glad you liked my blog because I certainly liked your :). Happy holidays!

  11. steffturner says:

    I didn’t realize that my Volunteering blog was my default. Of course I meant thank you for all your support for “breaking bread” …I think you’re my biggest fan :)

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