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The Vital Role of our Gut Flora

Recent research has shown that 90% of the genetic material and cells in your body are in the form of gut flora and there is an ever increasing amount of research confirming the vital role these organisms play in your physiology. In a healthy person the gut flora predominantly consists of beneficial species of bacteria and yeasts. These beneficial flora help to control opportunistic flora (harmful species within the gut such as, parasites, bacteria, yeasts) and harmful transitional flora, while also aiding other key functions which are crucial in maintaining our health and well-being.  It is certainly our experience in practice, that as people improve the health of their gut and the balance of their gut flora, they usually see an array of health improvements.  Improving the balance of your gut flora also makes it easier to specifically target a particular health complaint or condition successfully.  This is the case for a number of reasons, which will become more clear as you learn about the key functions these flora have.

Key Functions of your Beneficial Gut Flora

Protecting your body from invading harmful organisms

Your beneficial flora produce substances that have an antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal effect and they also produce organic acid to keep your pH at an optimal range (optimal pH is essential for proper digestion).  Your beneficial flora also work to inactivate carcinogens(cancer causing agents) and suppress hyperplastic (abnormal increase in cell numbers) processes which are a cause of cancer.

Maintaining healthy gut wall integrity

Your gut wall acts as a physical barrier and the health of the gut wall is dependent on proper nutrition along with a healthy population of beneficial gut flora to encourage proper growth and repair of the cells (enterocytes) that make up this wall.  The gut flora produce 70% of the energy required by the cells of the gut wall to function properly.  “Bad” flora produce toxic substances that are damaging to the tight junctions (joins) between the cells of the gut wall. As the gut wall deteriorates due to these toxins, permeability of the gut wall eventually occurs, meaning the gut is no longer a sealed unit and things that should not be entering your bloodstream will enter your blood stream. This creates immune dysfunction as the body reacts to partially digested food and toxins that entered the blood through the gut wall.  These toxins are also harmful to your physiology, creating a variety of general health problems at varying levels of severity.

Assisting in appropriate digestion and absorption of food and liquid

Your beneficial flora help to complete the digestive process – they can digest protein – recycle cholesterol, bile acids – ferment carbohydrates, break down fats and fibre.  When there is a minimal population of “good” flora it becomes difficult to digest fibre and lactose (milk sugar) and instead the fibre and  lactose can feed opportunistic (“bad”) flora.  As mentioned, your beneficial flora maintain healthy enterocyte growth and repair and it is these enterocytes that possess brush border enzymes that are essential for proper breakdown of food.

Detoxification

Some beneficial flora act to chelate heavy metals and neutralise other toxins (such as nitrates, indoles etc) and poisons we come in contact with.  They work to inactivate histamine which is one of the reasons we see improvements in the severity and frequency of people’s allergies once they improve the health of their gut.  Some have cell walls that can absorb heavy metals and other toxins so they can be carried out of the body.

Vitamin Production/Synthesis

There are “good” flora that produce Vitamin K2, B5, B9, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, amino acids and more.  This means that when your intake of these nutrients is temporarily in short supply or your demands increase, your flora can help to maintain sufficient supply to your body.

Immune system modulation (maintaining properly balanced and effective immunity)

The proper inoculation of a baby’s digestive tract is key in the proper maturation of the immune system and this must happen in the first twenty days of life or the baby’s immunity will be somewhat compromised.  Its important to remember that our first exposure to beneficial and opportunistic flora is when we pass through the birth canal or in the case of cesarean babies, their first exposure is the doctor’s hands, followed by their parents skin and the milk they consume.  This is why it is crucial for expectant mothers and nursing mothers to place great importance in the maintenance of their own healthy gut flora.

The flora in the gut are the basis for the flora within other mucus membranes in the body such as your nose, throat, bladder, urethra (urinary tract), genitals and saliva. Beneficial flora aid in the production of secretory IgA, which is an immune factor produced in all mucous membranes which helps to protect from bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.

The “good” gut flora help macrophages and neutrophils work properly so they can engulf and destroy unwanted bugs.  They also balance the action of your immune system, ensuring it responds in the correct way to a given stimulus.  This is one of the reasons why we see the severity of people’s autoimmune conditions improve when the gut flora are properly balanced.  Opportunistic or “bad” flora can alter the way the immune system works via the production of cytokines which can trigger abnormal responses in various situations.  For example, parasites can make the body more vulnerable to bacterial or fungal overgrowth, which is due to the effect the parasite has on the action of the immune system and its ability to detect invaders and deal to them.

At Total Health Chiropractic, we place strong emphasis on maintaining a healthy gut flora to ensure better health and well-being. Contact us today to improve your gut’s balance.