Today we are challenged on many fronts: lifestyle and diet, deficient intestinal flora, stress, toxic chemicals in our food/water/environment, consumption of alcohol and frequent use of antibiotics all deplete our healthy supply of beneficial bacteria. This allows disease to take hold.
This week we’re going to take a closer look at the factors that can affect our microbiome…
In vaginally-born babies, the bacteria destined for the gut microbiota originate primarily in the maternal birth canal and rectum. Once these bacteria are swallowed by the newborn, they travel through the stomach and colonise the upper and lower intestine.
Infants born by caesarean section don’t encounter these bacteria. Instead, bacteria from the skin and hospital environment quickly populate the bowel. As a result, the bacteria inhabiting the lower intestine following a caesarean birth can differ significantly from those found in the vaginally-born baby.
For similar reasons, breast feeding is incredibly important for a healthy microbiome.
Psychological stress can have a detrimental effect on the microbiota. Long-term stress takes its toll on the gut by reducing microbial diversity and lowering numbers of friendly flora.
Your gut bacteria are vulnerable to your diet and lifestyle. If you eat a lot of sugar, processed foods and refined grains, your gut bacteria are going to be compromised because these foods in general will destroy healthy microflora and feed bad bacteria and yeast.
Another way is to eat fermented foods as they contain naturally occurring probiotics, which encourage the growth of essential bacteria in our gut and may help to prevent the bad bacteria from damaging our health.
In a study by Prof Tim Spector of King’s College London, a student ate junk food exclusively for 10 days. He found that the subject started with 3,500 different bacterial species, but after 10 days that had fallen by more than a third, leaving him with an imbalance dominated by one type, Bacteroidetes. This is just one piece of evidence that diet is imperative to a healthy gut.
Most often, antibiotics are responsible for the shift in bacteria balance. Women are familiar with this because they’ll often get a yeast infection after taking a course of antibiotics. So always avoid unnecessary antibiotic use and limit it to short courses wherever possible.
Where you live will determine the number of different species of bacteria you have in your gut. Western, urban countries have a lower bacteria diversity compared to less industrialised places. Traditional farming or fishing populations for instance, will have many more different types of bacteria, and countries that consume a lot of fermented foods will also have more diverse gut bacteria.
At birth and throughout childhood, we have a reduced number of gut bacteria. When we reach adulthood, we should have the optimum number of bacteria which will naturally dwindle with increasing age. Early on disturbance of the developing gut microbiota has the potential to significantly impact on neurodevelopment and potentially lead to adverse mental health outcomes in later life. Similarly, the microbiota may contribute to the ageing process and increase the risk of neurodegenerative disorders in old age.
As you can see, there are many factors that can affect bacteria levels and diversity in the gut. All of the systems within your body work closely together to maintain optimal health, so when one system is unbalanced it can trigger a domino effect; causing problems in other areas of your body and creating a cascade of chronic health complications.
So what complications are we talking about here? Tune in for the third and final part next week!
If you have any questions about this topic, please don’t hesitate to give us a call on 01722 512 043.