10 Ways to Get Your Gut—and the Rest of You—Healthy

Friday Jul 31, 2015 | BY |
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Gut health word cloud on a white background.

Your colon is the doorway to health.
The key to getting in may be closer then you think.

I just swallowed a capsule containing 50 billion living organisms.

That’s about nine times the human population on Earth. Can that many bacteria exist in one capsule?

Before I answer that question, consider these comparisons:

  • There are about 50 million bacteria in a gram of soil.
  • The Earth’s biomass is estimated at five million trillion trillion (5 nonillion) organisms.
  • The human gut contains about 100 trillion bacteria, which amounts to about three pounds.
  • Even your dog has a gut microbiome filled with billions of bacteria. It seems that man’s best friend comes with benefits. Researchers found that your dog’s bacteria have a positive impact on your health by introducing greater bacterial diversity to your gut.

Most probiotic capsules only contain 10—15 billion colony-forming units (CFU). The science of probiotics is expanding so rapidly, however, that newer technologies make it possible to have up to 50 billion live bacteria in a single capsule.

My clinical experience suggests we need higher numbers of bacteria then once thought to recolonize the gut. I suggest 50 billion CFU as a starting point.

Not Just More Bacteria, but a Variety of Bacteria

It’s not only about having great enough numbers—and yes, you can have too many—but it’s also important to have a great variety of bacteria in your gut.

Modern people have dangerously low levels of gut bacteria diversity. Because sanitation and personal hygiene have improved so much in developed nations, bacteria don’t have places to grow and are less likely to be passed from one person to the next.

No one wants to get sick from pathogenic bacteria, but an overly clean lifestyle can reduce the dispersal of health-promoting bacteria.

The trillions of bacteria and the number of species in your gut make up a complex ecological community that exerts powerful influences on how your body functions while playing an important role in your susceptibility to disease.

Diseases Associated With Low Diversity of Gut Bacteria

  • Asthma
  • Autism
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Breast cancer
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Colon cancer
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Hypertension
  • Immunodeficiency syndromes
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Obesity and difficulty losing weight
  • Psoriasis
Your Gut Out Of Balance

For thirty years, I’ve been testing my patients for “dybiosis,” but previously available stool tests were not as accurate as newer ones, so they were of limited value. Thankfully, newer tests provide sophisticated and accurate ways of evaluating the microbiome.

My stool test of choice is GI Effects from Genova Diagnostics. It’s a complicated test, but the first page provides an infographics at-a-glance interpretation, including a general diversity association index. Patients with chronic disease typically have fewer species of bacteria.

Gut Diversity Image

Of course, analyzing your inner ecosystem is more complex than what is shown in these snapshots. But you have to start somewhere, and for those with chronic disease, the gut is a good place to look.

Not only do chronically ill patients commonly have lower gut diversity than healthy patients, but also the types of bacteria they have are imbalanced with less friendly species and too many potentially pathogenic ones.

The clinical term for an imbalanced microbiome is: dysbiosis.

The American Nutrition Association provides an extensive list of symptoms associated with dysbiosis. Nearly every symptom and condition imaginable has an association with your gut.

Selected Symptoms of Dysbiosis

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Poor memory
  • “Spaciness” or brain fog
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Mood swings
  • Muscle and joint aches and pains
  • Alcohol intolerance
  • Itching and skin rashes
  • Frequent urination
  • Heart palpitations
  • Gas and abdominal bloating
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Candida overgrowth
  • Strong body odor and bad breath
  • Eczema
  • Psoriasis
  • Frequent colds
Rebuild Your Gut

Though we now have very good stool and genetic tests to evaluate the gut environment, no one has come up with a successful solution on how to rebuild the gut microbiome.

Probiotics are helpful, but have limited benefits. Prebiotics that support growth of friendly bacterial colonization are necessary, but insufficient without a high-fiber diet rich in living organic foods. Even fecal transplants typically have only short-term effects.

I take a multifaceted approach.

Typically, I find that patients with low diversity and dysbiosis also have lower levels of pancreatic enzymes, short chain fatty acids (SCFA), and butyrate.

SCFA and butyrate (a type of fatty acid) are produced by gut bacteria and are important for a well functioning immune system. Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, for example, in the absence of infection, often have unexplained low levels of CD4+ helper T cells. Taking butyrate boosts T cells. Researchers found that butyrate also regulates interleukins that modulate inflammation.

Prebiotic fibers are non-digestible carbohydrates that promote beneficial bacterial growth in the gut. Common dietary sources are chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, banana, dandelion greens, jicama, and garlic. Prebiotic supplements are composed of fructooligosaccharides (FOS) derived from inulin.

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidium) mushroom has been used in Eastern medicine as a health promoting medicine for thousands of years. A paper published in June 2015 in Nature Communications found that Ganoderma extract reduced obesity due to its ability to modulate the gut microbiome.

10 Ways To Increase Gut Microbiota Diversity
  1. Exercise: Scientists found that gut bacteria diversity gets better the more you move.
  2. Avoid processed foods: Even organic, non-GMO, and gluten free packaged foods are unfriendly to your gut. They are not living foods, so they do not have the right balance of fiber, nutrients, and other dietary factors found in live whole foods.
  3. Eat more plants and complex carbs: The Western diet is linked to an unhealthy gut microbiome. Increase your daily fiber intake to at least 35 grams.
  4. Keep your menu simple: Too much variety is associated with low gut bacteria diversity.
  5. Include fermented foods: Small amounts of yogurt, kefir, and pickled vegetables and kimchi improve gut microflora.
  6. Get a dog: Pets help blend bacteria between you and the environment. Dogs are good medicine.
  7. Garden: Working with your hands in the soil is relaxing and also adds new species of healthy bacteria to your body.
  8. Take probiotics: Take at least 50 billion CFU from a medical-grade probiotic daily.
  9. Consume prebiotics: Blend FOS powder in your smoothie.
  10. Take gut friendly supplements: Add calcium, sodium, and magnesium butyrate medical grade supplements. Take pancreatic enzymes with your meals. Try Ganoderma/Reishi extract.
  11. Your colon is the doorway to health. The key to getting in may be closer then you think. Increasing gut microbiome diversity and restoring balance to your inner ecosystem may just be the golden key we’ve been looking for.

    Dr. J. E. Williams

    J. E. WILLIAMS, OMD, FAAIM

    Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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    1. June Hanson says:

      So glad you have me on 50 billion probiotics and others that I take at different times. Years of pain, with IBS, etc. were solved with following your instructions and tests. Exercising daily, changing diet, supplements, various therapies have made a new woman out of me.

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