In this episode, I dive deep into the topic of gut health and the gut microbiome. This is a fascinating overview of the interaction of gut bacteria and the development of disease. I cover how the balance of gut bacteria can impact the immune system and ways to keep your gut healthy.
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Episode 16 Transcript
Brigitte Factor 0:13 Hello, and welcome to the hungry for truth podcast. I'm your host, Brigitte Factor with truth seeker, researcher, scientist, nutritionist, teacher and truth teller, and awakening is coming. Get ready for it.
Brigitte Factor 0:47 Welcome back to another great episode of the hungry for truth podcast. Last episode, we talked all about digestion, and how when digestion starts to go wrong, what can happen with in the case of GERD and reflux, I shared a story of one of my children dealing with infant reflux. And then I also shared about different factors that can contribute to that, and how you can go about healing and recovering from poor digestion. Now, in today's episode, I'm going to talk more about gut health. So we're going to go down the tube a little more, and talk about gut health and how that is connected to immune health. So we're going to talk about gut immune connection. And gut health is my absolute favorite topic to talk about, because it is a central focus for a functional nutrition approach to healing. Because what goes on in the gut affects all other areas of the body. So we're going to dive into that today. First, I'm going to introduce you to this concept of the gut microbiome. And maybe you've heard that word before. And, and kind of have an idea of what that means. I'm going to pull this definition from the British Medical Journal, and I'll post a link to this reference. And the article is called The Role of The Gut Microbiota in Nutrition and Health. So microbiome microbiota get used interchangeably. But what the microbiome refers to is this collection of genomes of the microorganisms in the gut. So the microbiota is actually the collection of organisms in the gut. So inside of our digestive tract, there are over 100 trillion microorganisms, most of them are bacteria, but there's also viruses, fungi, and protozoa. And think about that, how we actually have more bacteria and viruses inside of our GI tract than we do human cells in our body. Now, there's some debate, some researchers now estimating that it's more like one to one, in terms of number of cells to the amount of microorganisms, and other research points to an estimate of three to one. But really to think about, we have as much or more microorganisms in our body than we do human cells. And when you look at the genes of these microorganisms, and compare that to the human genome, the human genome has about 23,000 genes, whereas our microbiome encodes over 3 million genes, producing 1000s of metabolites. And these metabolites provide a variety of different functions to the human host, which is us. And these microorganisms, and their metabolites have influence over our own genome, and they influence our phenotype. Now, I've talked about this word before in one of our my very first episodes when we're talking about epigenetics. And what this means is, phenotype is the expression of our genes. So these bacteria and viruses and fungus living in our system, are interacting with our own genes and how we express disease or health. In fact, these bugs that live in our gut have a direct impact on our health, our immune health, our metabolic health, our metabolism, how we processed food, how our body responds to that food. For instance, we have research that was published in Nature, talking about how people eating the exact same food, but with different types of gut bacteria will have different blood sugar responses to that same food, just because they have different gut bacteria in their system and the way it interacts with how our body metabolizes food. And to me that's really crazy, that they can have that kind of impact in creating a completely different blood sugar response in people because of how they interact with our system.
