Bacteria is the new, fascinating buzz word in the medical/disease arena these days. Microbiome is another word used to describe the wonderful, bizarre world of your gut bacteria. These good bacteria are known for a plethora of health benefits. They help us digest and assimilate foods, fiber, and make some vitamins. They offer protection from antibiotics and a host of unfriendly bacteria, infections, and, most importantly, keep our immune system up and running. These bacteria also have positive effects on weight control, arthritis, mood, and keep cancers at bay. It wasn’t that long ago that people didn’t give their gut a second thought. How times have changed… To date, these are some of the far-reaching effects that gut bacteria have on our health. 1). Many of us get “butterflies” when feeling anxious, revealing an important connection between the gut and the brain. Gut bacteria communicate with the brain by making neurotransmitters, sending signals through the vagus nerve and influencing the immune system, which also affects mood. Intestinal bacteria make about 95% of the body’s serotonin, which¬†elicits calming and anti-depressant properties. The gut is now known as the “second brain,” because in addition to serotonin, it can also boost gamma-aminobutric acid, a neurotransmitter that reduces anxiety and increases mental focus. Yea. 2). With two-thirds of Americans overweight or obese, many are in a constant state of dieting. Scientists have recently discovered that there is a difference in the gut bacteria between obese and thin people, and it appears to be due to diet. High-fiber diets tend to make people thinner because they encourage a more diverse gut bacterium-people who don’t eat much fiber lack these bacteria. Those on a higher-fiber diet secrete more leptin, a hormone that signals the brain that one is satiated. Berries, dark leafy greens, apples, and citrus fruits are some of the foods (but not all) which stimulate leptin secretion. 3). Japanese researchers recently discovered that people are more likely to develop abnormal immune responses when their gut bacteria are unbalanced, and scientists at the New York School of Medicine reported that the loss of beneficial bacteria is connected to the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. This unbalance in gut bacteria is also thought to be a factor in other autoimmune diseases such as autism, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Bottom line: To keep or gain good health, keeping the gut bacteria happy and balanced is key. And the way to do that is through proper food intake. Probiotic supplements are okay, but remember, they are just that; supplements.

Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.