Why bacteria in your gut really are kind of a big deal

Okay, before we get started, there’s something you need to know. And it’s really - really -  important. Are you ready? Here goes:

Vitamin C doesn’t actually prevent - or even treat - the common cold.

Whoa! Pretty big, fabric-of-existence stuff, right?

Now, before you head to the medicine cabinet and toss all the ascorbic acid down the drain, it’s important to note that we do actually need Vitamin C. It definitely has a role to play in a healthy, functioning body. Luckily, though, you should be able to get enough Vitamin C from the fruits and vegetables in your healthy diet. Less may not be more, but more is not really more either, if by more we mean better. Your body needs the Vitamin C it can get naturally, and that should be enough.

So why do we still get sick?

The thing is that there’s more to immunity than just a couple of Super Cs can fix. We need other things, too. Vitamin D is just as important, so don’t neglect your daily walk in the fresh air and sunshine. You also need to plenty of sleep, a healthy diet founded on quality fat and protein, and effective stress management.

So far, so good. We’ve all heard this before. But there’s a link in the immunity chain you may not have heard about before: the bacteria in your gut.

How your gut health affects your overall health

Before your inner skeptic steps in, let’s take a look at some facts. The gut is the biggest organ in the body when it comes to sheer surface area. It rivals the brain in terms of neural connections (as we saw in our last article). And it’s the last line of defence between your body and the rest of the known universe. In fact, as PaleoLeap points out, “Anything inside your gut is technically actually outside your body, with several defenses between it and your bloodstream. That’s why you don’t always get sick even if you swallow some bacteria in your food (which you do every day, because nothing is perfectly sterile).”

In other words, your intestinal tract is one of the most important parts of your immune system.

Here are just a few of the ways the digestive tract - and the bacteria that call it home - work to keep you safe and healthy:

  • First of all (and possibly most important), the good bacteria in your intestines compete with the bad bacteria trying to make a home there. If there are enough of them, they monopolise food and space, and make it difficult for bad bacteria to get a foothold.
  • Some gut flora actually produce antimicrobial substances. It sounds counter-intuitive, but there’s actually a species of gut flora whose antibacterial excretions fight such gram-negative baddies as E. coli and Salmonella, as well as a number of bacteria responsible for respiratory infections.
  • Gut flora actually make the gut wall’s physical defences stronger. Your body is protected from pathogens by the epithelial cells in the gut (a layer of cells lining the gut), and by chemical barriers such as digestive acid - not popular with invading bacteria. Gut flora work at both levels: they activate the immune functions in the epithelial cells, and the affect the pH balance in the gut to make it even less welcoming to pathogens.

Gut Feel

When gut flora go overboard, your body attacks harmless things like pollen, and you’re left with irritating seasonal allergies. The same thing can happen with certain foods, which may be misidentified as a threat to the system. But if there aren’t enough of them to do their job, they can be overwhelmed by the bad bacteria that make you sick. The most important thing, then, is balanced gut flora. And the best way to get that balance is the natural way. Get yourself onto a good probiotic regimen, and start getting the sleep you need!

Dr Alain Sanua focuses on balancing gut health in order to balance the overall health of his patients. He specialises in understanding the unique challenges facing each of his patients, finding a solution tailored to their needs. Call Dr Sanua on 011 463 1614 or email him on to find out if a gut flora imbalance is causing your insomnia, and keeping you up at night.


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