As the largest mucosal organ of the body, the gut plays a central role in maintaining the immune system and general health. Our gut flora and the integrity of intestinal lining are the most important variables in gut health. They rely heavily on the type and diversity of good bacteria that reside there.
Our body is a home to trillions of bacteria which live on and in our body. They outnumber our own cells 10 to 1! They live everywhere but the largest concentrations are in our gut. The world of living organisms in our gut and digestive tract is called microflora and are often referred to as gut flora.
There are two types of organisms/bacteria in our gut flora – “good bacteria” and “bad bacteria”.
Good Bacteria and Bad Bacteria
Good bacteria are the policemen of our gut flora. Their main responsibility is to regulate the gut by absorbing nutrients and fatty acids from the food we eat, neutralizing toxic byproduct of digestion, controlling metabolism, reducing harmful substances such as toxins and preventing the growth of bed bacteria.
Bed bacteria are the bed guys destroying our healthy gut flora and are capable of causing disease if overgrown.
Of the odd 100 trillion bacteria living in our gut, the ideal balance is 85 per cent good to 15 per cent bed.
Intenstinal Lining and Leaky Gut
Together with gut flora, the gut or intestinal lining is the other most important variable in maintaining healthy gut. Intestines are organs in our body that turn the nutrients we digest into their basic components, like sugar, amino acids and fatty acids. These are able to get into the bloodstream and to other organs because the intestines are permeable. The levels of permeability are controlled by the intestines ‘tight junctions’.
An imbalance of our gut flora can lead to an overgrowth of a yeast called candida, a fungus that lives naturally in our body and helps with digestion and absorption of nutrients. However, if your gut flora is imbalanced candida can start breaking down the wall of intestine and penetrate/leak into the bloodstream together with essential nutrients, dangerous pathogens and toxins. This is referred to as leaky gut. It can cause widespread inflammation and possibly trigger a reaction from the immune system.
However leaky gut syndrome remains a bit of a medical mystery, and medical professionals are still trying to determine exactly what causes it. The only known regulator of intestinal permeability is protein called zonulin. Two factors that trigger the release of zonulin are bacteria in the intestines and gluten, which is a protein found in wheat and other grains.