By Dr. Martha Calihan
In recent years, we have increasingly come to understand the importance of the immune system in our gut. We are learning about the powerful gut-brain connection, and the importance of the gut microbiome; the enormous population of bacteria that populates our intestines.
It is interesting to reflect on this connection and relationship that exists within un and that drives our health, or the lack thereof.
We now understand that the gut microbiome is critical to our wellbeing, and that an imbalance in these bacteria, such as can occur after antibiotics or an infection, can have profound effects on our health. Our lifestyle choices, including the foods we eat, can have direct effects on the composition of our gut bacteria. These bacteria perform a variety of functions that are significant, including the synthesis of some vitamins and other metabolic compounds that are necessary for the gut cells to be healthy.
An imbalance in the healthy gut bacteria can have far reaching effects, and directly and indirectly affect the immune system.
This becomes important when we think of the large increase in the number of people being diagnosed with and suffering from auto-immune diseases and conditions. Why are we seeing such an increase in these conditions in recent years? Why is affecting our immune systems?
There are lots of potential factors to consider, including our diets, which need to include fresh, whole foods, and not a lot of nutrient-poor processed foods; the inclusion of some fermented foods such as sauerkraut or other fermented vegetables which help restore the beneficial bacteria to the gut, and the avoidance of excess sugars which can drive the overgrowth of yeasts.
We need to be judicious in our use of antibiotics, knowing how they alter the balance of the healthy gut bacteria.
We need to learn to manage stress, because stress can and does, affect the immune system and can affect the gut as well.
We need a healthy gut to support our health. We have come to learn that it is much more than just an organ of digestion, and that it is the site of a significant portion of our immune system and thus, a critical component in our health. We need to pay attention to and care for our gut health to take care our own health.
Dr. Martha Calihan has practiced Family Medicine for more than 20 years, during which time her interests and her practice have gradually evolved into a holistic, integrative approach to medicine. She is licensed to practice acupuncture and is also trained in both Mind-Body Medicine and Functional Medicine. She is the founder of the Five Stones Healing Arts & Wellness Center in Leesburg.
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