We’re always harping on about gut health here at Holistic Room because it affects pretty much every part of us. It affects how we feel, how we deal with stress, how we utilise nutrients, how well we sleep, the strength of our immune system, the health of our skin, the speed of our metabolism and so much more.
In fact, there’s probably very little that the gut microbiome isn’t involved in. Our brain and body cannot exist without constant signals coming from the microbes in our gut. It’s a bustling, complex community that holds the key to both good and poor health.
How many critters do we have?
The exact number of bacterial species residing in the human gut can vary widely depending on factors such as an individual’s diet, genetics, environment, and health status. However, it’s estimated that the human gut harbours a diverse community of bacteria, with estimates ranging from around 500 to over 1,000 different bacterial species, each of them supporting the body in different ways.
Advancements in DNA sequencing technologies have allowed researchers to better understand the composition of the gut microbiota, but the field is still evolving, and new species are continually being discovered.
What can they tell us?
Scientific research is heading in the direction that soon, we could live in a world where health professionals test our gut microbiome in the same way we get our blood tested to determine the best course of treatment. Now that’s what we call the holistic way!
Go with your gut
Often described as a ‘gut feeling’, this sensation is the powerful instinct we feel but can’t explain. It’s a way to connect with our intuition, something we know by sense as opposed to logic. As research into the microbiome continues, the gut-brain connection becomes more apparent. Research has found that a healthy gut can help buffer us against stress and support our mental health and psychological wellbeing.
This of course works both ways, a troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress or depression. Digestive issues and mood disorders have a complex, mutually reinforcing relationship. In addition, gut bacteria produce around 90% of the body’s serotonin, a vital neurotransmitter that influences mood and gastrointestinal activity.
This would indicate that feeding the gut microbiome with a rich plant-based diet, which gut bugs love, may help support your mental health. In fact, a study called the ‘SMILES’ trial, was a 12-week controlled trial with participants who suffered with moderate to severe depression. Participants either received social therapeutic support or nutritional support. The results showed that more than 30% of those in the nutritional support group saw positive changes to their wellbeing, compared to 8% of those who were in the social support group. This demonstrates that a holistic approach is significantly better at treating depression than talk-based therapies alone.
The immune system connection
A gut friendly diet also supports the immune system. In fact, there’s a bidirectional communication between the gut microbiota, immune system and diet. 70-80% of the immune system resides in the digestive tract, so feeding our gut bugs well means we can strengthen our immune system.
The relationship between gut and sleep
Like the two-way relationship between the gut and brain, there is a similar relationship between gut bugs and sleep. In other words, disrupting our sleep could disrupt our microbiome and a disrupted microbiome could also impact our sleep.
Our gut microbiome is also responsible for producing hormones such as melatonin, dopamine, serotonin and GABA which all have a role to play in sleep by impacting our circadian rhythm, the internal body clock that governs our sleep-wake cycle.
A study found that total microbiome diversity was positively correlated with increased sleep efficiency and total sleep time. With its two way communication it has also been shown that a compromised gut can also negatively impact sleep.
The skin connection
Conventionally skin conditions are often treated by addressing the symptoms, not the root cause. When you dig further into the connection between the skin and gut, it becomes sensical to address the underlying root cause.
If the eyes are windows to our soul, then the skin is the window to our overall health. Whether you are suffering from breakouts, eczema or anything in-between, skin conditions could be a result of a compromised gut microbiome. It is not uncommon for people with skin conditions to also experience gut issues too.
A shift in the gut bacteria when there is a reduction of microbial diversity is known as dysbiosis. This type of disruption in the gut microbiome can lead to increased intestinal permeability, also known as ‘leaky gut’.
The intestines are lined with a barrier made up of cells that are tightly packed together. This barrier helps control the passage of nutrients, waste products, and other substances from the digestive system into the bloodstream. In a healthy gut, this barrier prevents larger molecules and harmful substances from entering the bloodstream.
However, in cases of leaky gut, the tight junctions between these cells can become compromised, allowing larger molecules, toxins, and even bacteria to pass through the intestinal lining and enter the bloodstream. This can trigger an immune response and cause inflammation in the body, that not only has a system-wide effect, but can also affect the skin. This also further emphasises the gut microbiota and immune system relationship.
The bottom line is that it’s all connected. We are all connected. A holistic approach to healthcare makes scientific, practical and logical sense, yet many of us are still poked and prodded as separate parts with little thought to how our body works as a whole. We have the knowledge at our fingertips to be empowered and make conscious choices about the types of treatments we wish to undergo to balance our bodies and maintain health.