Feeding Gut Microbiota: Nutrition & Probiotics Are Key Factors For Digestive Health

“Diet is a central issue when it comes to preserving our gastrointestinal health, because by eating and digesting we literally feed our gut microbiota, and thus influence its diversity and composition,” says the distinguished microbiota expert Professor Francisco Guarner (University Hospital Valld’Hebron, Barcelona, Spain).

If this balance is disturbed, it might result in a number of disorders, including functional bowel disorders, inflammatory bowel diseases and other immune mediated diseases, such as coeliac disease and certain allergies. Also, metabolic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, and perhaps even behavioural disorders, such as autism and depression, can be linked to gut microbial imbalances. Although a disrupted microbial equilibrium can have many causes — infectious pathogens or use of antibiotics among them — the role of our daily food and lifestyle is crucial. Thus, the maintenance of our gastrointestinal health is to a considerable extent in our own hands.

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Gut Bacteria Trigger Autism

Our gut microbiota can influence our state of mind, including our mood and behaviour. In the recent issue of Cell, scientists reported that the compositional and structural shifts of microbes and associated metabolites can trigger autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms.[1] (2013, Cell 155,1451).

Neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD), are defined by core behavioural impairments; however, subsets of individuals display a spectrum of gastrointestinal (GI) abnormalities.

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Interactive Bacteria Chart

The journal Scientific American in their June 2012 issue looked at the social network of the bacteria in our digestive tract and on our skin. As I have previously stated the role of our commensal bacteria as significant players in our health and function is becoming more and more understood. Whilst those of us involved in alternative, complementary or functional medicine have regarded the digestive tract and its commensal inhabitants as a primary partner in the hunt for health – it is still a strange concept to the majority of clinicians who still focus on bacteria as the enemy.

The diagram below is extracted from the June edition of Scientific American, if you visit their interactive site, more can be learnt about the bacteria including links to a variety of related papers.

Copyright held by Scientific American

IBS Succesfully Managed by Nutritional Therapy

It will be of no real surprise to know that the incidence of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is common. Around the world it is estimated that some 10-20% of the population suffer from it. This is not an inconsequential number, and apart from the miserable statistics, it comes with loss of function, misery, anxiety, pain, bloating, altered bowel habits and loss of quality of life.

Whilst a clear explanation of the cause remains somewhat elusive, there is an increasing acceptance that the relationship between the brain-gut axis, central nervous system, peripheral stress response, infection, dysbiosis, barrier defects, inflammation and immune imbalance play significant roles in the causation.

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Review of Role of Probiotics & IBS Resolution

Functional gut problems, such as those classified by the Rome criteria as IBS are a significant health problem for many people. The use of probiotics as a single or multiple intervention offers a potential route to resolution, but the data is as yet inconsistent and in need of further clarification. This is the opinion of a group from Thames Valley University in a recently published review.[1]

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Specialised Protein Operates Independantly of Bacteria to Induce Mucosal Tolerance

The unfolding of bacterial homeostasis in the gut continues apace and with each new stone uncovered there are interesting pathways that provide avenues for exploration and explanation in the management of inflammatory bowel diseases and functional disorders.

A paper out in Science[1] has identified that the protein β-catenin has an important role to play in inflammation control (β-catenin is part of a complex of proteins that constitute adherens junctions (AJs). AJs are necessary for the creation and maintenance of epithelial cell layers by regulating cell growth and adhesion between cells) plays an important role in the management of mucosal tolerance.

β-catenin signalling promotes the induction of regulatory T (TReg) cells while suppressing T helper 1 (TH1) and TH17 cells in the gut by maintaining intestinal dendritic cells (DCs) in a tolerogenic state.

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Does Junk Food increase the risk of Allergies and IBD?

As discussed here on many occasions it is well recognised that developed countries are suffering from an epidemic rise in immunologic disorders, such as allergy-related diseases and certain auto-immunities. One of the proposed explanations and one that I feel most convinced about is the changing composition of our intestinal microflora and parasite burden. Our intestinal ecological changes  appear to be altering our ability to manage appropriate immunomodulatory responses to various ingested and inhaled antigens.

The Proceedings of The National Academy of Science Journal published a paper this June 2010 exploring the differences in the microbial communities between those children on a western style diet and those from a rural African community whose diet reflected that of a the early humans – high in fibre.[1]

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Vegas, Pregnancy, Immunity and Allergy Prevention!

The saying is ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’, or if you are English ‘what happens in Blackpool….’ but the same cannot be said about what happens in utero, as increasing evidence supports the understanding that the maternal nutritional environment and early feeding affects the health of the foetus beyond infancy and into adulthood.[1],[2] An article in Nature’s Mucosal Immunology this month explores some of the key events in foetal and neonatal immune management.[3] It stimulated a revisit to the area of what to consider for parents to be and mums of young children when they ask ‘is there anything I can do to prevent or reduce the risk of allergy or atopy in my child’.

The first moments, weeks and months of life can determine the health outcomes of an individual over the duration of their lifetime and this knowledge represents a significant choice for prospective parents. Fortunately the remarkable adaptability of the immune and central nervous system means that there are numerous opportunities in the early years of life to positively influence health outcomes even if the early stages were less than optimal.

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Is There A Rural/Urban Gradient In The Prevalence Of Eczema? A Systematic Review And What Can Be Done About It?

One in 10 schoolchildren in the western world suffers from eczema and even developing nations have also seen an increasing trend in the last few decades. There are many proposals to explain the increased incidence, one area of relevance is the environmental impact. Falling under the often misused ‘hygeine hypothesis’ title it has been proposed that there is a reflective difference in the gradient between rural and urban children. Implying the environmental impact on the developing immune system of children is different and therefore less protective in the urban setting.

This concept has now been studied in a recent article in the British Journal of Dermatology.[1] By conducting a Medline and Embase data base review studies that compared the incidence between the two environments were reviewed. Some 26 papers were assessed with 19 demonstrating a higher risk for eczema in an urbanised area, of these 11 were regarded as being statistically significant. A further 6 studies showed a lower risk of eczema in an urbanised area, of which just 1 was statistically significant.

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Fat – I’m Not To Blame Its My Bugs!

A trial to see if the ingestion of a probiotic bacterium enriched drink might have a beneficial impact on central obesity was funded by Snow Brand Milk Products company in Japan and the results were published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition this June 2010. [i]

Whilst it may seem a stretch that bacteria can influence our body mass, (I have written a previous review) it is an area of growing interest and investigation as bacteria have previously been implicated in the metabolic storage of fat. Studies in mice have shown up to 30% greater fat storage in mice with gastrointestinal colonies of commensals rather than their skinnier counterparts operating with sterile guts.

One proposal for this is that certain bacteria (Bacteroides Thetaiotaomicron is one likely contender) are able to manipulate energy to be stored in adipocytes through a pathway that involves microbial regulation of the intestinal epithelial expression of fasting-induced adipocyte protein (Fiaf), a circulating inhibitor of lipoprotein lipase (LPL).[ii]

The microbiota can then, based on this and other studies be viewed as a metabolic “organ” exquisitely tuned to our physiology and performing functions that we have not had to evolve on our own.

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