26 April 2013
More than two millennia ago, Hippocrates said, all disease begins in the gut. Only now are we beginning to realise just how right he was.
An understanding of the importance of a healthy gut to overall health and wellbeing is gaining momentum. In recent years there has been an explosion of scientific research showing an association between poor gut health and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and inflammatory bowel disease. No longer is the gut considered simply a digestive tube that connects one end of the body to the other. Yet this is still its primary role.
Everything we eat and drink passes through the gut along the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is home to 100 trillion bacteria. To put this number in perspective, this equates to 10 times as many bacteria in the human gut than human cells in the entire body! These bugs gut microbiota as they are known play crucial roles in regulating nutrient absorption by our intestinal cells, in metabolism and in immunity.
Recent research has shown that the particular makeup of the different species of bacteria living in the gut is influenced by diet and lifestyle. Frequent use of antibiotics, stress and diets low in fibre can deplete the levels of beneficial gut bacteria, leading to poor gut health.
In addition to the gut microbiota, the second closely related variable that contributes to gut health is the gut barrier. The gut barrier functions to keep all the good gut microbiota in, and all the bad bugs, viruses or toxins in our food out. It is the integrity of this barrier that is thought to determine whether we tolerate or react to the foods we eat.
Gut health is now recognised as a new objective in medicine and our scientists believe that the key to a healthy gut is the gut immune system.
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