Chronic illness, stress and our gut bacteria.

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This is the third in a series of blogs about our digestive flora.  This time I’m looking at the link between stress and low levels of good gut bacteria.  The man in the video will do well to take some high quality pro-biotics.

Our guts could be likened to a long, winding hosepipe, starting at our mouth and ending at our bottom.  Ideally, most of our hosepipe  allows completely digested food to diffuse through it, and go to the liver for processing and use in the body to keep us healthy.  Unfortunately, the hosepipe can get a bit leaky, allowing rather larger particles of not fully digested food through.  And this causes many problems as the body launches an attack against perceived invaders, causing inflammation and potentially pulling genetic triggers.  Stress is one of the things that causes this leakiness – and they aren’t sure why yet.  Another cause of the leaky hosepipe is eating foods that we have either an allergy to or are intolerant to.  I say it is a cause, but in truth again they aren’t sure whether eating the toxic food causes the leakiness or pre-existing leakiness causes us to develop problems with various foods, since a couple of inflammatory cytokines seem to have negative effects on the hosepipe that is our guts.

There is, then, a very important interplay between gut flora, epithelial tight junctions [a non-leaky hosepipe], and the immune system in maintaining gut (and systemic) health.  Anything that disturbs any one of these three factors may induce changes in the other two, thereby contributing to disease initiation or progression.  1

So there, in a nutshell, we have it.   These three: good gut bacteria, a strong hosepie and a healthy immune system interact with each other, and when one is out, everything goes a bit wonky.  Some of us suffer bloating as a result of leaky hosepipes, and almost certainly an increased intolerance to many foods.  Some, however, will go on to develop disease to which they have a genetic predisposition, such as Ankylosing Spondylitis, Coeliac disease,  Chron’s disease or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  For instance,

Recent research shows that patients with chronic fatigue syndrome have marked alterations in microbial flora, including lowered levels of bifidobacteria and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth………In addition LAB [lactic acid bacteria]2  are strong antioxidants, may improve EFA [essential fatty acids – fish oils] status, can enhance absorption of micronutrients by protecting the intestinal epithelial barrier [the hosepipe], and have been used to treat SIBO [small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.  this is when there are too many bad bacteria partying in our guts] 3

An interesting older overview by Lizko4 drew on research into stress and how we react in our microbiology, our hormones and our immune system, which included the stress of space flights.   Indeed, reduced concentrations of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium species were found in the astonauts dung.

The answers are simple – avoid getting stressed.  Well, fat chance of that. However, we can take high quality pro-biotics, eat plenty of good veggies like asparagus and so on to feed our gut bacteria, we can eat fermented foods like olives, sauerkraut, pickles and so on and avoid eating the same foods every day.  We can  bolster our immune system with taking such immune basics as a zinc chelated with an amino acid. And we can do things to reduce our stress levels, like get enough sleep, drink enough water, eat well and regularly, learn how to breathe properly, learn how to switch off and enjoy ourselves rather than zonking out in front of the telly – and laugh a lot.  The list is endless.

  1. Gastrointestinal Dysregulation: Connections to Chronic Disease. Leo Galland, Md. []
  2. lactic acid bacteria – these come from eating fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and so on []
  3. Logan AC, Rao, AV, Irani D.  Chronic fatigue syndrome: lactic acid bacteria may be of therapeutic value.  Medical hypotheses (2003) 60(6); 915-923 []
  4. Lizko NN.  Stress and intestinal microflora.  Nahrun 1987; 31 (5-6); 443-7 []

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