The benefits of gut bacteria

By Maureen Aylward

Recent articles in science magazines extol the benefits of bacteria in the gut. Most recently, that gut bacteria affect mood and behavior. We wanted to know how this research affects industries such as food science, medicine, and others. We asked our Zintro experts to comment and the comments kept coming from many different perspectives! Here is Part 1 in a three part series on gut bacteria and its implications and potential.

ProfJ, a nutrition consultant and professor, says that research into gut bacteria is showing all sorts of implications for the future. “The research shows altered digestive bacteria can change mood disorders as well as obesity. Different human cultural groups have different microbes in intestinal tracts,” he says. “And this could affect how disease is treated in the future. For example, doctors may test to determine the specific microbes indivsuals harbor in order to treat disease. It may mean a change in diet to treat mental health disorders or irritable bowel syndrome.”

ProfJ thinks the recent findings may impact pharmaceutical companies negatively, if there is a decreased need for medicines that affect intestinal bacteria. “Anyone taking antibiotics who gets a yeast infection can attest to this,” ProfJ says. “Antibiotics can kill off bacteria and upset the natural balance of bacteria and yeast in the body.”

Triveni Shukla, PhD, a processed food and food ingredient expert, believes that gut bacteria is essential for good health. “Gut bacteria can fight cancer and obesity, enhance immunity, control mood and behavior, and manage decay (inflammation by cytokine 6) and repair (via cytokyne 10) in the human body,” he says. “We live disease free with bacterial genes 99 percent of the time. We manage 3.3 million bacterial genes for good health and a cancer free life. This constitutes our personal MICROBIOME that begins to form right after birth.”

Shukla says that 75 percent of our immunity resides in and stems from our digestive system, which is the immuno-control organ for the body. “It is a living factory that produces vitamins, short chain fatty acids, influences sex hormones and cholesterol day by day, and suppresses carcinogens. We need to treat and augment these bacteria for treating disease.”

Shukla suggests that people include prebiotics and probiotics in the diet. Prebiotics include onion, garlic, inulin, jerusalam artichoke, banana, apple, asparagus, whole grain products, gums, and hydrocolloids. Probiotics include cultures of Lactobacillus acidophilus, L.casei, L. fermentum, L. salivarius, L. brevis, L. lichmannum, L. cellubiosis, B. adolescensis, B. lognum, and B lactis that are found in yogurt, kefir, Indian Dahi, Kimchi, sauerkraut, brined olive, and newly designed cheeses.

Grace Farfaglia, a registered dietician and lecturer, says that creating a hygienic environment in your home may have gone a little too far. “We need bacteria. The gut-brain connection is an interesting revelation. Organisms in the gut produce neuroendocrine molecules, such as serotonin and gamma-aminobuyryic acid (GABA), that are involved in communication between bacteria and the host. Gases produced by their metabolism, specifically nitric oxide, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon monoxide are neurotransmitters. Thus, it is the focus of research to see what roles microbes play in nervous system functioning and mood disorders,” says Farfaglia.

Farfaglia points out that certain types of intestinal dysfunction (imbalance of bacteria and yeasts) cause a disruption of gut motility for genetically susceptible individuals. “Sixty percent of individuals with a low grade inflammation in the gut also have a psychiatric co-morbidity. Gut dysfunction results in pain, irritability, diarrhea and constipation,” she says. “Other disease-microbe connections that investigators have identified are in obese individuals who have a pro/ALA genotype with low levels of certain gut bacteria. This may play an important role in the development and treatment of obesity and metabolic disease.”

New therapeutic and holistic approaches may be on the horizon for individuals with mental heath, GI, immune disorders, and metabolic disease like diabetes, says Farfaglia. “Today there are many high-potency probiotic supplements on the market to colonize the gut with beneficial bacteria. Physicians are just beginning to use them in their everyday practice. Food companies are developing new probiotic products, but few of them are non-dairy. Live bacteria are not viable in some foods, and the creation of a bacteria-friendly product may not have universal taste appeal,” she says.

Christie Moore, a vegetarian food industry expert, says that one of the best super foods for mood and behavior, mental focus, and nutritional support is blue-green algae. “It provides 64 readily absorbed nutrients, including essential amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, trace minerals, chlorophyll to provide cellular oxygen, and the PEA molecule shown to lower stress, increase focus and clarity, lift and brighten mood, and enhance well-being,” she says. “The over 400 friendly bacteria living in a healthy intestinal tract are essential for digestion and nutrient absorption. These must be present for the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system. Our mood and stress responses are directly affected by the nutrients available in our food supply.”

Moore says that the food science industry is responsible for the foods and beverages we consume, and regrettably the current food supply is predominately processed and often contains synthetic additives. “Deficiencies result and deprive neurotransmitter precursors and impair hormone synthesis,” she says. “Recent interest in super foods has prompted studies regarding antioxidant protection for our cells while providing needed nourishment not available in many of our foods today.”

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