Wellness begins in the gut and living microbes outnumber the cells in our body by 10:1.
In fact, you could say we are more bacteria than human and many scientists believe that bacteria are crucial to a healthy immune system and one of the most underestimated determiners of health in our time.
Within our gut is a delicate balance of about 100 trillion microflora, 10 times that of the human cells in the body.
These highly intelligent and sophisticated bacteria communicate with the gut wall receiving information from the gut-brain (or enteric nervous system) as to what our nutritional requirements are.
Then these bacteria and enterocyte’s (the cells that line your gut) set to work on supplying these nutrients to the body.
These helpful bacteria play a number of vital roles in the digestion of food; how we break down and absorb nutrients, how we react to foods and, importantly, they support 80 percent of our immune system.
Therefore, it is a reasonable to conclude that both disease and wellness begin in the gut.
The bacteria survives by feeding-off the foods that we eat and their excretions balance and maintain the pH levels of our gut. Good bacteria require a lower pH than pathogenic bacteria in order to thrive.
If your gut becomes too alkaline, pathogenic yeasts and bacteria can take over affecting overall health and the immune system. Beneficial bacteria excrete lactic acid, which helps lower the pH ensuring they thrive in the slightly acidic environment they help to produce.
As if that was not enough, another role of gut bacteria is to produce vital nutrients including Vitamin K and Vitamin B7 (biotin).
While we are only just beginning to truly understand how vital bacteria are to our health, clinical trials around the globe are proving bacteria are instrumental in the reversal of many diseases and disorders.
And we are not talking one or two species. While the majority of gut bacteria is made up of 30 to 40 different types, but there is an estimated 300 to 1000 different species all working in a harmonious symbiotic relationship to keep us, their host, healthy.
Good bacteria need us to be healthy to ensure their survival, just as much as we need them to be healthy.
When all is working well, it is a marriage made in heaven, however, when disease strikes, this organ is usually suffering. Many naturopaths treat 80 percent of illness through correcting gut ecology.
It is truly astounding what happens when we address this organ, which may sit at the top of the pecking order in how we should address illness. Sadly, modern medicine has some catching up to do when it comes to gut health.
When antibiotics were first created, scientists understood we had non-pathogenic bacteria in our body.
However, the consensus of the time was that they did not require further investigation because these bacteria were ’too microscopic’ to have any effect over the host.
By assuming bacteria did not contribute to poor health, they also neglected to explore whether or not bacteria were they in fact contributing to good health. This may have one of the biggest blunders in medical science.
Today, thanks to the work of Molecular Biologists Bonnie Bassler and colleague Peter Everett Greenburg, we have a much greater understanding of how powerful these bacteria are through their discovery of quorum sensing.
Bassler and Greenburg discovered that bacteria communicate by excreting chemical signalling molecules called auto-inducers.
They have one type of language used amongst their own species like a secret code, and another which enables them to communicate in a universal language with other bacterial species.
This communication is called quorum sensing, or quorum signalling and it essentially enables bacteria to function as a multi-cellular organism, which is why they are considered ‘The Forgotten Organ’.
Collectively, bacteria are able to influence genetic expression, which means it is imperative we learn more about how to take care of this forgotten organ.
We cannot ignore that the good healthful bacteria co-exist with opportunistic or pathogenic bacteria that can cause harm and that these pathogenic bacteria also communicate via quorum sensing.
In 2012, some 200 researchers from 80 research institutions joined to create the Human Microbiome Project Consortium and have used advanced DNA sequencing to identify the thousands of species, genus and strains.
Information emerging from this project could shape the future of medicine as well as functional foods in aiding medical conditions.
Functional foods are foods that contain health giving additives but,unfortunately,in many countries,medical claims about these benefits are controversial or even illegal.
The hope is that once mainstream research backs-up what is already known by the few, we may be able to label which foods can benefit specific ailments.
Imagine a yoghurt helpful for eczema in children, a probiotic drink that is helpful for weight loss, or a cultured vegetable that can help reduce inflammation and aids arthritis.
Healthful bacteria work to keep the immune system healthy by fighting off these unwanted invaders that have been linked to many chronic illnesses.
Commonly ingested medicines and modern, processed foods full of sugar and grain can destroy healthy gut flora and create an environment where pathogenic organisms can overload the gut and hijack the immune system.
The best way to protect ourselves from pathogenic bacteria, therefore, is to eat a diet rich in cultured and fermented foods and avoid ingesting foods and drugs which may adversely affect beneficial bacteria.
I have always believed in the forgotten organ and raised my three daughters over the past 20 years based on this knowledge. Not once have they required a single course of antibiotics and they remain vitally healthy girls with gorgeous skin.
I have protected their gut flora (and their immune system) and after some early skin issues like eczema, I realised what happens in your gut will show on your skin.
Therefore, by taking care of your forgotten organ and protecting your inner ecology, you will not only be reward with a vibrant health, but a glowing complexion that will have people asking what your secret is. It is no secret, it has just been forgotten.
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Deborah Murtagh – Wholefood Expert