A growing area of research suggests that an imbalance in gut bacteria could be causing inflammation. What does this mean for your health – and what can you do about it?
Inflammation is a vital part of our immune response – without it we would not heal. What’s less helpful is chronic, low-level inflammation that can spread throughout the body.
Some experts now believe our gut could be a source of chronic inflammation, but there is a way you can help bring your body back into balance.
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Why is inflammation a problem?
Inflammation is a feature of old age, but it’s also associated with many autoimmune diseases as well as weight gain, insulin resistance, poor energy, sleep and libido, reduced brain function and depression.
Inflammation is identified by inflammatory markers in the blood including interleukin-6 (IL-6) tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) and C-reactive protein (CRP).1
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The gut-inflammation connection
The latest research points to a gut bacteria imbalance (dysbiosis) as a possible cause of some chronic inflammation. Research published in the journal Genome Medicine in 2016 identified that alteration of the gut ecosystem can contribute to inflammation, obesity and metabolic disease.2
A 2015 Chinese study, published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, found gut bacteria play a key role in the development of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) through their regulation of inflammation in the gut – and that addressing this may therefore help control the IBD.3
Yet another study, reported in Microbiology Ecology in 2014, confirmed it is possible to reduce levels of inflammatory markers in the blood by adjusting gut bacteria. When 93 obese volunteers followed a diet designed to balance their microbiota for 23 weeks, they lost weight and saw improvements in insulin sensitivity, lipid profile, blood pressure – and lowered levels of TNF-α and IL-6.4
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Rebalance your gut bacteria
In the future, we may be able to address specific microbial imbalances with targeted 'friendly' bacteria medicines. Until then, we can try to mitigate chronic inflammation by improving our gut health with diet and lifestyle changes designed to boost the number and diversity of our gut microbes.
This means reducing stress, keeping active and aiming for a balanced, diverse diet based on whole foods. Eat an abundance of fruit and vegetables in a rainbow of colours. Fill up on lean protein, healthy fats, a range of wholegrains, legumes and pulses, nuts and seeds. And avoid or limit processed foods, artificial ingredients and refined sugars.
Feed the microbes in your gut with fibre-rich foods such as bananas, asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, oats. And replenish the microbes with naturally beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods like natural yoghurt, miso, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, other pickled vegetables, kombucha, and aged cheese.
It can be useful to include naturally anti-inflammatory, calming ingredients in your cooking too. Look for recipes that use the spice turmeric (active ingredient curcumin), ginger, and oregano.
You may also want to take a broad-spectrum beneficial bacteria supplement, and anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any remedies.
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1. Buford TW. (Dis)Trust your gut: the gut microbiome in age-related inflammation, health, and disease. Available from: https://microbiomejournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40168-017-0296-0
2. Boulangé CL, et al. Impact of the gut microbiota on inflammation, obesity, and metabolic disease. Available from: https://genomemedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13073-016-0303-2
3. Zhang YJ, et al. Impacts of Gut Bacteria on Human Health and Diseases. Available from: http://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/16/4/7493
4. Xiao S, et al. A gut microbiota-targeted dietary intervention for amelioration of chronic inflammation underlying metabolic syndrome. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1111/1574-6941.12228