Updated: Feb 17, 2020
Recent research has established that 90% of our genetic material is in our gut flora, with only
10% of the cells in our gut flora human. So we are essentially 90% bacteria and 10% human!
So if we are 90% bacteria it is important that we are dominated by beneficial bacteria
such as the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species and not opportunistic and pathogenic flora, which can contribute to poor health.
One of the important functions of the gut flora is to keep our enterocytes cells in the small intestines healthy so we can digest and absorb nutrients from our food. If your gut is healthy and you are absorbing foods well your enterocyte cells will look like the happy chap on the left in this picture. The cell has lots of hair, which is the microvilli and brush border enzymes that help to complete the digestive process in our gut. This is a sign we are absorbing the nutrients in our foods well.
The poor chap on the right is the enterocyte cells of a typical person with gut dysbiosis (an imbalance in gut bacteria). The enterocyte cells are abnormal and damaged, missing vital brush border enzymes to help break down and absorb nutrients from food. As a result this person could well be suffering from malabsorption, chronic disease of any kind, multiple food intolerances, allergies and even autoimmunity.
Many children and adult sadly have enterocyte cells that look like the chap on the right. In children they may be suffering from colic, reflux, eczema, asthma, autoimmune conditions such as Celiac disease, psoriasis and type 1 diabetes, hay fever, autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and other learning and behavioural issues. In adults typical symptoms of gut dysbiosis range from: allergies, asthma, eczema, arthritis, cystitis, PMS, infertility, endometriosis, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid problems, adrenal problems, depression, mood swings, memory loss, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders, additive behaviour, epilepsy and mental disorders, although this is not an exhaustive list.
The good news is that the cell regeneration process in our gut turns over every few days so making dietary changes to support our gut health can improve the health of our enterocyte cells very quickly.
Dr Natasha Campbell McBride author of the book Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS), explains the process of cell regeneration in the small intestine.
`The absorptive surface of our small intestine is lined with wonderful cells called enterocytes that only live a few days. They are born at the bottom of the villi and travel up the villi, digesting and absorbing food and getting more mature along the way. When they get to the tip of the villi, they are worn out and die. They get replaced by newly born enterocytes, which are pushing up from the bottom of the villi. This way the gut wall renews itself all the time.'
The absorptive process is very active. After food is properly digested, enterocytes take the food inside them and analyse it. Is it safe? Is it in the right form? If it is, they release the digested food into the bloodstream. Nothing is supposed to absorb between these cells; they produce a kind of glue that binds them together very tightly, sealing the gut wall. Our gut flora regulates the whole process of enterocytes being born, travelling up the villi and fulfilling their functions. When the gut flora becomes abnormal, the enterocytes degenerate and are unable to do their jobs.
Pathogenic microbes in the gut produce chemicals that dissolve the glue between enterocytes, making the gut wall porous and leaky, and foods start absorbing undigested. The immune system finds these undigested foods in the blood and attacks them, which manifests as a food allergy or intolerance. It can be any symptom under the sun - a migraine headache, skin rash, bout of cystitis, painful joints, asthma attack, panic attack, a drop in blood sugar level or energy level. The reaction can be immediate or delayed, so on any particular day you have no idea what you’re reacting to.
People get tested for food allergies and start removing foods from their diet. Many finish up with virtually nothing left to eat, and they’re still reacting. As long as your gut wall is like a sieve, you will be absorbing most things undigested. It is important to focus on healing and sealing your gut wall with a gut healing protocol like the GAPS Nutritional Protocol. You’ll start digesting food properly and absorbing it in the right shape, and all those reactions will start to disappear naturally over time'
So it is important to note that it is not necessarily the food itself that is the cause of the problem but the damaged gut wall and unhealthy enterocyte cells. Just avoiding foods and taking a probiotic is not enough to resolve the problem. The gut needs to be healed and sealed with a gut healing protocol like the GAPS diet which helps to, not only heal and seal the gut lining, but also nourish and feed those important enterocyte cells.
With the GAPS diet the key principle is healing the gut. This is achieved by consuming GAPS approved foods that nourish and heal the gut and eliminating all foods that cause irritation and inflammation and are hard for our enterocyte cells to digest. As well as this the diet creates a healthy gut flora by repopulating the gut with beneficial bacteria using appropriate fermented foods, probiotics supplements and eliminating foods that feed opportunist bacteria. The nourishing foods on the diet help to reduce toxic load and support our natural ability to eliminate toxins more effectively.
I was very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to attend intensive training in 2015 with Dr Natasha Campbell McBride to become a Certified GAPS Practitioner. Please contact me to determine if the GAPS diet is right for you or your family.
Campbell - McBride, Dr N (MD), Gut and Psychology Syndrome, English Edition, Medinform Publishing United Kingdom, 2010