It is my belief that our gut microbes have a great deal to do with who we are as people. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Let me tell you how I see it.
We are literally heaving with microbes! We have trillions more microbes in our gut than we do cells that make up our bodies and they can weigh more than a kilo. We are not entirely human!
As far as we are concerned, they come in three types:
1) The ones we need for our health.
2) The ones “passing by” (in quantity, some of these may also make us ill).
3) The ones that make us sick – the opportunists.
Now, if we have enough of the ones we need for health, they will ensure that the microbes in the other two categories don’t do us much harm.
The microbes needed for health help with many functions – including the digestion of food, protection of our gut wall and keeping all other microbes in check. In return, we feed them – a truly symbiotic relationship.
All living things need to take in some form of energy and as this is used up, waste products are created which have to be released. The waste products (or metabolites) of the “good guys” in our intestines are things we need such as B vitamins and enzymes. The metabolites of the passers-by are of no consequence in small quantities but then we come to the bully-boys. The metabolites of these can really make us ill – substances similar to opiates and others related to the tetanus toxin, production of horrendous gases such as hydrogen sulphide (the rotten eggs smell) are just a few of the effects that affect our health. Regrettably, our modern diets nourish these pathogens, perpetuating the problem.
Very often, these pathogenic organisms are left to dominate when we have been subjected to poor health over a period of time, repeated use of antibiotics, chemotherapy treatment for cancers and other continuous drug treatments for chronic illness. In order to colonise, some of these microbes have the ability to “anchor” themselves to the intestinal wall thus creating microscopic fissures in the delicate single-celled lining. This allows them, their metabolites and minuscule particles of undigested food into the blood stream. What happens then is another story but just consider what opiate-like substances might do to the brain if this can happen.
The most common opportunist microbe to invade the gut when conditions are right is candida albicans. This yeast acts as a fungus when allowed to overgrow. It needs another blog to describe the effects and this will be the subject for next time.