Optimal Gut Health: Finding a Healthy Balance – Part 1

Written by Anil Bajnath, MD
Posted August 3, 2021

Dear Longevity Insider,

In the last few decades, there has been a rise in scientific findings linking our gut health to autoimmune disease, heart disease, mood, obesity, endocrine disorders, cancer, and more.

The complexity of nurturing a healthy gut has led researchers on the pursuit for a better understanding on how the trillions of microbes that live in the gut influence our overall health. What is an unhealthy gut? What causes gut dysbiosis? 

The Gut Microbiome

The Gut Microbiome refers specifically to the microorganisms that include bacteria, parasites, viruses, and fungi that are found in the small and large intestines. Cell for cell, the human body was thought to be mostly bacteria. In the 1970s, American microbiologist Thomas D. Luckey estimated that there are about 100 billion microbes in a gram of human intestinal fluid. While more recent estimates put the number of gut microbes to anywhere from 30 trillion to 400 trillion, the exact figure is not needed to understand how crucial the microbiome is to our existence. 

Everyone’s microbiome is unique. Each of us has a unique network of microbiota, initially determined by your DNA. New research believes that a newborn’s microbiome is likely to begin prior to birth as microbes are isolated from the placenta, fetal membranes, amniotic fluid, and umbilical cord blood. What microorganisms a newborn will be exposed to depends on the mother, mode of labor delivery, food sources, antibiotic use, and more.  

Later in life, environmental exposures, diet, geographical location, toxins, and more will play a huge role on the microbiome. Additionally, how much of the microbiome is made up of a specific organism can fluctuate daily, weekly, monthly depending on if there is the presence of disease(s), medications taken, our diet, and a host of other environmental exposures.

Gut Microbiota Functions – Beyond Digestion

Our gut does many marvelous things that go beyond digestion and benefit the body. 

Synthesize Vitamins

Gut microbiota can synthesize certain vitamins such as vitamin K, and B group vitamins including biotin, cobalamin, folates, nicotinic acid, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin, and thiamine. These vitamins are essential for bacterial metabolism but also more! For example, the enzymes needed to produce bitamin B12, an important nutrient that helps make DNA and much more, are only found in our gut. Vitamin K is used commonly for blood clotting issues and even for reversing blood thinning.  

Produce SCFAs

Our colon is full of gut microbiota that can ferment proteins and carbohydrates that are not absorbed in the small intestine during digestion. Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA) are the main metabolites produced in the colon by the bacterial fermentation of dietary fibers. Butyrate acid specifically is a fatty acid that is produced in the colon that aids in breaking down dietary fiber. This symbiotic relationship allows for colonocytes in the digestive tract to produce mucin as a part of its inherent barrier system. 

Gut-Brain Connection

Ever heard the saying “my gut feeling”? Well, that term is not a coincidence. Our gut is considered the “second brain” and is formally known as the enteric nervous system (ENS).  The ENS is an intricate network of over 100 million neurons that line our gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus to the rectum; Its main function is to control digestion. The ENS is so powerful that it can operate independently of our central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).

On Thursday, we'll talk more about the gut and how it influences the rest of your body. 

To your longevity,

Anil Bajnath MD
CEO/Founder, Institute for Human Optimization
Chief Medical Officer, Longevity Insider HQ