Food for Thought
Gut-related messages are everywhere, in popular media and in science too. With the arrival of so many new health related supplements and advertisements promising to heal all your health woes, by correcting a problem you may or may not know you have, it can be a challenge to understand the functional importance of the bacteria that populates your gut, and the role stress plays in the health of your whole body.
Let’s go back to the basics.
What is the Gut Microbiome?
Your gut microbiome (aka, the gut) is made up of trillions of microorganisms and they are the genetic material that live in your gastrointestinal tract (aka, GIT). These microorganisms (aka, gut bugs) are mostly bacteria, and they play a key role in much more that how you digest the food you eat. The gut bugs help with things like:
- absorbing and synthesizing nutrients necessary for body-wide system function that keep your body running at its best.
- maintaining a healthy body weight
- helping you fight off infection
- brain function
YOU, your body, is the host to trillions of critters that are involved in processes that extend well beyond your gut. Much like having a certain blood type, each of us has a certain bacterial footprint that differs at least slightly from that of anyone else.
How Do We Develop Our Gut Microbiome Footprint?
Your gut began to populate with bacteria while you were still in the womb. When you are born multiple factors influence the type of bacteria you will live with for the rest of your life and that will flourish inside your gut. Things like the genetics of both parents, whether you were delivered vaginally or by caesarean, if you were bottle or breast-fed. As you grow there continue to be many factors that shape the bacteria that are thriving in your gut – things often outside your control that can be difficult to change, especially when we are children. Stressful events, illness, even lifestyle factors like the food we are fed, just to name a few. Our diets are chosen for us from the moment we are born. Our environment with the different combinations of habits and surroundings is too. For this reason and because there is still so much about the diversity of microorganisms found in our gut that science has yet to understand it is hard to say just exactly what makes up just the right balance of bugs for a healthy gut microbiome.
What Makes for a Healthy Gut?
The one thing we know that makes for a healthy gut is a healthy gut barrier (aka, the mucosal barrier). A healthy mucosal barrier is effective at keeping the contents of the gut, such as bacteria (the gut bugs), undigested food particles, and toxins from escaping and making their way into your bloodstream where they have no business being.
What Destroys the Mucosal Barrier?
Chronic stress brought on by a myriad of stressors (see 10 things that destroy your gut) diminishes the protective capacity of the mucosal barrier. This is where we get the term leaky gut. A leaky gut lets thing get where they don’t belong.
At ECo we tend to think that diversity is a good thing and based on the science, its not so much the bug’s fault. Having lots of different types of bacteria living in your gut is a good thing too. Diversity in the gut microbiome means your gut is better positioned for a good fight and able to resist pathogens when they are present – it is stress resilient. Instead of just focusing specifically on the bacteria itself, we tend to first focus on broader behaviors as thy medicine. Behaviors that are known to promote and protect a well-functioning gut microbiome like:
- Eating the foods that are right for your body.
- Getting plenty of rest and sleep.
- Staying hydrated.
- Having adequate exercise and daily movement.
- Reducing exposure to stressors both inside and outside the body.
How do I know if my gut is well or not?
Get to know your gut – look at your sh*t.
Constipation – if you only poop intermittently and you consume two or three meals a day, or worse, you only eliminate what’s gone in the other end only once or twice a week, the waste is hard, and you are gaseous, then your body is sending you the signal there is an issue underpinning your problem with pooping.
Diarrhea – persistent loose, watery stool may be a sign of an inflammatory process. It may be linked to food poisoning, severe infection, or the result of an inflammatory bowel disease like Chron’s or Ulcerative Colitis.
Odor – poop should smell bad. It is made up of stuff your body needs to eliminate, including the bacteria that give off smelly gases. However, especially foul-smelling poop may be the result of an underlying infection.
Blood – may mean hemorrhoids or small tears in the lining of the anus (not uncommon), or the result from bleeding in the upper or lower gastrointestinal tract. Take note of the color and number of times it has happened and call your doctor immediately.
Incomplete Bowel Movements – this is where you feel like your bowels do not empty completely.
If any of these poop problems persist it is a safe bet there is an underlying issue with your gut and Functional Medicine Lab Testing may be your next best step, looking more closely at your sh*t, your digestive system, it structures and its function so that you can fix the problem before it gets any worse.