We already know the microbiota helps with your gut health.
But it’s the far-reaching influence your gut microbiota has on the rest of your body that has scientists sitting up and taking notice.
We’re just starting to understand how changes in your gut affects the rest of you.
Due to the critical (and sometimes surprising) impact gut microbiota has on virtually every part of the body, scientists have been calling it “the forgotten organ.”
Your gut microbiota has a job to do like any organ.
Except, it has been understudied and underexplored until recently.
Experiments comparing germ-free mice (completely free of a microbiome) versus those with a regular microbiome show that germ-free mice (and presumably, humans) struggle to maintain good health without a thriving microbiome.
Your gut bacteria have very specific functions:
1. Metabolic functions:
Producing essential nutrients
- Your microbiome produces its own nutrients such as Vitamin K2, B12, Biotin, Folate and even some amino acids and fatty acids.
- Some of these nutrients are so important that the body has found a way using the microbiome to produce its own supply, in case you decide to feast exclusively on Coke and fries.
- Of course, the amount of Vitamin K2 produced by the microbiome is not enough to meet all your needs, but at least you have a small amount made for free.
Extracting benefits out of fiber
- A fair amount of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts are not digestible. Some plant-based dietary fiber reaches your large intestine almost completely undigested and intact. This is because, unlike cows, we don’t have the digestive enzymes to digest roughage.
- Once this fiber reaches your large intestines, your microbiome feed on the fiber. Their waste product (let’s call it Bacto Poo) are small molecules called short-chain fatty acids.
- These fatty acids are used as an energy source by the lining of your digestive tract. These short chain fatty acids also keep the bad bugs out by maintaining a healthy pH balance.
2. Structural functions:
- Your intestinal microbiota is involved in the development of the immune system.
- More than 70% of the immune system is located in the gut.
- The gut is 'front door' to our body and the gut microbiota helps our immune system to create a barrier against harmful bacteria from gaining a foothold.
3. Protective functions:
- It refers to the physical barrier provided by the microbiome.
- They prevent foreign microorganisms from establishing themselves on the extensive surface coating our digestive tract.
- For example, bacteria are able to produce specific anti-microbial factors that limit infections.
What happens in Vagus…
Like other organs, the gut microbiota affects bodily functions far away from your gut.
What happens in your gut doesn’t stay in your gut. (Vagus. Not the same as Vegas.)
Bugs in your gut can influence almost every organ of the body through the vagus nerve.
It is critical for healthy bacteria to have an upper hand. But, when unhealthy microbes take over (called dysbiosis) or your gut lining is compromised (leaky gut) they can trigger a long list of health issues.
- Think of your gut microbiome as an organ. A forgotten organ, one that needs to be nourished with healthy foods.
- A healthy and balanced gut microbiota is key to proper nutrient digestion and assimilation.
Stuff that must be said:
We sell probiotic supplements on this website. It goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway) that we do not make any claims that taking our probiotic supplements will fully cure dysbiosis or that it will fully restore your microbiome simply by taking a pill. Supplements can help, but supplements alone will not restore you to complete health. We think supplements are a small piece of the health puzzle. You cannot outrun bad diet and inactivity with pills. Most of the heavy lifting involved in restoring your health will have to come from you in the form of healthy eating and lifestyle corrections. In this article and the ones that follow, we are merely sharing our excitement about developments in this new frontier of science and doing our best to translate dense science into easy-to-read English. We geek out on nutrition science and we think you will too. We hope it makes you a more informed consumer. Our Legal Dept says the same thing in Legalese at the bottom of this page. Enjoy.
- Valdes AM, Walter J, Segal E, et al. Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. BMJ. 2018; 361:k2179.
- O’Hara AM, Shanahan F. The gut flora as a forgotten organ. EMBO Rep. 2006; 7(7):688-93.
- Wostmann BS. The germfree animal in nutritional studies. Annu Rev Nutr. 1981; 1:257-79.
- Guarner F, Malagelada JR. Gut flora in health and disease. Lancet. 2003; 361(9356):512-9.
- Den Besten G, Van Eunen K, Groen AK, et al. The role of short-chain fatty acids in the interplay between diet, gut microbiota, and host energy metabolism. J Lipid Res. 2013; 54(9):2325-40.
- Vighi G, Marcucci F, Sensi L, et al. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clin Exp Immunol. 2008; 153(Suppl 1):3-6.
- Jacobson A, Lam L, Rajendram M, et al. A gut commensal-produced metabolite mediates colonization resistance to Salmonella infection. Cell Host Microbe. 2018; 24(2):296-307.
- Bonaz B, Bazin T, Pellissier S. The vagus nerve at the interface of the microbiota-gut-brain axis. Front Neurosci. 2018; 12:49.
- Shreiner AB, Kao JY, Young VB. The gut microbiome in health and in disease. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2015; 31(1):69-75.
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