In nursing, if you hear ‘endocrine system’, you probably think of the pancreas or thyroid, or even the pituitary gland. But, perhaps the last thing that you would consider is gut microbiota.
…maybe now you are thinking, “microbi-what-a?”
The importance of ‘gut health’ and ‘microbiota’ has been gaining recent attention in fields such as weight management, nutrition and research.
Boulange et al. (2016) explain that the gut microbiota can be thought of as being a distinct endocrine organ that has ‘molecular cross-talk’ with the human host. Energy homeostasis and trigger of the host’s immune system are influenced by this ‘cross-talk’.
The Gut Microbiome
Amazingly, the human gut hosts over 100 trillion microbial cells! (Boulange et al. 2016) These gut microbes are very important to our metabolic regulation, lipid accumulation and immune system functioning.
For example, changes to the microbial ecosystem in the gut could lead to low-grade inflammation, reduced insulin sensitivity and other adverse physiology. However, it remains unclear as to the exact manner in which gut microbiota lead to obesity and metabolic disorders (Boulange et al. 2016).
A person’s microbiome begins to colonise prenatally, transmitted from the flora of the mother. Further colonisation after birth is influenced by factors such as gestational age, the mode of delivery (natural or Caesarean section), diet (breastfeeding or formula), hygiene and exposure to antibiotics.
The first three years of an infant’s life are crucial to developing healthy, adult-like microbiota, immune and neurologic systems through environmental exposures and a diverse diet. The human gut achieves the characteristics of an adult’s microbiota population between the ages of two and five years (Boulange et al. 2016).
Boulange et al. (2016) explain that the gut microbiota can be thought of as being a distinct endocrine organ that has ‘molecular cross-talk’ with the human host. Energy homeostasis and trigger of the host’s immune system are influenced by this ‘cross-talk’ (Boulange et al. 2016).
As suggested earlier, gut microbiota can trigger low-grade inflammation and thereby lead to metabolic disorders (Boulange et al. 2016).
Bischoff (2011) even suggests that good gut health may have an impact on mood. Similarly, Mayer et al. convey that while psychological and physical stressors can have an effect on a person’s gut microbiota composition and metabolic activity, the phenomenon works both ways, with ‘experimental changes’ to the microbiome affecting emotional behaviour and related brain systems (2014).
Furthermore, Mayer et al. speculate that these findings imply alterations to gut microbiota may ‘play a pathophysiological role in human brain diseases, including autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain’ (2014).
Improve Your Gut Health
Gut health can be promoted by having an intake of prebiotics and probiotics (Boulange et al. 2016).
Prebiotics can be found in: vegetables, whole-grain cereal and some yoghurts (Boulange et al. 2016). Prebiotics are a certain type of fibre that include inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides (fructans , FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) (Monash University School of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences 2014).
Some examples of food sources of prebiotics can include:
- Dried dates
- Wheat bread
- Rye bread
- Custard apples
- Spring onions
- Snow peas
- Fennel bulb
(Monash University School of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences 2014)
Probiotics are live microorganisms such as Lactobacillus (Maldonado Galdeano et al. 2015). Some of the benefits of probiotics are that they can assist in maintaining good gut flora balance, and prevent pathogen invasion (Tripathi & Giri 2014). Scholz-Ahrens (2016) states that probiotics can support bone health. Mayer et al. (2014) report that ‘Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus are the main genera showing beneficial effects on anxiety- and depression-like behavior.’ Mayer et al. (2014) report that a range of different probiotics have had further health benefits as shown in other studies.
Probiotic food sources can include:
- probiotic yoghurts (Maldonado Galdeano et al. 2015) – yoghurts that usually say ‘live active cultures’ (Migala 2015)
- some fermented milk (e.g. containing lactobacillus) (Maldonado Galdeano et al. 2015)
- Kefir (Migala 2015)
- Meso paste (Migala 2015)
- Kombucha tea (Migala 2015)
- Sauerkraut (Migala 2015)
- Sourdough bread (Migala 2015)
- Tempeh (Migala 2015)
- Cultured soymilk (Migala 2015)
- Kimchi (Migala 2015)
- And certain chocolates even contain probiotics (Migala 2015)!
‘Fecal transplantation is an efficient way to reshape the gut microbial ecosystem after antibiotic treatment or to help fight intestinal infection with Clostridium difficile and can be used as therapy for inflammatory bowel diseases [69, 70]. A study also showed that nine men with the metabolic syndrome who underwent fecal transplantation with stools from healthy lean individuals had lower fasting levels of triglycerides and developed greater hepatic and peripheral insulin sensitivity after transplantation than nine men who received a transplant of their own stool ’
(Boulange et al. 2016)
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- Bischoff, SC 2011, ”Gut health’: a new objective in medicine?’, BMC Medicine, vol. 9, no. 24, viewed 22 August 2017, https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1741-7015-9-24
- Boulange, CL, Neves, AL, Chilloux, J, Nicholson, JK & Dumas, ME 2016, ‘Impact of the gut microbiota on inflammation, obesity, and metabolic disease’, Genome Medicine, vol. 8, no. 42, viewed 22 August 2017, https://genomemedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13073-016-0303-2
- Maldonado Galdeano, C, Novotny Nunez, I, Carmuega, E, de Moreno de LeBlanc, A & Perdigon, G 2015, ‘Role of Probiotics and Functional Foods in Health: Gut Immune Stimulation by Two Probiotic Strains and a Potential Probiotic Yoghurt’, Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders-Drug Targets (Formerly Current Drug Targets – Immune, Endocrine & Metabolic Disorders), vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 37-45, viewed 22 August 2017, http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ben/emiddt/2015/00000015/00000001/art00007#Refs
- Mayer, EA, Knight, R, Mazmanian, SK, Cryan, JF & Tillisch, K 2014, ‘Gut Microbes and the Brain: Paradigm Shift in Neuroscience’, Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 34, no. 46, pp. 15490-6, viewed 22 August 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4228144/
- Migala, J 2015, ’13 Best Probiotic Foods For Your Gut Health’, Health.com, 29 May, viewed 22 August 2017, http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20918991,00.html#lassi-0
- Monash University School of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences 2014, Dietary Fibre and natural prebiotics for gut health: FAQs, Monash University, Victoria, viewed 22 August 2017, http://www.med.monash.edu.au/cecs/gastro/prebiotic/faq/
- Scholz-Ahrens, KE 2016, ‘Prebiotics, Probiotics, Synbiotics and Foods with Regard to Bone Metabolism’, Nutritional Influences on Bone Health, pp. 153-67, viewed 22 August 2017, https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-32417-3_15
- Tripathi MK & Giri, SK 2014, ‘Probiotic functional foods: Survival of probiotics during processing and storage’, Journal of Functional Foods, vol. 9, pp. 225-41, viewed 22 August 2017, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464614001716
Madeline Gilkes focused her research project for her Master's of Healthcare Leadership on Health Coaching for Long-Term Weight Loss in Obese Adults. She also has a Graduate Certificate in Adult & Vocational Education, Graduate Certificate in Aged Care, Bachelor of Nursing, Certificate IV Weight Management and Certificate IV Frontline Management. Madeline is an academic and registered nurse. Her vision is to prevent lifestyle diseases, obesogenic environments, dementia and metabolic syndrome. She has spent the past years in the role of Clinical Facilitator and Clinical Nurse Specialist (Gerontology and Education).