How Good Gut Health Can Boost Your Immune System
Over the last 100 years, with the industrialization of our food supply, our diet has changed dramatically. This highly processed, high-sugar, high-fat, low-fiber diet has substantially altered our gut bacteria, contributing to the epidemic I call diabesity.
The food we eat not only feeds our fat cells, but also determines what kind of inner garden we are growing in our guts. This garden is filled with bugs that determine more about your health and your emotional and mental wellbeing than you ever imagined! Getting your gut bacteria healthy is one of the most important things you can do to get and stay healthy. If your bacteria are sick, so are you!
The foundation of good gut health begins with what you eat. Focus on fiber-rich vegetables, low-sugar fruits, non-gluten grain and legumes. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Your gut wall houses 70 percent of the cells that make up your immune system. You might not attribute digestive problems with allergies, arthritis, autoimmune diseases (irritable bowel syndrome, acne, chronic fatigue), mood disorders, autism, dementia and cancer. Many diseases seemingly unrelated are actually caused by gut problems.
If you want to fix your health, start with your gut. Gut health literally affects your entire body.
Consider the important jobs your gut performs regularly, including breaking down food, absorbing nutrients, keeping out toxins and producing nutrients. That’s a lot of work! For optimal immunity, detoxification and nourishment, your gut must function seamlessly.
Your Second Genome …
Healthy gut flora becomes crucial for optimal gut health. Your gut houses 500 species and three pounds of bacteria. A growing field of research focuses on the microbiome, which Michael Pollan calls your second genome, and how it contributes to weight, disease and health.
Too many bad gut flora (including parasites, yeast or bad flora) or not enough good ones can spell serious trouble for your health and your waistline.
In one study with 123 non-obese and 169 obese Danish individuals, researchers found that people with low amounts of healthy bacteria had more marked overall adiposity, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia and inflammation compared with healthy-gut folks. They also noted the obese people with lower healthy bacteria gained more weight over time.
Gut bacteria thrive on what you feed them. Scientists are talking about fecal transplants (infusing someone else’s poop into you) for weight loss. A much easier and appealing approach is to feed your bacteria the right food and learn how to fertilize your own healthy inner garden. Give them whole, fresh, real foods and good gut bacteria thrive. Feed them junk, and bad bugs flourish, resulting in leaky gut, toxic overload, and inflammation. Fat-regulating hormones like insulin become out of whack, leaving you craving more junk food. The good news is that your microbiome changes with every bite of food, so you can positively alter gut flora beginning with your very next meal.
… and Your Second Brain
Your gut nervous system also acts as a second brain. Researchers find the gut-brain connection plays an important part in gastrointestinal function but also states of feeling and intuitive decision-making.
Besides your brain, your gut is the only organ with its own nervous system. Your small intestine alone has as many neurons as your spinal cord. Your gut nerve cells produce 95 percent of serotonin, and every class of neurotransmitter in your brain also resides in your gut. Your gut, in fact, contains more neurotransmitters than your brain.
You can understand, then, why the gut must be completely in balance for your brain to be in balance. Gut-brain disturbances manifest in a wide range of disorders, including functional and inflammatory gastrointestinal disorders, obesity and eating disorders.
We all experience gut feelings. You’ve likely felt “butterflies in your stomach” when you’re nervous or had a gut instinct about something. Japanese people view the gut as the seat of the mind and soul. When anything gets in the way of gut-brain communication, your health suffers.
What Imbalances Gut Health?
Even in a perfect world, our gut has a hard time keeping things balanced. But in our world there are many things that knock our digestive system off balance. Those include:
- A junk diet. This nutrient-poor diet makes all the wrong bacteria and yeast grow in the gut, leading to a damaged ecosystem.
- Medication overuse. Anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, acid blocking drugs and steroids damage the gut or block normal digestive function.
- Infections and gut imbalances. These include small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO), yeast overgrowth and parasites.
- Toxic overload. Including mercury and mold toxins.
- Inadequate digestive enzymes. Stress, acid-blocking medications and zinc deficiencies can all contribute to lack of adequate digestive enzyme function.
- Stress. Chronic stress alters your gut nervous system, creating a leaky gut and changing the normal bacteria in the gut.
In this blog, I describe five steps to kill bad gut bugs that make you sick.
Rebalancing Your Gut
The foundation of good gut health begins with what you eat. Focus on fiber-rich vegetables, low-sugar fruits, non-gluten grain and legumes.
You might also consider an elimination diet to address food sensitivities. Completely remove gluten, dairy, yeast, corn, soy and eggs for a week or two and see how your gut feels and what happens to your other symptoms. My newest book, The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet provides specific instructions about how to eliminate these foods and replace them with whole, real, fresh foods.
I often follow a four-step strategy with patients to reduce inflammation and heal the gut. Many find when they employ these steps, they lose weight, feel better and their symptoms improve:
- Remove the bad bugs, drugs and food allergens.
