In the past, the digestive system was once thought as a simple system where food passes through and nutrient are absorbed into the bloodstream. It was only in the recent decade that we’ve truly understood how our gut impacts our health — from metabolic conditions like diabetes to autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.
In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at certain conditions that, at first glance, may have nothing to do with your gut but are closely linked to the current state of your gut flora.
Key Terms You Should Know
Before we proceed, here are some gut microbiome key terms you need to know:
It refers to the trillions of bacteria residing in your digestive system — from your mouth to your rectum. The word flora may also be used to refer to these bacterial communities in your gut.
Current research reveals that there are 500+ different strains of bacteria in your gut, and a healthy balance (also known as eubiosis) between these strains means you’re less likely to experience health issues.
A measurement of how many different species are evenly distributed in your microbiome.
Also known as microbiome imbalance, dysbiosis is often thought of as a result of lower diversity. At this point, this is where specific health issues start to turn up. Some of these conditions can be linked to an imbalance in your digestive system such as irritable bowel syndrome or IBS.
Meanwhile, there are health issues that, on the surface, has nothing to do with your gut microbiome health but it turns out that they’re closely linked to the state of your gut health. These include eczema, stuffy nose, and nail fungus.
Eczema or atopic dermatitis is a skin condition characterized by flaky, dry, and downright painful patches of skin. For sufferers, the condition significantly impacts their quality of life. An interesting study revealed that reduced gut microbial diversity in early life is associated with development of eczema later in life.
An overactive immune system is almost always the culprit to eczema. For this reason, doctors typically prescribe powerful immunosuppressive drugs to address signs and symptoms. However, it’s worth noting that this approach can do more harm than good. Long term dependency on immunosuppressive medications may reduce or suppress the strength of one’s immune system.
The good news is that recent studies have discovered that improving gut diversity through probiotics and nutrition had a positive effect on the severity of atopic dermatitis or eczema. Scientists and health care practitioners are hopeful that eczema symptoms can be relieved by ensuring gut flora diversity.
Nasal congestion and other symptoms of allergies are a bit sneaky. Before you know it, you’re having bouts of uncontrollable sneezing alongside a stuffy nose, some sinus pressure, and watery, itchy eyes.
Every so often, these symptoms are a result of your immune system’s response to certain foods (like eggs and peanuts) or environmental factors (like pollen) as “invaders” or harmful pathogens. As a result, your immune system ramps up to attack these “invaders” and in the process leads to typical allergy symptoms.
Interestingly, the rise of such symptoms is linked to reduced diversity of the gut microbiome. Researchers found significant evidence suggesting that a combination of interventions and practices that support gut microbiome diversity can help reduce the severity of allergies. These include natural childbirth, breastfeeding, increase exposure to outdoor activities, infrequent use of antibiotics, and diet modifications.
If you’ve been dealing with persistent, pesky nail fungus for a while now and you’ve tried everything to get rid of it — from expensive creams to prescription antifungal pills, you might want to consider the state of your gut flora.
As it turns out, it may have to do with Candida, a specific type of yeast which is naturally present in small quantities in your mouth and intestinal tract. In normal amounts, Candida helps digest and absorb the nutrients from your food. However, Candida overgrowth may lead to a host of health issues, including nail fungus.
So what causes Candida to increase in numbers and flourish?
It could be the round of antibiotics that you had after a wisdom tooth extraction. The antibiotics may have killed off the good bacteria that are supposed to keep candida numbers in check. Other factors that disrupt the delicate balance between candida and the rest of your gut flora include diets high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, certain conditions, and a high-stress lifestyle.
Your Action Plan
As a Maryland functional medicine practice, our approach in helping you deal with the aforementioned health issues starts by finding out the underlying condition of your symptoms. Most doctors would only address the symptoms rather than figure out the root cause.
The good news is you can take steps to help promote a healthier and more diverse gut microbiome. For a start, pay attention to what is on your plate at every meal. Ask your doctor whenever you’re prescribed with antibiotics. Finally, consider probiotic supplements. It’s worth noting that probiotics are not created equal. Dosing may vary depending on your needs and current health conditions.
Curious about specific interventions that you can do to promote a healthy gut? Schedule an appointment with Dr. Hauser for a customized treatment plan.