Anyone who knows me knows that Im obsessed with poop! More specifically, a healthy gut microbiota. Poop is an uncomfortable topic for many people, but its so important to talk about and a likely powerful key to our overall health. We are learning that whats in our stool i.e. all those tiny bacteria, are very important. The diversity and number of healthy gut bacteria influence our skin, immune system, blood sugar levels, mood, intestinal health and probably many other functions in our bodies.
Intestinal flora are established very early in life. Our first exposure with them is at birth as the baby passes through the birth canal and gets coated with vaginal fluid. If a baby is born via c-section then this does not occur. Our second opportunity to get those healthy microbes is through breastfeeding and most children will inherit whatever gut bacteria their mothers have for better or worse. Another extremely important way children establish their gut flora is through their oral motor behaviors i.e. everything going into the mouth. I see many parents cringe when their infants put random objects into their mouths but this is actually a good thing! Children get more infections as a result of more exposure, but there is a good reason for this: their immune systems are learning what is good and what is bad. Without these early exposures, we lose a critical opportunity to impact our health in a positive way that can affect us for many years to come.
Factors that can affect the establishment of good gut bacteria are sanitizers, antibiotics, and antibacterial cleansers. We have been using these types of products for almost a century. How exactly they have changed our microbiome and what impact that has had, we are just now starting to appreciate and there is mounting evidence that our gut bacteria should be protected and nurtured. People in developing countries have a greater number and diversity of gut bacteria than people living in developed countries. We also have a higher prevalence of immune related disorders and we are learning that there may be a link between the two. Lets look a little closer at some of the evidence for good gut bacteria. rnrnInflammatory Bowel Disease: We know that intestinal flora is disrupted in people with IBD. The process of IBD starts when the immune system mistakenly kills off good bacteria and allows the bad bacteria to flourish which then results in inflammation and damage to the intestine and colon. Furthermore, studies on fecal transplants (taking poop from a healthy person and putting it into a patient with IBD) have shown promising results. In one small study done at Seattle Childrens Hospital, 7 out of 10 children with Crohns Disease went into remission after fecal transplantation.
Obesity: Weight gain is associated with use of azithromycin in children and adolescents. Also, children who got antibiotics before 6 months of age had an increased incidence of weight gain between ages 1-3. Obese people tend to have a higher prevalence of bacteria that are good energy extractors and are better at sending signals to the body that store fat. Antibiotic use may selectively allow these types of bacteria to multiply.
Asthma and Atopy: As I mentioned earlier, children delivered via c-section miss their first opportunity to get healthy bacteria from their mothers. These children have a 20% increased risk of developing asthma. Beneficial bacteria can also play a role in eczema and some studies have shown that a specific bacteria called Lactobacillus can be beneficial in preventing eczema when given to both mom and baby.
Autism: Children with autism frequently have issues with diarrhea or constipation. Some studies have documented differences in gut bacteria between autistic children and normal controls. Is this the result of picky eating habits of children with autism or are the gut bacteria they have somehow involved in their disease process? The connection is definitely an interesting one. Furthermore, animal studies have shown a decrease in neurologic symptoms of autism when given Bacteroides fragilis.
The list of diseases or conditions that can be impacted by our gut flora goes on and on and is getting larger every day. So the lesson here is that we should try and promote healthy bacteria rather than wipe out bad bacteria. Many factors affect our gut flora. In our modern society, we have done a lot of things that have adversely impacted them, however, all is not lost; eating more raw foods, staying away from many of the chemicals in our household products and avoiding antibiotics when possible are a good way to start the process of not only making our poop healthy, but likely making our whole bodies healthy.