Meet Your Microbiome

How to Keep a Healthy Gut

by Diego Bodart

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As the field of medical science grows, we learn more and more about the importance of the body's bacterial microflora.

Our bacterial microbiome—or microflora—refers to the massive amounts of beneficial bacteria that live on and around our entire body, each one of us with different ratios, combinations and amounts of each bacteria; creating a sort of bacterial fingerprint that differs in every person. The known reasons why these "good bacteria" are beneficial increase every day, including: metabolism and digestion of any ingested material, control of mood and metabolism, immunity against pathogenic (harmful) bacteria, deconjugation or preparation of liver products, amongst many others.

Unfortunately, from the lack of knowledge of the importance of this crucial factor in our bodies, we have been raised with and taught habits, diets, actions and behaviors from previous generations that seem to be catastrophically damaging our internal microenvironment.

There is now, though, plenty research that allows us to aid and prevent all this damage; as long as one is willing to make the changes!

Just like any other organism, bacteria also need to obtain energy from some source. Microfloral bacteria in our intestines use the foods we eat to obtain their necessary components for survival, plenty of which we cannot digest ourselves. Compounds like indigestible long-chain carbohydrates (normally referred to as fiber-like pectins, cellulose, and hemicellulose) or lactose (most people can digest lactose, but a lot of it gets digested by bacteria) normally don't get broken down by us, but are digested by our good bacteria. After the digestion though, the bacteria excrete products necessary for our survival (Vitamin K, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B9, Vitamin B12) that we would not have been able to create without their help. Given this, our bacterial buddies (good bacteria) have methods of choosing what they're in the mood to eat (and by extension, what we are in the mood to eat), through chemical and physical signals. These cravings are so predominant, that our brains have less control over our cravings, food-seeking actions and moods involving hunger than these bacteria. This puts into perspective the enormous importance of our digestive microflora!

Microfloral bacteria don't really like pathogens (harmful organisms) coming into their turf to cause chaos and destruction in their home and eating all their food. For this reason, our microenvironment creates a protective force against dangerous invaders like Salmonella, pathogenic Escherichia coli (a common diarrheic bacteria known as E. coli) or Clostridium difficile (a very harmful intestinal bacteria that causes Pseudomembranous Colitis) amongst plenty others through brute force or the release of chemicals that prevent the pathogens from growing or wanting to stick around. When our bacterial buddies are out of balance or altered, the dangerous bacteria can take advantage and begin causing disease and damage in the now unprotected area (skin, gut, intestines, throat, or any other unsterile areas of our body).

The liver is the main filter in our body and plays a large role in digesting foods, drugs and other molecules that the gut, intestines or colon couldn't.

When compounds begin gastrointestinal digestion(digestion through the system of the stomach, intestines or colon), they get sent to the liver through the veins for further processing and breaking down. At the liver, products not ready to be absorbed by cells need to be modified or conjugated depending on the molecule (modification and conjugation are different processes performed by the liver to make them less toxic or more easily absorbed by the cells that need them). Some products aren't ready to be absorbed after a first round of liver metabolism, though, and return to the intestines through bile. In this second round in the intestines, the conjugated products aren't all absorbed properly (because of this conjugation) by the gastrointestinal cells. Our microflora helps deconjugate the indigestible conjugated material so they can return one last time to the liver, where the process is completed and sent to their respective cells to be absorbed or to the kidneys to be urinated.

The more complete our beneficial bacterial population becomes, the better off we'll be. Unfortunately though, most people have unbalanced microflora because of unhealthy and undiverse diets, toxin consumption, lack of sleep and exercise, high levels of stress and abuse of antibiotics. If someone eats very unhealthily, the bacteria that will live on inside them will be based on that, propagating their unhealthy diets; the same occurs with a healthy, wide-ranged diet. The constant intake of toxins like ethanol (alcohol), drugs, cigarettes/tobacco, fluoride/chlorine (in water, normally) or tide pods will obviously damage your body/mind/soul (self) but your bacterial buddies as well (as is inside, so is outside and vice-versa).

Sleep and exercise are two of the most important necessities in life, allowing the body to break down, release and increase resistance to toxins, stress and metabolites that can accumulate in the self and by extension, our Microbiome.

A lack of sleep and excercise, then, can agitate and weaken our beneficial bacterial populations. Stress is one of the most damaging factors we can impose on ourselves; by extension, the damage to the microflora is drastic as well. Antibiotics, though very useful in necessary occasions, is the easiest way to damage, alter and prevent an effective microbiome. Antibiotics have the function of killing bacteria of all shapes and sizes, pathogenic and beneficial included. With this information though, we can transform that damage into beneficial behaviors!

Now that we have become more knowledgable with regards to beneficial bacteria, we can begin acting consciously about how we treat one of the most important systems in the body (The Microbiome). Although it is a foreign factor, The Microbiome is very much a part of us... we should treat it as so! It is very important to stop abusing our beneficial microbes like we might have been doing for so long, and replacing those habits, behaviors and diets for new, productive ones. Our bacterial buddies love to "eat" vegetable fibers (they are what we call "prebiotics") more than anything!

Eating fibery vegetables (especially the stocks, stems and roots) will be doing them, and ourselves, a huge favor; as they consume these compounds gladly, they produce products like short-chain fatty acids (like acetate or butyrate) necessary for the survival of plenty of our own cells in the lower intestine and colon. Not only are there prebiotics in foods, but "probiotics" as well. Probiotics are simply simbiotic (beneficial) bacteria we can eat to add to our already rich internal environment. Products like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, even beer (without abuse) contain bacteria and even some fungi (the fungi can be beneficial to them, but aren't probiotics), that are accepted into the population with open arms; increasing the benefits proportionally. Other than this, simply healthy eating, healthy living, healthy thinking and just being healthy allow the necessary balance to simply occur without any further effort! Let's thank our Microbiome, by paying them (and therefore, ourselves) all the respect they deserve!

Thank you, Richard Moreno, for sharing with us.

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