Brigitte Factor 5:40 And they can also affect our brain health, there's this gut brain connection. And again, this is that's another area I really love to talk about. But really, today, I want to focus on the gut immune connection. But before I talk about that, I really want to explain a little bit more about the environment of our intestinal tract, and why it's so important, and also why it's really delicate as well. So the lining of our GI tract is the same tissue as our skin, it's made of epithelial tissue. And it's actually only one layer thick, where our skin is several layers thick. But in our GI tract, that one layer gets folded upon itself many, many times. And that creates a thickness to it, because of all of these folds, and these folds are called villi and microvilli. And these folds, especially in our small intestine, are where nutrients are being absorbed. And the bacteria live in this interface between the inside of our GI tract and the inside of our body. So when we eat something and we chew it and it goes into down our esophagus into our stomach, and then makes its way into the small intestine, that is still technically outside of our body, even though we've swallowed it, it's got to be broken down. And those nutrients have to be absorbed into the bloodstream so that they can be sent to where they need to be used by the body. And so at this very critical interface between the outside world and what we swallow, and inside our body in the bloodstream, we have this lining of our GI tract. And on top of this lining, we have a layer of our gut microbiota. And in this gut microbiota is interacting with the layer of epithelial cells or our GI tract and interacting with this web that we have there. So not only do we have our gut lining the cells of our gut lining, but we also have cells from our immune system. They're monitoring what is coming through. And these immune cells act like security guard, so they can determine whether what's passing through as a nutrient or vitamin and mineral, or protein are nutrients that our body needs, or whether what's passing through is something that our body doesn't need, like a piece of bacteria, or a virus, or some partially digested food maybe. And when that immune cell senses that something is passing through, that's not supposed to be there, an alarm is sounded, the immune system responds. And how does the immune system to respond to an invader in the body? It does so by producing inflammation. That is the signal that says we have an invader, and that's signal, that inflammation or signal that is produced is to alert the gut immune army, or the other immune cells to come in and take care of this invader that is not supposed to be there. And so that is how that initial gut immune connection comes into play is that at this interface, where we're breaking down our food and absorbing the nutrients from our food, we have the bacteria that are playing a role in that. And we also have these immune cells that are weaved or woven into the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, monitoring what's going on. Also, at this very critical interface, we have nerve cells, we have cells from our nervous system, that are also monitoring what's going on because this is how our gut communicate. With the brain, because ultimately our brain is what controlling the functions of our body. And the way it does that is it has to send signals back and forth between these different areas to receive information and send information back. And it does that through our nerves. And so we have nerves, that innervate, this whole complex web of tissue. And there is a direct connection between the gut and the brain as well.
Brigitte Factor 10:31 Now, let's go back to the gut immune connection, because that's where I want to, again, talk more about today. I'm going to share with you from another article, titled Interaction Between Microbiota and Immunity in Health and Disease. And this was published in Cell Research. And I'll post a link in the show notes for those that really want to get nerdy and look at this. But in the introduction here, it says the microbiome plays critical roles in the training and development of major components of the hosts innate and adaptive immune system. So the bugs in our gut have a direct impact in how our immune system responds to the invaders of the body, you know, we can think about this in context of if we swallow something we're not supposed to, or if we develop leaky gut, that's where we start to get leaks between the cells of the intestinal lining and things start to come through that aren't supposed to like pieces of bacteria. The microbiome has a direct impact on how our immune system responds to that and how much inflammation is produced. The microbiome also play a role and how well our gut is woven together. So it plays a role in the integrity of that lining, how well do our cells or epithelial cells in the gut stick together and not become leaky is another way to think about that, and the bacteria are influencing that level of leakiness. Our gut microbiome also has an impact in how our immune system responds over all as well. So there's this communication happening between the immune system and the gut microbiome. And whenever the there are disturbances or imbalances in the gut microbiome, we can start to have immune dysregulation, so that means we start or our immune system doesn't respond as well as it should, or maybe even over reacts to what is there. And this overreaction of the immune system can as that it starts to develop and get out of control, that is ultimately what can lead to auto immunity or an autoimmune response. But then we can also have general systemic inflammation develop from that. So as the immune cells in the gut are becoming inflamed, or signaling that inflammation to happen, that's happening, right, as those nutrients are being absorbed into the bloodstream. Well, that inflammation is now being circulated through the bloodstream. So we have, as we have this inflammation happening inside of the gut because of the disturbances in the microbiome, or because leaky gut is developing, that inflammation is now circulating throughout the body. And we have this low level of chronic systemic inflammation, and that chronic systemic inflammation is one of the major drivers of chronic disease. So a chronic disease that we can think about in context of this happening is inflammatory bowel disease. And that makes sense in point, you know, when we are inflaming the lining of the gut, we're inflaming the bowels, and that can lead to inflammatory bowel disease. But this gut inflammation due to disturbances in the gut microbiome or dysbiosis, has also been associated with, like I mentioned before autoimmune disease development. An example of that is rheumatoid arthritis. It's also been associated with cardiometabolic disease or heart disease, and liver disease, as well. And it's also been associated with cancer development. So there's a variety of interactions or influences that the gut microbiome can have on our development of different diseases and also how healthy we are, overall. This interaction can extend to other areas of the body there, this this thing called the guts skin connection. So this inflammation can show up in skin issues, there's something called the gut lung connection. So this interaction can show up in susceptibility to respiratory viruses. This interaction can show up in our metabolism and what also what is called our weight setpoint. So there's a direct link between our gut microbiome and our weight and the development of obesity. The other thing that can happen as this gut inflammation comes into play, is that it can reach the brain. And when this inflammation reaches the brain, the brain's immune system responds and creates brain inflammation. And so dysbiosis, and these different types of gut microbiome disturbances have been linked to the development of different neurological conditions, and even mental health conditions.
