‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: Shut your pie hole or, in this case: Put less in your pie hole.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Bacteria: Public Enemy #1 Or Protective Posse?

The human gut is a fascinating and complex beast. Different sections are responsible for different elements of digestion and absorption of food. Perhaps one of the most enchanting aspects of digestion is the relationship we humans have with bacteria. Wait! Before you reach for your multipurpose cleaner that kills 99.9999% of germs, hear me out. They won't kill you, in fact, being without them might kill you. What am I on about? The human gut microbiome (duh).

The Human Microbiome Project, started in 2007, is a project that seeks to categorise microbial (bacterial) communities found at body sites including the nose, mouth, skin, genital tract and, of course, the gut.

The microbiome is a blueprint of the genetic configuration of all microbes inhabiting the body. Microbes in the gut are called 'gut flora'. Humans and gut flora boast a mutually beneficial (or symbiotic) relationship. Simply explained: They get food, nutrients and a "pimpin' pad", and we use them for health.

What precisely does this mean 'for health'? It sounds kind of wishy washy, like someone telling you taking multivitamins or antioxidants will improve your 'overall health'. Yep, we'll get right to that. Gut flora are important to our health because:
  • They promote a strong immune system by preventing the colonisation of pathogenic bacteria
    • Think of them as your neighbourhood watch, they keep out the bacteria that wreak havoc
  • They synthesise vitamins
  • They ferment non-digestible carbohydrates like resistant starche, cellulose and pectins (in other words: Fiber)
    • Fermentation produces short chain fatty acids which promote cell turnover in both colon and liver cells, which decreases cancer risk
Gut flora profiles differ between individuals and, unlike the human genome (one's DNA), they can be altered. For example, obese people have different gut flora, and usually a lower diversity, compared to healthy weight individuals. Research shows certain gut bacteria are correlated with obesity and metabolic syndrome traits including elevated blood glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The phrase 'you are what you eat' is perhaps more accurately 'your gut bacteria are what you eat'.

Another piece of the gut puzzle to pique your interest, is the role stress plays on your colon and its inhabitants. Stress can provoke unsavoury changes to your usual colon function... Everyone's favourite words: Diarrhea and constipation. Often these occur due to changed eating habits. Whether it's skipping meals, eating more fast food, or eating less of your high fiber foods (whole grains, fruit and veg), diet changes often upset the bacteria in your intestines, resulting in said unpleasant side effects.

Key messages and tips to write home about:
  • Your gut/colon/large intestine, whatever you want to call it, plays a fundamental role in health beyond food digestion
  • Foods in your diet, your weight status and stress levels impact your gut bacteria
  • In times of stress, the best way to prevent disagreeable bowel upsets like diarrhea and constipation (oh dear, said it again), is to continue eating your usual (healthy) diet

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