We’ve already covered what’s in our gut, different things that can damage our inner ecosystem, (here and here), and now we’re going to talk about the different ways that our gut flora affects the health of our entire body.
This is the more obvious affect of imbalanced gut flora. Anyone who’s had food poisoning can tell you that eating spoiled food has some major consequences to your GI tract. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are the result of an influx of bad bacteria that your body is trying desperately to get rid of. This is a pretty extreme example of an imbalanced gut. However, a more low level, constant imbalance can still cause diarrhea and even constipation. A large part of the bulk of your stool is actually dead bacteria, and if you don’t have enough of the good bacteria in your gut, constipation can result. An overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria also leads to increased intestinal gas production, which manifests as bloating, cramping, and foul smelling gas. That extra weight you have around your midsection that you can’t seem to get rid of may in part be inflammation in your gut, constipation, and intestinal gas. Rebalance your gut flora, and you may be surprised to find your pants fitting a little better than they did before.
This is perhaps one of the scariest consequences of imbalanced gut flora. People with an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria in their gut sustain damage to their intestinal walls, eventually leading to breakdown of the mucosa and increased permeability of the intestines themselves. As the intestines become permeable and partially digested particles begin to leak into the blood stream, the immune system becomes activated. This chronic, low level immune activation is now being called silent inflammation. It is associated with everything from autism to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia, and multiple sclerosis. Inflammation in the gut leads to inflammation everywhere else, including the brain.
Have you noticed the increasing number of babies that suffer from eczema? This is another disorder linked with intestinal health and silent inflammation. Anything from dandruff to rashes, eczema and rosacea can be tied back at least in part to an unhealthy, inflamed gut. If you want that beautiful, soft skin, its important to make sure that you’re taking care of your inner ecosystem.
Increasing Food Allergies
This one is a bit of a chicken and egg question, which came first, an unhealthy gut or food allergies? The truth is probably a little bit of both. There may be some foods you simply can’t tolerate, the most common being wheat, dairy, eggs, nuts and soy. If you don’t know you’re intolerant, you don’t realize the damage being done to your intestines as you eat them. As the intestines become damaged and leaky and other food particles leak out, you may develop more intolerances. Your body knows that these food particles aren’t supposed to be in your blood stream, so it mounts an attack. Now the next time you eat that food and it hits your bloodstream, you’re already primed to respond. Until you break the cycle of inflammation and leaky gut, you’ll continue to develop more and more food sensitivities, leading to increasing levels of silent inflammation and risk of chronic disease.
Decreased Nutrient Production and Absorption
The beneficial bacteria in our intestines help us break down food and produce vitamins and cofactors for us. Without them, we don’t digest our food completely, we can’t produce all the necessary vitamins we need for our metabolic processes, and our inflamed intestinal walls don’t absorb all the nutrients they should. What we’re left with is a constant level of malnourishment, and all the metabolic processes in our body are eventually affected.
The good news in all of this is that taking care of your intestinal ecosystem will have far reaching effects throughout your body, and greatly decrease your risk for these conditions, as well as a laundry list of others. Think of it like weeding your garden. If you pull the weed out by the roots in the beginning, you avoid the numerous others that will pop up from that first plant. Take care of your gut now, and your body will thank you later.