Up until recently the extent of my knowledge about the large intestine has been very limited. We eat and then we poop and that’s about it. My interest in poop has only gone so far as the occasional hilarious story of an esteemed adult pooping their pants. They really do get me every time. See here.
But now we are studying the microbiome, the fancy name for our gut, in class and HOLY CRAP (I will try and keep the puns to a minimum) it is fascinating. It is a whole separate universe in there! Things are happening. Lots of things. The study of our gut is catching on and researchers everywhere are dedicating their lives to poop. Here is a brief definition of the study of our gut:
“The term microbiome was coined by Joshua Lederberg to “signify the ecological community of commensal, symbiotic, and pathogenic microorganisms that literally share our body space and have been all but ignored as determinants of health and disease.” (Grice, E. The Human Microbiome, Our Second Genome)
Be ignored no more little bugs! I am here to tell you 10 awesome facts I have learned so far about our entrails and how what resides in them can influence our overall health.
10 REASONS WHY YOUR GUT IS THE SH*&
1. YOUR MICROBIOME IS HOME TO OVER HALF OF ALL CELLS IN YOUR BODY
I’m sorry what? Out of all of the cells in our body, HALF of them live in our GI tract? It’s true. The average human houses about 40 trillion microbes and about 30 trillion human cells. There are 7.5 billion people in our world. My goldendoodle, Howard, has about 15,000 hairs on his *very* fluffy body. Just some perspective for you…
2. EACH BACTERIAL CELL HAS ROUGHLY 100,000 GENES
After the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003, it was discovered that humans have about 24,000 genes. So if we have 40 trillion microbes, each with 100,000 genes, that gives us…a crazy number. I need to talk to my math people to give you a good estimation. But just know it is a lot.
3. YOUR GI TRACT IS THE #1 IMMUNE FUNCTION IN YOUR BODY
Our gut is technically “outside” of the body. As we all know from experience, it has an opening at two ends. This means it is constantly coming into contact with our outside world which is full of scary things that can make us sick. It makes sense, then, that we would need loads of immune cells to help keep those foreign invaders from taking over. This is mainly accomplished by something called GALT (gut-associated lymphoid tissue) through a series of complex mechanisms. GALT comprises about 70% of our immune system.
4. YOUR GUT HAS A SAY IN WHETHER YOU HOLD ON TO THAT EXTRA SLICE OF CAKE
Much research is currently being performed on how the state of our gut flora can either help or hurt our metabolism. It seems that an unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle creates a certain concoction of GI flora (one that lends itself to obesity and other chronic diseases) while a healthy and active lifestyle creates another. This is because microbes can actually alter the way we store fat, respond to glucose, and harvest calories.
5. YOUR COLON PRODUCES THE ALCOHOL EQUIVALENT OF 1 BEER A DAY
Cheers! That’s right; beer gut is a real thing. All that fermentation going on in your intestines after a large meal actually produces booze. So next time you are inappropriately drunk at your wife’s boss’s house, just blame it on your microbes.
6. THE LARGE INTESTINE HARVESTS 10-15% OF YOUR TOTAL CALORIES
Science is now telling us that our microbes can actually extract calories from our foods, specifically dietary fats. And as we discussed above, certain bacteria can harvest certain amounts of calories. Apparently, there is strong evidence that the bacteria from the “less healthy” individuals actually extract more calories than the bacteria from the “healthier” folks. Imagine that slice of pizza you are about to eat is actually 550 calories, not 500 like in your friend’s slice.
7. YOUR GUT AND BRIAN ARE TIGHT WITH EACH OTHER
The gut-brian connection exists. Evidence is surfacing that our guts could play a crucial role in depression, anxiety, and autism. A study was done recently on bug-free mice (no gut flora present) to see if autistic tendencies could be treated with beneficial GI bacteria. The mice were extracted from their mommy’s tummies without having any contact with the outside world and were then observed. The mice initially demonstrated autistic tendencies like not hanging out with other mice and what-not. They were then given a slew of microbial flora and the symptoms subsided dramatically.
8. YOUR GUT BUGS NEED THIER SLEEP, TOO
Some really smart people discovered these little critters operate on a circadian rhythm. If you don’t get your 8 hours, neither will they, and they need their beauty rest. It is the cutest thing to imagine your little gut bugs sleeping.
9. FECAL TRANSPLANTS ARE A THING
Yeeppp. It is exactly like what you are imagining. As we discussed above, there is such a thing as “not so great” bacterial flora and “better” bacterial flora that can either increase or decrease your risk factors for obesity and other chronic illnesses. Well, now you can take the excrements of someone else, blend it in your Vitamix (jk, the doctors do it in a fancy blender) and place ((?) couldn’t think of a better word for this) it into the person who needs that good bacteria. Many people can benefit from this procedure, specifically individuals infected with gut-destroying bacteria like shigella or something else horrible. There have been many success stories.
10. YOU HAVE MORE CONTROL OVER THE HEALTH OF YOUR GUT THAN YOU THINK
And here are some ways to do so:
- Eat your prebiotics. Prebiotics are the fertilizer to the probiotics. They can be found in fruits and vegetables, whole grain products, and anything else with fiber.
- Eat and drink your probiotics. These are the actual living organisms found in things like yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and beer and wine.
- Reduce your consumption of sugar. High-sugar foods tend to produce a negative imbalance in gut bacteria.
- Get good sleep. For the beauty of the bugs.
- Exercise daily.
- Try not to take antibiotics unless you seriously need them. These wipe out your entire world of bacteria, including all of the good bacteria, which can leave you at risk for additional infections and an imbalanced gut. If you need an antibiotic, be sure to eat or take some probiotics a few hours after taking the antibiotic to insure you keep the good guys alive.
- Try not to use supplements. Unless you have done extensive research on your supplement, these can be very sketchy. Your body also won’t be able to use them as easily as it can from whole foods. Plus you can get all the pre- and probiotics from whole foods, so why spend more money?
So there you have it! Everything you wanted to know about your GI tract plus maybe more than you wanted to know.