I have a gut feeling…..that the health of our gut matters more than we ever knew!!

If you have been reading any recent publications(such as the New York Times or O magazine), you have probably come across the term “microbiome”. This word has been buzzing around the health care world for awhile( I first heard a lecture on it 3 years ago while attending a Functional Medicine conference in NYC), but now it has definitely hit the mainstream.

A microbiome describes the microbial environment of a person’s body and consists of hundreds of species of bacteria, viruses and fungi. The intrinsic  cells in our body are actually outnumbered 10: 1 by these organisms, so there is obviously something very important to be learned by studying this environment. Each individual has a microbiome that is unique to them which is shaped by genetics, the method of birth(vaginal versus Caesarian section), the home in which a person lives(families often share many aspects of their micro biomes: makes sense, doesn’t it? even pets in the household matter!) and clearly by the diet a person consumes.

Even pets in the home can have an impact on the health of one's gut!

Even pets in the home can have an impact on the health of one’s gut!

Microbiome researchers collect samples from various sites on an individual’s body and in turn sequence these organisms, creating a huge data base. Some very exciting correlations are emerging from this field: for example, the wider the diversity of the microbiome, the more likely you are to have a stronger immune system. In addition, certain microbiomes are more likely to be associated with obesity, diabetes, auto-immune disorders and depression. This begs the question: which comes first, the microbiome or the factors that shape it? Actually, the intestines of a newborn infant are sterile in utero and are soon populated by microbes. Again, this is shaped by genetics, birth process,  home environment and diet, amongst other things.

Factors that disrupt this environment include antibiotics, stress, eating a diet high in processed foods and low in fiber and variety, food poisoning, etc. Antibiotics are truly miraculous when we need them to fight certain infections, but too often they have been over-prescribed in the U.S.: the average child by the age of 18 has taken between 10-20 courses of antibiotics( I know I sure took many courses, as I had recurrent tonsillitis and ear infections). This trend does seem to be changing , thankfully, due to a greater awareness that many of these prescriptions are unnecessary. Farmers have long used antibiotics on their farm animals to help them gain weight(it is not understood how these are related just yet) but that should give us pause: can this be another reason for the epidemic of obesity we are seeing in our country?? If we are consuming meat that contains antibiotics, what are the implications on our health and well-being? This is yet another reason to choose animal products raised without hormones and antibiotics; thankfully this has become much easier in the past few years.

I believe the next 5-10 years will be incredibly exciting ones in terms of research on the gut and the implications our ‘gut health’ will have on our overall health and well-being. The expression ” You are what you eat” rings truer every day. Stay tuned for more ways to make sure that YOUR gut is healthy in the coming weeks.

Bon appétit!

Eating a wide variety of 'whole foods' helps ensure diversity of your microbiome

Eating a wide variety of ‘whole foods’ helps ensure diversity of your microbiome



Filed under Essentials, Kyle Bell McAvoy, Whole Eating, Women's Health & Happiness

6 responses to “I have a gut feeling…..that the health of our gut matters more than we ever knew!!

  1. candacebwell

    Wonderful useful ground breaking information on the microbiome…the article in the NY TIMES by Michael Pollan is a study and you did a great job of distilling the main points for us and dare I say getting into the guts of it! I remember years ago working with a well known herbalist in LA who said that all migraines originate from an unhealthy digestive tract….he was referring to the essential microbiome then…and now we are listening!

  2. candacebwell

    Meant to add that this new understanding of our microbiome resonates with the message you heard from the Dali Lama when he spoke in Portland a couple weeks ago…. that our inner and outer milieu must be in balance for us to experience true health – of mind body and planet.

  3. Such an interesting article, and it certainly makes you realize how important the health of our gut is for our overall health. Thank you Kyle for sharing this information! The more we learn, the more we realize the gut is the cornerstone to our immune system. Around 70-80 percent of our immune system cells are located in the gut, along with huge amounts of the same chemicals in our brain that control mood.

    When patients are starting antibiotics, I always recommend an aggressive course of probiotics to help restore the flora and protect against diarrhea and yeast infections. I recommend starting during the antibiotic course, spacing the probiotic away from the antibiotic by 4 hours or more. Then, once the course is completed, increase to twice daily probiotics for at least 1-2 weeks.

    Choosing a good probiotic is really key as well. Many products are dead by the time they reach the consumer. Florajen 3 is one I commonly recommend, as one capsule is equivalent to 10 cups of yogurt, it’s lactose free and has a good combination of bacterial strains. One of the physicians I work with has toured their plant and questioned the creators and is satisfied that they know what they’re doing. If diarrhea is a real issue, Florastor twice daily for 2-4 weeks is recommended. Florastor is interesting in that it is actually a type of yeast instead of bacteria, but it is a healthy strain that helps to regulate our flora.

    Prebiotics can help boost natural flora or effectiveness of probiotics, and are found in oatmeal, whole grains, bananas, artichokes, onions, asparagus, garlic and honey. All of these foods are good for us anyway! In addition, fructooligosaccharide (FOS for those of us who trip over that tongue twister of a word) is a prebiotic available as a powder. FOS is sweet, and can be added to beverages, but isn’t digestible by our gut, thus providing food for our intestinal flora. It works great in tea, and there are certain kinds of tea that can help the gut flora as well, which Kyle can recommend.

    One of the things patients ask me is how do they know if their gut flora is off? Food sensitivities, frequent illness (especially respiratory infections), joint or muscle pain, insulin resistance, acne or other skin conditions and constipation are all signs that point to the gut. Most of us are susceptible to this imbalance with our Western diet and exposure to antibiotics. The good news is that there are ways to fix this imbalance, and I’m looking forward to reading Kyle’s suggestions!

  4. Marina Mitchell

    Love this…Kyle can you connect with me via email? I need to get in and see you this month! marinapax@msn.com

  5. First of all, adorable dog in the picture! Thank you for this article, Kyle, and I agree with everyone else commenting that you did a great job of presenting some complex data and studies on the gut. The recent UCLA study on probiotics is very exciting too as it opens the door to more studies of bottom-up effects of gut brain to head brain effects on emotional health.

    We hope you will visit our blog exploring the intelligence of gut instinct: http://instinctualgutfeelings.blogspot.com/2013/06/improving-gut-health-using-somatic.html

    “We propose that there is much more you can do in addition to building up the good flora in your body to assure good gut health that effects positive mental health. Based on our clinical studies and research findings, we propose that the more a person uses the Somatic Reflection Process on gut feelings and unites body-mind, the happier their gut is, the more positive signals will flow from gut to head brain, and the person’s mental health will be vastly improved, as well as a stress reduction that has positive effects upon the physical body and the elimination of dis-ease.”

    Thanks again for a great article!

    • Thanks Martha for your comment (and yes, Riley is not only adorable but also one of those very special dogs that comes along once in a lifetime ….))) ). We live in such an exciting time in terms of beginning to understand the important links between what we eat, how we process foods and our mental and physical health. Obviously you are on the same page as us and aware that if we would just pay more attention to what goes INTO our bodies, we could become less reliant on medications designed to treat symptoms. I noticed that your blog is also aligned with the concepts of ‘functional medicine’ so I look forward to spending some time reading the articles that you have posted. Let’s do keep in touch. Thank you again.

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