Why, yes, yes it is! An ecosystem is defined as a community of living organisms, and our bodies are just that — an amazing, active community of living organisms.
I know you can’t see or feel them, but trust me… we have truly have hundreds of billions of bacteria that reside in and on your skin, mouth, eyes, mucous membranes, Gastrointestinal (GI) tract (stomach, small intestines, large intestines), and parts of your urogenital tract. These tiny little guys are crucial for appropriate immune function and lifelong health. Interestingly, your skin actually has almost as much microflora as your entire GI tract! I
And even though they’re little, their numbers sure do stack up! The human intestinal tract contains approximately 1014 bacteria… Can you imagine? That’s one hundred trillion, or 100,000,000,000,000, bacteria residing in your gut, created from about 1000 different bacterial species and weighing in at up to a staggering 3 kilos. t has been reported that cells of the resident flora outnumber your own cells 10 to 1.
It’s fascinating to consider that our highly diverse gut microbiota is actually unique to each of us, like a fingerprint, and will play a crucial role in our health over our entire lifetime… yet not that many people ever really talk about them!
We need an abundance of good bacteria for excellent intestinal health. They contribute to the digestion of our food , metabolising nutrients, producing vitamins and degrading toxic products such as carcinogens, food additives, bile salts and cholesterol. They assist with the protection of mucosal surfaces, defending against colonisation of opportunistic pathogens and are constantly contributing to the enhancement and modulation of our immune system. This, in turn, keeps us looking good and feeling great!
I hear you ask… What do we do for them in return? Well, we provide the bacteria with nutrients and a stable environment. We literally host them, and they love it when we are happy!
Rather than causing disease, your normal microflora is always working to protect your body against other disease-causing organisms. Without the good bacteria, bad bacteria will flourish! If an opportunity arises (ie an imbalance occurs) some of these microbes become opportunistic pathogens and can cause disease. This can happen due to various factors:
- Environmental influences (these include diet, fluid intake, medications, drugs, toxin exposure, emotional & physical stress, air pollution, and hygienic habits) majorly influence what species make up your resident flora
- Diets high in animal protein, processed foods, colours, preservatives, trans fats, refined flours and simple sugars tend to raise the numbers of potentially harmful bacteria
- Low-fibre diets (both chronic and intermittent) will promote the growth and activity of specific types of colonic bacteria, leading to erosion of the colonic mucous barrier.
- Food allergies can cause damage to gut function due to a heightened immune responses (eg wheat, corn, dairy).
- Antibiotics can pose a major threat to our microbial balance, because they destroy all kinds of bacteria indiscriminately. Once the good bacteria are pushed aside, there’s an opportunity for bad bacteria, yeast and fungi to move in and start colonising.
- Heavy metal toxicity (aluminium, lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium) is more common than people realise, & can cause intestinal dysbiosis, candida overgrowth, leaky gut, abdominal pain and compromised immune function.
Beneficial modulation of gut microflora via supplementation with pre & probiotics is gaining huge momentum as a promising clinical adjunct for many prevalent diseases. These include IBD, metabolic abnormalities such as obesity, reduced insulin sensitivity and diabetes, psoriasis, low-grade inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis, dermatitis, asthma and allergies.
Probiotics and Prebiotics - perhaps you’re not too sure how they actually impact your skin, mind and body? Read on! There are significant differences between the two, as probiotics introduce extra numbers of good bacteria into the gut, whereas prebiotics act as a fibrous fertiliser for the good bacteria that's already living in your colon.
Prebiotics are special types of insoluble fibres that resist digestion in the small intestine, so they can reach the colon where they are quickly fermented by the gut microflora. Keep in mind that although all prebiotics are fibre, not all fibre is prebiotic!
Benefits of prebiotics include improvement in gut barrier function and immunity, reduction of potentially pathogenic bacteria populations and enhanced short chain fatty acid (SCFA) production. You may have heard the term SCFA before - the three most abundant are acetate, propionate, and butyrate, each of which exert unique beneficial physiological effects. SCFAs will assist nutrient absorption, promote normal and optimal cell activities, and also maintain a consistently lower pH to inhibit growth of the bad guys and promote the growth of the good ‘uns!