Brigitte Factor 16:13 So how do these bacteria get in to our gut? How do these disturbances or imbalances happen? Or what is called dysbiosis, which just is an imbalance of the bacteria in our gut that lead to all of this? Well, we think that humans get their first dose of bacteria, their first inoculation as they pass through the birth canal, and you get your first dose of that gut bacteria from your mother. So that is a key question that I often ask my clients is, how were you born? And then did you breastfeed? Because breastfeeding has nurtures that gut microbiome. It has the right kind of fibers and nutrients in the breast milk that help nurture that. So we get this first dose of our gut bacteria from mom, if we're born vaginally. If we're born via c-section, we get the first dose of bacteria from whatever we come into contact and that hospital room, whether it's the nurse or the doctor, the bathing table, or whatever it is that you're touching and getting into your mouth. And eventually you make your way to mom. But that sets the stage for the balance of bacteria in our gut. And we have different types of bacteria, some that are supposed to be there some that are actually providing a benefit to us. And then some that are just hanging out in the background. And if they're allowed to get out of control, they can cause problems. And so we call these opportunistic bacteria once that are there, they're usually not a big deal until things start to go awry. And they start to cause problems. And when you know poor digestion or inflammation starts to happen, it creates this environment, like I talked about last time, that allows them to overgrow. And so when they start to overgrow, they start to overtake some of the more beneficial bacteria in the gut. And that leads to this dysbiosis where we have more of the ones causing problems and less of the ones that are providing benefit. And I'm trying to stay away from the word good and bad, because it's not a moral thing here is just what happens. So one of the biggest drivers to this dysbiosis is the use of antibiotics, because antibiotics wipe out all bacteria. But when you wipe out all the bacteria, you've created space for things to come in that maybe shouldn't be there. And so how often do you take antibiotics or have you had to take antibiotics now it's not that you shouldn't have taken them because if you have enough infection, you need to have that addressed. But also, being mindful that there you have to come in and restore that balance again, so that you can have that healthy relationship with your gut microbiome. Another big driver of gut dysbiosis is a poor diet or a Standard American Diet or diet full of processed foods. Because the not so good for us bacteria, love to eat processed food, they love to feed off sugar and starches. But our healthy and beneficial bacteria love to eat fiber. That's what they thrive on. That's what they metabolize and that's what produces these other nutrients that nourish our intestinal lining. And so having a diet high in fiber and low in processed foods is going to be very critical in the balance of bacteria in your gut, as well as its impact on your immune system. And so there are studies showing that a low fiber diet can cause permanent changes to your gut microbiome in such a way that it's not reversible. And that's pretty worrisome, because most of Americans are eating a very low fiber standard American diet, I think the estimate is 60% of the standard American diet is ultra-processed food. And most of us aren't getting enough of that fiber, those fruits and vegetables, and sources of fiber that our gut bacteria really like to thrive on. Another contributor to this imbalance or dysbiosis, is getting an infection, you know, getting a stomach flu, which is a virus that can happen or getting some type of parasite, or other type of bacterial infection that takes hold in the gut that shouldn't be there, those types of infections can lead to more inflammation, which leads to more dysbiosis and creates this cycle that can happen until they're effectively addressed. And another contributor to dysbiosis is stress. Now, I touched on the gut-brain connection. And there's this bi-directional communication that happens between the gut and the brain. So the brain is communicating with the gut, and the gut is communicating with the brain. And whenever we're under stress, our brain produces stress chemicals or stress signals that are sensed by the gut, and the gut bacteria. And that stress alone can cause dysbiosis, and gut inflammation as well. So we have all of these factors that can contribute to this dysbiosis and gut inflammation that can in turn affect our immune function.
