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Wednesday, December 5, 2018
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Our bodies are home to tens of trillions of microbial cells. The entire collection of microorganisms which inhabit our body, both inside us and on our skin is known as the microbiome.

In recent years, an increasing amount of research has emerged demonstrating the effects of the organisms that live with us, especially the bacteria living in our gut microbiome.

The gut microbiome can be influenced by antibiotics, the type of food we eat and possibly other factors like stress. When the balance of microbes is out of whack it can cause many more problems than just digestion issues or an upset stomach. Here are five ailments that may also be caused by an imbalance of bacteria in your gut.

1. Allergies and Other Autoimmune Diseases

Allergies and other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis are the result of an imbalance in the immune system that causes the body to react too strongly to a stimulus. Since an estimated 80 percent of your immune system is located in your gut, supporting digestive health is essential to supporting the immune system and avoiding allergy symptoms.  In fact, new research links the presence of beneficial bacteria in the gut with reduced incidence of allergies.

2. Anxiety and Depression

Mental disorders aren’t just about what’s going on in your head. The type of bacteria living in your gut can play a role too. According to researchers, your microbiome can produce neurotransmitters that communicate directly with your brain. When thrown out of balance, certain mental health issues can result.

Research also shows that lacking a balanced microbiome can impact behavior and brain function. Inversely, the brain can impact the microbiome too. According to a study conducted in 2012, stress in particular has been shown to alter the composition and function of the gut microbiota.

3. Skin Issues

Like in the gut, the skin contains its own microbiome that can be thrown out of balance. This can lead to skin issues like dermatitis, psoriasis, acne, and rosacea.

Although there is still ongoing research trying to understand its overall effect on health and disease, it is clear that the skin microbiome is linked in part to the gut microbiome, and a desirable  population of skin microorganisms is supported by proper skin health. What this means is basic skin hygiene is important to maintaining the skin microbiome, including getting both clean and dirty. This balance is what allows good bacteria to grow and maintain a healthy population.

There are topical probiotic supplements available now, but from a preventative perspective, maintaining a good gut and skin microbiome by avoiding strong soaps and overly hot or long baths or showers is the key to maintaining healthy skin.

4. Weight Gain

Weight gain isn’t always a result of overeating, researchers now believe that the microbiome could also be to blame.

An elementary look suggests that when the microbiome is out of balance, such as is the case of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO, the overpopulated bacteria robs essential nutrients from the body before and after dietary consumption. Therefore, food that is supposed to keep us healthy and fit won't be able to complete its purpose.  Additionally, the byproducts of these bacteria is detrimental to our health when in such high numbers.  This can lead to gas, bloating, indigestion, all of which contributes to improper absorption of nutrients as a result of compromised GI function.  

5. Cancer Growth

Multiple studies, both published literature and ongoing research, suggest a well-balanced microbiome can specifically prevent certain types of cancer, including gastrointestinal-based cancers. Imbalances in the microbiome can also be a contributing factor to cancer growth, including oral and colorectal cancers.  

Since the microbiome involves adding significant amounts of genetic material to what makes us human, the possibility that genes coming from these microorganisms play a role in causing certain cancers is actively being investigated. Whether microbiome health is a direct causative factor of certain cancers is unknown, but it is clear that maintaining a healthy microbiome improves overall health outcomes, including prevention of disease.

If you’re concerned about your gut health, naturopathic doctors can help by using a holistic approach that offers individualized recommendations and therapeutic plans specific to the lifestyle and needs of a given patient. In many cases, we’ll recommend a whole foods diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, adequate protein and fiber, and avoiding certain foods, especially those with sugars that can allow the unwanted bacteria to grow and thrive. Since the ultimate goal is to regulate the microbiome, consuming foods that are rich in probiotics are also recommended.  These include yogurt and fermented items such as sauerkraut, kefir and other pickled foods.

Even if you don’t suffer from one of these five conditions, improving your gut health is worth considering. Much like getting a good night’s sleep, a healthy gut microbiome can help boost your overall immune system and serve as a important preventative measure against disease.

National University is here to help you stay informed with healthy tips and natural advice. Subscribe to our blog The Future of Integrative Health for weekly updates and insights.

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Posted by Joseph Vazquez

Joseph Vazquez, ND, is an assistant professor in the naturopathic program at National University of Health Sciences. He earned his naturopathic doctor degree from National University and his Bachelor of Science degree from Austin Peay State University in Tennessee. He specializes in MTHFR mutations, treatment protocols for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and naturopathic care for weight management and athletic training.