I have taken a fascinating diversion this week into vaginas. Well, not literally. I have been reading about vaginal microbes. I will tell you about this at some point but I am having to temper my Tigger like enthusiasm about all things microbial and stick to the plan (this implies I have a plan, which I think sounds reassuring…..).
Actually, I am trying to break down into something manageable, the fascinating (but complicated) information there is out there on the gut microbiome - our dependence upon it, its influence upon us and our ability to influence it to our benefit. And that means we need to talk about INFLAMMATION.
inflammation -a double-edged sword
Picture your gut as a sleeve – from your oesophagus to your bum hole – a single layer of epithelial cells – your border with the world – which has to get nutrients into your blood stream and keep harmful things out. Since this is an important border to police, the majority of your immune system resides in your gut. Just the other side of the gut lining, lies a host of immune system cells awaiting instructions.
If you are something in my gut, a nutrient, a toxin, a bacteria or maybe a virus, there are two ways into my blood stream – either through the cells that constitute my gut lining or between these cells. The junctions between these cells are supposed to be tight and well policed to prevent the latter from occurring. If these junctions aren’t working properly then the integrity of my gut wall is compromised. When the wrong things regularly get past this barrier, my immune system responds – and causes INFLAMMATION in the gut and often beyond. A normal inflammatory response is healing - a crucial part of a healthy immune response. But prolonged inflammation is not healthy. It can damage the gut wall further setting up a vicious circle of increased permeability and further inflammation. Unwelcome substances, once in the blood stream via the gut, can then breach the blood/ brain barrier as well. Which doesn’t sound too good to me.
No doubt, you have guessed the moral of this little story – our microbiome, when healthy, produces substances to maintain the health of our gut wall, it soothes and gently manages our immune system to prevent prolonged inflammation, whilst ensuring appropriate action is taken when required. It helps to keep those cell joints tight. Unhelpful bacteria, along with dysbiosis (bacterial imbalances) mess with the programme and compromise the gut barrier. The resulting inflammation is associated with a large range of health challenges including autoimmune illnesses, asthma, eczema, IBS, diabetes, Autism, Alzheimers, Parkinson’s and so on.
We will look in more detail over the coming weeks at what compromises your microbes thereby initiating this process and what supports them to guard against it.
For now though, I am attempting to start swapping milk chocolate for dark chocolate where at all possible. We make Chocolate Bark every year for Bonfire night – it involves melting white and milk chocolate together and sprinkling toffee popcorn on it and then putting it in the fridge. And then putting it into our mouths, quite a few pieces at a time. This year though, I used half the amount of white chocolate and replaced the milk chocolate with dark chocolate (which contains less inflammation-encouraging sugar and more flavonoid polyphenols that the microbes use to produce inflammation-reducing by-products). A first step in retraining our taste buds.