- Replace needed enzymes, fiber and prebiotic
- Reinoculate your gut with good bacteria (probiotics)
- Repair the gut lining with omega 3 fatty acids, zinc, glutamine and other healing nutrients.
For more comprehensive strategies to heal your gut, visit this blog. If you’ve ever experienced leaky gut or other gut-related issues, did an elimination diet or certain nutrients help correct the problem? Share your story below or on my Facebook fan page.
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As ocean waters warm and acidify, corals across the globe are disappearing. Desperate to prevent the demise of these vital ecosystems, researchers have developed ways to "garden" corals, buying the oceans some much-needed time. University of Miami Rosenstiel School marine biologist Diego Lirman sat down with Josh Chamot of Nexus Media to describe the process and explain what's at stake. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is killing coral?
I wish we had an easy, straightforward answer for what's killing corals. We know there are many, many different factors influencing coral abundance, diversity, distribution and health these days, but I think the specific answer varies based on where you are.
Temperatures play a major role at global scales, and then you have all of these other, more local factors like disease, physical impacts of storms, or ship groundings.
Researcher Stephanie Schopmeyer prepares to out-plant Staghorn coral onto a Miami reef. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
We had the dredging of the Port of Miami channel a couple of years ago and that caused a lot of localized mortality due to sediment burial and sediment stress. You also have land-based sources of pollution that can damage by location and nutrient influence that causes algal overgrowth of corals.
Local factors are superimposed on regional factors directly related to global climate change. Changes in temperature, more temperature extremes, acidification of the water, changes in storm frequency and sea level rise— all are at different scales — but they all combine to cause coral mortality.
Factors vary both spatially and temporally, but the outcomes are all the same. Regardless of where you are, we've lost a tremendous amount of coral.
Nursery-raised Staghorn coral out-planted onto a reef by a citizen scientist.
In the face of all those threats, can restoration work?
Historically, restoration was developed and used for acute disturbances. A ship runs aground, and so then there's a recovery, and funds are allocated to recovering the reef structure at a given location, and then corals are planted on top of that. But as global conditions decline for coral reefs, there's now a need to scale up. So, we're not just dealing with the localized impact—we're looking at species declining throughout their range.
We need other tools at larger scales, and that's where coral reef gardening has come into play, because it works at larger scales compared to just dumping cement and rebuilding reef structures, costly endeavors that recover just a very small footprint. We're growing and planting these organisms.
Do you worry about planted coral dominating the reefs?
Initially, these techniques were developed for fast-growing corals. The genus that we're focusing on, Acropora, is threatened, so these are very important reef-building species.
When abundant, they monopolize shallow environments. They form thickets, extensive areas of high-density colonies. That's the way they used to grow, until about three to four decades ago when they got wiped out by disease and other factors. The branching corals that we're working with grow between 10 and 15 cm per branch per year, so that's very fast growth.
Through recent advances in coral aquaculture, we're now also able to grow massive species, the ones that grow very slowly. Mote Marine Lab has developed microfragmentation techniques where they can cut coral colonies very, very small and make them grow very, very fast. Although we focused on branching corals initially, now most of the programs, especially here in Florida, are expanding onto other threatened species.
Citizen scientists plant coral. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Can these efforts solve the problem, or are they a placeholder until climate stabilizes?
You hit the nail on the head. One of the early criticisms of reef restoration was the scale issue and spending a lot of resources working on a very small footprint.
We've dealt with that now, over the past 10 years we've expanded to the point where we're growing thousands and thousands of corals—we're planting thousands and thousands of corals—so that issue of scale is no longer a valid criticism.
The other major criticism is that, even though we're planting a lot of corals, we're planting them onto environments where the same stressors that caused their initial mortality are in place. Now there is ocean acidification and increased temperatures, so things have gotten, in some cases, progressively worse.
Staghorn corals create a sustainable source of corals for use in restoration. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
That is a valid concern if we were just planting corals, but we're not just doing that. We're still concentrating on all of the other aspects of reef restoration, setting up marine protected areas to protect fish stocks and coral impacts, working to curb land-based sources of pollution, and setting up sedimentation and nutrient controls. And then, on a much larger scale, we're all trying to curb carbon emissions, trying to limit the greenhouse impacts and acidification impacts. All these tools just help us buy time.
We're also doing a lot of genomics work to see how corals can increase their resilience. A colleague of mine here at the Rosenstiel School at University of Miami, Andrew Baker, is stress-hardening corals. He works on coral symbiosis, and he found that by applying a little bit of non-lethal stress, he can make corals shuffle their Zooxanthellae, which are the endosymbiotic microalgae that provide energy to the corals. In that process, they're able to uptake Zooxanthellae that are more thermally tolerant. So, through the forced shuffling of symbionts, you may be able to buy these corals one or two degrees of tolerance, so that they become more tolerant to bleaching in future years. That is cutting-edge science.
We're trying to actually find out what makes corals survive, and trying to beef up their defenses and their resilience over time. And that's because we have access to all these coral genotypes through the active propagation from coral gardening.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
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