Studies demonstrate that prebiotic intake may:
- Reduce the prevalence and duration of infectious and antibiotic-associated diarrhoea;
- Reduce the inflammation and symptoms associated with IBD and IBS;
- Exert protective effects to prevent colon cancer;
- Enhance the bioavailability and uptake of minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and possibly iron;
- Lower some risk factors for cardiovascular disease;
- Promote satiety and weight loss
- Help prevent obesity.
Nutrients. 2013 Apr; 5(4): 1417–1435.
Published online 2013 Apr 22. doi: 10.3390/nu5041417
Probiotics - are defined as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. However, not all introduced probiotic microorganisms are beneficial , so it is very important to make a careful selection when using probiotics in humans!
Probiotics may seem like a relatively new fad to the food and supplement industry, but they have literally been with us since birth. With a natural delivery, a newborn picks up probiotc bacteria from his/her mother in the birth canal. Nowadays this fluid can even be swabbed from the mum onto the baby when a Cesarean section is performed. Studies have shown that C-section babies with no swabbing had less gut diversity and marked immune differences during the first two years of their lives, making them more susceptible to infections and allergies.
Microorganisms that are probiotics in humans include yeast, bacilli, Escherichia coli, enterococci, and the more commonly used bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria.
Research has shown benefits linked to Lactobacillus and treating and/or preventing yeast infections, urinary tract infection, IBS, diarrhoea, lactose intolerance, skin disorders (fever blisters, eczema, acne, sores), and prevention of respiratory infections.However… there are more than 50 species of lactobacilli. You need to know that they one you’re taking is actually going to help, not add fuel to the fire!
There are approximately 30 species of bifidobacteria. The make up approximately 90% of the healthy bacteria in the colon. Studies have shown that bifidobacteria can help with IBS, dental cavities, improved blood lipids and glucose tolerance and decreases in the frequency of allergic disorders.
As ageing is associated with dysregulated immune and inflammatory responses that lead to damage and destruction of cells, tissues, and organs, including the skin, it makes sense to find ways to support the immune system and reduce the possibility of excessive inflammation. It is important to recognise that differences in effects seen will include dose of pro/pre-biotic organisms used, duration of supplementation and health characteristics of each individual.
Ways to rebalance your ecosystem:
- Eat a diet high in fibre and whole foods, aka prebiotics. Feed the good bacteria with high-fibre foods and whole foods such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables including (preferably almost raw) asparagus and artichoke, green bananas, and seaweeds.
- Eat probiotics daily. Probiotics are present in some foods like miso, sauerkraut, kefir and natural yoghurt (unsweetened and organic is best).
- Try a synergistic combination of specially selected probiotic cultures and prebiotic fibres, known as a synbiotic product.
- Avoid, or limit, sugar, trans fat, and processed foods. These types of foods feed the bad bacteria in your gut. Avoid colours, flavours and preservatives!
- Avoid bacteria-harming drugs such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, or acid blockers. These can easily kill the good bacteria in our gut.
- Avoid daily, or excessive, alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption alters gut flora, leading to leaky gut syndrome, leading to bacterial translocation, leading to inflammatory changes in the liver and throughout your entire body.
- Drink more water! This helps with digestion and can help prevent constipation. Any variations away from a ‘normal’ stool can mean that not enough of your good bacteria are thriving.
- Reduce stress. Learning how to live a well-balanced lifestyle with a positive, vibrant attitude is something that takes conscious choice - and helps your good bacteria to thrive!
- And Meditate! Daily meditation has proven positive effects on improving your GIT microflora health.
- Keep in mind; If you’re going to regularly drink, smoke and eat badly, and then wish to take pro/prebiotics to rectify and repair the damage… you're not going to get far!
The gut is the core of our health. It’s the major connector between the immune system and our brain, affecting every single organ system of our body. Looking after your gut means you’re moving towards a more radiant skin and a healthier life happier life!