There are trillions of microorganisms living inside our intestines. Together, these microbial organisms are referred to as gut flora or gut microbiota. These microorganisms are very important to our survival and benefit us by digesting food, digesting harmful toxins, producing vitamins, and preventing harmful bacteria from invading us. The gut flora are also vital in maturing our immune system as an infant. Different people have different populations of gut flora based on many factors.
Recent research suggests that alteration in our gut flora allows pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria to find home in our gut. These alterations can lead to a cascade of events that can eventually lead to “turning on” of human genes and development of certain types of autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, colitis. This overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria is referred to as dysbiosis. Furthermore, research also shows that specific type of diet will select certain types of bacteria to be present in the gut. People who eat a carbohydrate rich diet (more sugar) tend to have more of the sugar loving bacterial strains whereas those who eat more protein tend to have more of a protein loving bacterial strains. Therefore, eating a balanced healthy diet is very important.
Taking antibiotics has shown to decrease the gut flora and allow pathogenic bacteria to over grow. You are not just killing your illness causing bad bacteria but also a lot of the good bacteria in the your gut each time you are taking antibiotics. This can compromise your body and make you more susceptible to more diseases. Physicians should therefore use caution in prescribing antibiotics to only those who truly need it.
There is also concern that pesticides that are in our food are killing the gut flora. In addition, there are hundreds of different chemicals in the processed food that we are eating that is altering our gut flora. There is evidence that our gut flora play a crucial role in protecting us from many diseases including autoimmune disease. However, with all the alteration in our diet and environment has also led to an alteration to our gut bacteria. Thus, it is no coincidence that the rates of autoimmune diseases are soaring in developed countries.
As a Rheumatologist, one of my focuses with my autoimmune patient, is trying to educate them about the role of the gut micro biome and its role in disease. In order to prevent further disease and in order to effectively treat the patient, we need to take care of the gut health by eating a clean diet free of chemicals and pesticides. We also need to learn to use antibiotics more responsibly. Many other things can also alter the gut flora and you can improve by drinking clean water, getting good nights sleep and learning to deal with your daily stress.