A Healthy Gut and a Healthy You

Nobody stands alone. You need bacteria and microflora.

Your body contains 15 to 100 trillion cells. Of that number, 90 percent aren’t you. Instead, they are microflora or bacteria cells living in your gastrointestinal tract.

The digestive tract is a complex ecosystem with hundreds-to-thousands of microflora and bacteria species. Some species are friendly and beneficial, such as lactobacillus or bifidobacteria. Others aren’t.

E. coli is the cause of "Montezuma's Revenge" and Salmonella causes food poisoning.

A symbiotic relationship exists between your body cells and the microflora/bacteria cells. A healthy gastrointestinal ecosystem sets the stage for a healthy host. In contrast, bad actors in the microbial community are implicated in diseases.

Digestion is not the only purpose of the gut. The ecosystem within the GI tract is responsible for other essential processes including: immune system regulation, vitamin bioavailability, sleep cycle, brain health, cytokine production, and vitamin K production. Claimed benefits of a healthy gastrointestinal tract include improved immune health, improved mood and mental health, higher energy levels, regulation of hormone levels, reduced yeast infections, and weight control.

A particularly interesting observation is that more serotonin is produced in the intestines than in the brain. Yet we think of serotonin as a brain chemical. Intestinally-produced serotonin reaches the brain, which is important. More serotonin supports better moods, less depression, and lower aggression. Some antidepressants are based on adjusting serotonin levels. That partly explains why dietary changes often help depression more than antidepressants. The term “gut feeling” has scientific basis.

The good news is that the condition of your digestive tract is largely under your control. In one view, the intestinal ecosystem is considered an adaptable and rapidly renewable organ of the body. There are two change agents available.

Diet is one. Microspecies that receive their preferred nutrients will flourish. Species that aren’t fed are disadvantaged in a Darwinian competition. For example, a high-sugar diet supports yeast buildup. That’s not good. Consuming foods nourish Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis is a better strategy.

Probiotic supplements are a second change agent. Friendly species are added directly by supplement ingestion. Commercial products are available with 10 billion to 400 billion live cells per dose. Darwinian competition is still the game. Daily consumption shifts the equilibrium toward friendly species.

Your digestive tract deserves attention. Your experience of life depends on it.


Jack Menear