Brigitte Factor 22:13 So now that I've mentioned all of this, and you starting to get a feel of how important the balance of bacteria, the types of bacteria in your gut are. And I've talked about how this imbalance can start to happen. You may be wondering, Well, how do we know if we have dysbiosis? Well, the first and most obvious symptom you think of is gut symptoms like gas and bloating, stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, those kinds of changes in our digestion, that can be a clue that we have some imbalance happening. But there are also other symptoms that can show up even in the absence of those GI types of symptoms, things like headaches, things like joint pain, inflammation that's showing up in other areas of the body, could be potentially related to this gut dysbiosis that may not be showing up as direct GI symptoms. So when I have a client that comes to me, that's dealing with some type of problem, that's usually why they come to me is they have a health problem that they're wanting to get help with or get nutritional therapy for. And the number one tool that I use to help them is a stool test, a test to see what's actually happening inside the gut. And the test I like to use is called the GI Map. And this particular test is a DNA based test, not a culture test, like where they take samples, and they try to culture the bacteria and grow it and then look at it through a microscope and see what's there. This is a DNA based test, where they're testing for the DNA of the different types of bacteria that are in present in the gut. And I really like this test because it is so comprehensive and looking at all of the different strains of bacteria, or most of what we're aware of. I won't say all because there's still a lot we're learning. And we can see what levels these bacteria are present in our gut. Do we have pathogenic bacteria in our gut things like Clostridia and E. coli that aren't supposed to be there that are causing problems? Or do we have not enough of the good bacteria? in our gut? Do we have what we call low phyla, bacteria, these firmicutes and bacteroidetes types of strains. Do we have a good balance of those or do we have some opportunistic bacteria that's starting to overgrow, and that's indicating some dysbiosis?
Brigitte Factor 25:08 The other thing that this particular test will look at is also your digestive function, how well are you producing your digestive enzymes. How well are you digesting and absorbing your fat. It will also look at different inflammation markers, so we can see how much inflammation is being produced. And this gives me a really good picture of what's going on inside the gut. So that we can design a plan to bring things back into balance, for the purpose of supporting your body and restoring health. So if you're curious about your gut health, or this particular test, you can reach out to me through my website at Brigitte Factor dot com and we can set up a conversation to discuss that. But really getting back to the fundamentals of eating a nutrient dense whole foods diet with lots of fiber, supporting our gut bacteria with eating probiotic based foods, maybe taking a probiotic that's right for us. And managing our stress. Getting good exercise, exercise also influences the balance of bacteria in our gut. And doing those lifestyle things can also go a long way, as well.
Brigitte Factor 26:23 So I hope that you've enjoyed this information, I know I've shared a lot of information. And I have a community if you would like to discuss this more or interact more, I have an online community called The Authentic Table. And you are welcome to join that community. I am actually hosting a workshop, what I call it a virtual lunch and learn, next month in September, that you're welcome to attend it, this particular event is going to be on nutrition for better focus and attention. So this is going to be virtual lunch and learn on the gut brain connection and how we can structure a diet and nutrition to help improve our focus and attention and our brain function. So if that interests you, and you would like to join that event and be a part of the community, you can do that by going to authentictable.mn.co and sign up or request to join the community. And I will post that link in the show notes. If you are listening to this on your phone, you can join by text, just text the word AUTHENTIC to this number 1-833-638-8082. And you'll receive some prompts to help you get started to sign up to join the community. And again, I'll repeat that just text the word AUTHENTIC to the number 1-833-638-8082. I will say that number one more time 1-833-638-8082 and your texting the word authentic and it will take you through the setup, or getting your account set up inside my online community which is free to join. I'm also thinking about creating a little small group called get nerdy with me inside my community for those of you that love to talk about this at this level and to look at the research and discuss it. So I'll create that little area for those of you that like to do that. And I thank you so much for listening. I really truly hope that you've enjoyed this information. I love talking about it and sharing about it because it can make a profound difference in your health. And until next time, grace and peace to you.