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No 'gut health,' no glory

The idea of healthy and unhealthy bacteria in the digestive tract has been around for a while. But lately the balance between the two has become popularly referred to "gut health." what does that mean and how does that affect your overall health? This week on “Take Care,” WRVO's health and wellness show, hosts Lorraine Rapp and Linda Lowen speak with Dr. RajeevJain, chief of gastroenterology at Texas Heath Dallas, to explain why we should care about what's going on in our gut.

Lorraine Rapp: So Hippocrates said 2,000 years ago that all disease begins in the gut. What do we mean when we say gut?

Dr. Rajeev Jain: When patients refer to the gut, it’s one thing, sort of the abdomen and so forth. When gastroenterologists and physicians talk about the gut, they’re actually talking about the entire digestive track – all the way from the mouth through the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon. And in fact what we talk about now, it’s called the microbiome. It’s really a sort of an ecosystem of organisms all over our body. So you’ve got bacteria, yeast, viruses and other single-celled organisms, and even parasites, all over your body colonizing your nose, mouth, everywhere. But when we talk about the gut microbiome – again we’re talking about the entire digestive tract – but really where that sort of bioreactor is housed is mostly in the colon. So most of your gut health and gut flora are really in the colon. 

Rapp: So why would that impact our overall health?

Dr. Jain: Well, that’s a great question. So you know, we’re only starting to understand this in the last 10-plus years. Prior to that, everybody thought the colon only had two functions – one was to store waste and the other was to reabsorb water. And now we’re realizing that this whole ecosystem in the gut, in the colon in particular, is very, very important to facilitate digestion by breaking down some other food products that don’t get absorbed in the small intestine. Secondly, it’s actually very important in the provision of nutrients that otherwise don’t get absorbed in the small intestine. And then finally, it’s actually implicitly involved in the immune system. We just did not realize all this.

Linda Lowen: You hear a lot about gut health being related to emotional health. So what is the latest research on the connection between bacteria in the gut and emotional health?

Dr. Jain: So there was a study where they looked at what your gut flora in that region looks like. And region to region between humans it varies. The region tends to be similar. But in patients with various disorders – be it neurologic, emotional, digestive – they seem to have a change in that diversity, they’ve lost some of that diversity. There was actually a study published about a year or two ago that actually took certain kind of probiotics and gave it to the patient and they did these elegant psychological studies with what we call functional MRI where they show patients these pictures and they look at brain activity through an MRI and by altering their gut flora they could change their mood and behavior. So there’s more and more data coming out that you are what you eat, essentially. And that’s what’s driving this gut flora – it’s what we consume, mostly.

More of this interview can be heard on "Take Care," WRVO's health and wellness show Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Support for this story comes from the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York.