Gut health: fads and facts

It may be a hard fact to digest that we’re riddled with bugs, but in most cases, they’re not only important for a healthy gut, but your health in general!

Let’s take a look at some gut health fads and facts….

  1. Does “Leaky gut” really exist and what is the theory behind it?

The concept of “leaky gut” is still regarded as a hypothetical, medically unrecognised condition. Normally the lining of your intestine act as a barrier, absorbing nutrients and stopping certain molecules and germs “leaking” from inside the bowel into your bloodstream. Doctors do recognise that certain conditions or substances can affect the intestinal lining, causing irritation and inflammation, such as

  • certain drugs (anti-inflammatories, cortisone, blood-thinners)
  • alcohol excess
  • Coeliac’s disease
  • inflammatory bowel disease (i.e. Crohn’s disease)
  • food allergies
  • infections (Salmonella, Giardiasis, Norovirus, HIV)
  • chemotherapy, radiotherapy
  • sepsis
  • complicated surgery

Alternative health practitioners believe, however, that a “leaky gut” can be caused by factors such as parasites, too much bacteria and/or yeast in the bowel, overuse of antibiotics or poor nutrition. They believe that any of these may trigger the immune system to react to bacteria, toxins or other substances that have been absorbed into the bloodstream – leading to persistent inflammation, causing conditions such as diabetes, lupus, multiple sclerosis and other auto-immune conditions.

Is it true? Well, the theory makes sense, but the jury’s still out. Research is on-going as the gut is potentially regarded as the biggest immune system organ of the body. Symptoms linked to “leaky gut” include bloating, wind, cramps, food sensitivities, aches and pains, constipation and diarrhoea. But there is a huge overlap with a number of other medical conditions regarding these non-specific symptoms.

  1. What’s all the hype about probiotics?
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Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts, naturally found in the body, and they’re often referred to as “good” or “friendly” bacteria. While there are unfounded claims being made about probiotics, here are some medical conditions where they’ve been proven to be beneficial:

  • infectious diarrhoea
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • anti-biotic associated diarrhoea
  • eczema, certain allergies
  • oral health
  • urinary and vaginal health
  • in people who have difficulty digesting lactose
  1. So you’ve heard about different blood groups, but what about the 3 different gut types?

The “human microbiome” refers to the trillions of bugs (microbes) that live in and on us. They aren’t germs or ‘bad bugs’, but rather they belong there and contribute to our health and well-being. They live in the mouth, intestine, vagina and on the skin. The bacteria in our intestine falls into one of three distinct populations of bugs (a sort of ecosystem known as an “enterotype”). These bacteria have many important functions, such as helping us break down your food and helping with absorption, producing vitamins and stimulating your immune system. Each enterotype is named after its dominant bacteria:

  • Bacteroides
  • Prevotella
  • Ruminococcus

Every person has a complicated mix of many bacterial species and making changes to the gut microbiome could have implications for personalised medicine. In other words, eventually, treatments could be potentially tailored to an individual’s needs. It’s important to note that more studies are needed across a wider variety of people before this can be achieved.