Human digestive tract hosts a community of trillions of microorganisms including numerous species of bacteria, archaea, viruses and yeasts with millions of genes, which is known as gut microbiota, previously called gut flora. These microbes have evolved with you and continue to live on within you. Every individual has a unique mix of gut microbiota, so you will probably have a different one compared to your brother. Microbiome refers to the collective genomes of these microbes.
Gut Microbiota – Roles Beyond Digestion
The gut bacteria performs a variety of tasks, some of which are essential for life, such as making microbial metabolites that are vital for feeding the cells and reducing inflammation. Some live in the flow of blood digesting carbs, while others degrade dietary fibers in vegetables. They play a key role in the maintenance of lipid and protein homeostasis. They also help in synthesis of essential nutrients and vitamins which help in your immune function and weight regulation. However, not all gut microbiota work toward your health benefits. What you eat can change your not-so-friendly microbes and some might induce inflammation or infection under certain conditions. A stark example is food poisoning caused by Salmonella.
The gut microbes exist in symbiosis or harmony; however, they might change. The altered pathogenic bacteria or dysbiosis is a state where they have quantitative and qualitative changes. This condition is responsible for conditions like obesity, insulin resistance, atherosclerosis, immune dysregulation and even infection. A loss of “biodiversity” in gut microbiota results in diarrheal illness caused by C. difficile bacteria. The bacterium thrives when friendly bacteria is wiped out by overuse of antibiotics.
Inflammatory bowel conditions, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are other examples, where lining of the gut is attacked by the immune system. Researchers have even associated gut microbes with chronic diseases such as chronic kidney disease, cancer, heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, colic and many allergies.
Gut Microbiota and Chronic Kidney Disease
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) refers to loss of kidney function and cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the principal cause of mortality in CKD. It poses a major public health threat worldwide. Gut dysbiosis contributes to CKD and the impact of gut-kidney-axis on severity of kidney disease cannot be denied. A decline in renal function impacts the gut which then impacts kidney function.
Uremic toxins that float in and around the intestine are blamed to cause inflammation in kidney disease patients originating from the gut bacteria. Endotoxin incites inflammation in CKD patients. The vicious cycle of increased production of uremic toxins and decreased excretion of them leads to a decline in kidney function altogether. End-stage renal disease patients are also at high risk of Clostridium difficile (bacteria) associated diarrhea.
Tetyana L. Vasylyeva, MD, PhD, Tenured Professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center believes that “manipulation of the gut microbiome could substantially change future approaches to medical care of patients with chronic kidney disease.”
So, a big win for optimal kidney health is to create bacterial balance in your gut in favour of beneficial bacteria that can break down uremic toxins. Studies related prebiotic and probiotic therapy are aiming to do this — manage a healthy gut, get a better kidney.
Prebiotics are complex carbohydrates found in vegetables and whole grains. These help gut bacteria to grow and develop a diverse community of microbes. Probiotics are food or supplements such as yogurt and cheese that contain live beneficial bacteria. They multiply and metabolize uremic toxins and help diffuse them. Renadyl, a potent probiotic, is clinically proven to be safe and effective to treat CKD. Other treatments include blood pressure control, reduction of protein and salt intake, prevention of acute kidney injury and glucose control.
Tips to Balance Your Gut Flora
- Follow a healthful plant-based diet that promotes healthy and diverse gut microbes. It prevents and treats obesity, diabetes and heart disease and inflammation linked with autoimmune diseases
- Add fiber to your diet. You can choose fiber-rich bananas and brussels sprouts to improve immune function, reduce inflammation and boost your mood
- Try prebiotic-rich foods to feed healthy bacteria. They are onions, garlic, asparagus, whole wheat, spinach, beans, bananas, oats, and soybeans
- Take probiotics found in fermented food like cheese and yogurt that improve kidney health
- Cut back salt in your diet to improve blood pressure and gut microbes
- Avoid red meat, high-fat dairy products, processed foods and fried foods that enhance “bad” bacteria growth linked to chronic diseases
- Overuse of antibiotics deplete healthy gut bacteria
- Modify your lifestyle. Exercise, sleep enough and manage stress to positively impact your gut health
Doctors and dieticians have been researching more over the recent years about the balance of gut microbiota and its influence on general health. The ever-expanding science behind gut health has potential for new findings. These might help those who are struggling with gut disorders. However, the more we adjust gut bacteria by following a healthy diet and habits, the better we can look after it.