There is overwhelming data showing that the microbes that live in our gut (the intestinal microbiota) are critical to our well-being. Our diet and various environmental factors greatly influence these microbes. This is especially so in times of stress and change – as we are all currently experiencing.
The intestinal microbiota is comprised of millions and millions of microbes – mainly bacteria, but also viruses and others. We acquire these organisms early in life – typically by the time we are three years of age the patterns of these organisms are established and persist for the rest of our lives.
These microbes undertake many varied functions – we need them for maintenance of nutrition and health. They interact continuously with the lining cells of the gut and our immune system. Changes in this community of organisms and variations in the interactions between them and our body can lead to many different disease states, from depression to anxiety, and obesity to irritable bowel syndrome.
The old saying “we are what we are eat” is especially relevant in terms of our intestinal microbiota. The foods we eat influence and change our inner microbes.
A wide-ranging diet, with many whole foods and fibre-containing foods, generally encourages the growth of many beneficial organisms. In contrast, a restricted diet, with high fat and high calorie foods, typically leads to less diversity of organisms and prompts the preferential growth of potentially dangerous microbes.
Environmental factors, such as antibiotics, alcohol intake and stress also greatly influence the patterns and well-being of the intestinal microbiota. Antibiotics may temporarily change the balance between groups of organisms and enable excessive growth of unfavourable bacteria. Alcohol also impacts adversely upon the range and function of the gut bacteria.
Further, many of us will be aware of the term “butterflies in my tummy” in stress-full circumstances. As well as impacting upon gut sensations (e.g. pain), stress also adversely affects the intestinal microbiota.
Consequently, in the current lockdown situation we are facing, taking care of our bowels and our inner microbes, is especially important. Maintaining healthy eating patterns, ensuring regular exercise, modest alcohol ingestion and use of strategies to minimise or reduce stress will all be critical in maintaining our gut health and our overall well-being now and into the future! Don’t forget the importance of our inner microbes!
To find out more check out www.thegut.org.nz