This post is going to get a bit technical about the biology of our guts. I will attempt to explain what goes on in a healthy gut. My next post will explain what happens when our gut is not working properly (most people with CFS/ME have digestive problems – often diagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome). I share this information because I think it will help you to understand why I am following the diet that I am.
I credit Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride and her excellent book Gut and Psychology Syndrome for my understanding of this topic. She is a practising doctor and her book is thoroughly researched, and includes a 17 page list of “selected” references. Her explanations of what goes on in the gut and how this links to the brain were enlightening to me.
Our gut is inhabited by millions of microbes, this is a symbiotic relationship where neither party can live without the other. Gut flora can be divided into 3 main types:
- Essential or Beneficial Flora – the most numerous in a healthy individual and the most important group
- Opportunistic Flora – in a healthy person their numbers are limited and tightly controlled by the beneficial bacteria
- Transitional Flora -generally ingested with food. In a healthy gut these pass through without doing any harm, but if the beneficial bacteria is damaged they can cause disease.
The whole length of our digestive tract is coated with bacteria, providing a natural barrier against undigested food, toxins, parasites and pathenogenic micro organisms we ingest. If this protective barrier gets damaged, the gut wall suffers.
Our bacterial barrier can produce anti-biotic, anti-viral and anti-fungal like substances and they can engage the immune system to fight invaders. They also produce acid ensuring the pH near the wall of the gut is very uncomfortable for “bad” microbes.
Our indigenous gut flora is also good at neutralizing the toxins produced by pathogenic microbes and that we ingest with food.
Digestion and Absorption
The healthy flora on the gut wall are designed to take an active role in digestion and absorption. They can digest proteins, ferment carbohydrates and break down lipids (fats) and fibre. By products of bacterial activity in the gut are very important in transporting minerals, vitamins, water, gases and many other nutrients through the gut wall into the bloodstream.
Healthy gut flora provide a major source of energy and nourishment for the cells lining the digestive tract. The bacteria digest the food converting it into useful, nourishing substances for the gut lining. It is estimated that the gut lining gets 60-70% of its energy from bacterial activity.
Our bacteria also produce various nutrients and vitamins, namely vitamin K, pantothenic acid, folic acid. Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12, as well as some amino acids.
Renewal of Cells
Cells in the gut lining have to work very hard digesting food, and hence need to be young and in good shape. The gut is constantly producing new cells and shedding old cells in a process of renewal.
Fibre cannot be digested by a human gut without the help of beneficial bacteria. In a healthy gut fibre is broken down by bacteria to provide nutrients which feed the gut wall and the rest of the body. They also activate the fibre to take part in water and elecrolytes metabolism, recyle bile acids and cholesterol and other stuff.
If you’ve made it this far – congratulations, especially if you have CFS/ME. I normally try and keep my posts quite short so they’re not too taxing for those with brain fog, but every so often I feel the need to write a more in depth post.
As you can see our guts (and the bacteria residing there) provide many essential functions, so if we want to improve our health then they are a key part of the equation. In my next post I will attempt to explain what happens when our gut is damaged.