When we talk about gut health, we must understand what the microbiome/microbiota are.
The ecosystem that resides in our gut is sometimes referred to as a microbiome or a microbiota. These terms can be used interchangeably. What is more important is that either term is preceded by the word gut. The reason being is there are not just microbes in your gut, but they reside all over your body. They can be found on your skin, in your nose and your mouth. Anywhere where the environment can access you will find a microbiome/microbiota.
The largest proportion of these microbes can be found in the end part of your gut, known as the colon or large intestine. The density of this community is quite astounding, we are talking trillions of microbial cells, packed to the rafters. If you had all your microbiome removed, it would weigh 2-3kgs.
*Another pub quiz fact is 30-50% of your poo is microbes!
Most of the microbiome is made of bacteria but there are also other life forms present such as Archaea, which are bacteria like. In addition to Archaea, you also have Eukaryotes (which are more commonly thought of as parasites), Fungi, viruses, and bacteriophages. Bacteriophages infect bacterial cells, and they also outnumber the bacteria by 10 to 1! They are prolific and are known to kill bacteria creating an interesting predator/prey interaction.
To summarise, the gut microbiome/microbiota is a dense complex dynamic ecosystem that interacts with us in concert to do all the fantastic things that happen in the human body.
WHERE DOES THE MICROBIOTA COME FROM?
The womb is a sterile environment meaning there are no bacteria in or on a foetus prior to birth.
Each time an infant is born it is a new ecosystem. Envisage it like a new island rising out of the ocean that has no species on it and suddenly there is a land rush for this open territory. Research demonstrates that infants go through a complex process of microbiota assembly over the first days, weeks, months, and years of life. There are still some changes in childhood, adolescence and working into adulthood but the first 0 to 1 year is the most dynamic and where the biggest changes occur.
There are lots of different trajectories that the development process can take because the microbiota is so malleable, and the trajectories can be affected by all sorts of factors in early life. For example, C-section babies or naturally birthed babies have very different microbiotas. On top of this, if an infant is breast fed or formula fed; if they have a pet or not; if they have siblings or not; if they are exposed to antibiotics or not - these are all factors that can impact the development process and change the microbial identity through life.
The reason the gut health field is so interested in this area is because we understand from animal studies that microbes you get early in life can influence your immune system, metabolism, and other parts of your biology in different ways. So, the microbes that colonized you early in life can really change your biology.
HOW ARE GINGER SHOTS HEALTHY FOR THE GUT?
Ginger is a rhizome – a type of fleshy stem that grows underground. Derived from the Ancient Greek word meaning ‘to take root’, this particular rhizome’s been widely used as both a spice and for its traditional health benefits, largely because of the presence of polyphenols. And polyphenols have been found to positively impact gut health.
HOW DO POLYPHENOLS IMPACT GUT HEALTH?
Polyphenols exert similar effects to prebiotics (read more about prebiotics in a previous blog post here). Polyphenols appear to have an antimicrobial activity against bad gut bacteria. This is good news as it gives a helping hand to the good bacteria and keeps the bad bacteria at bay, preventing what is known as dysbiosis (an imbalance in the gut microbiota). The polyphenols have also been shown to positively improve the gut microbiota composition and function. Basically, they help encourage the growth of the good bacteria over and above the bad bacteria.
Sometimes, the membrane that lines our stomachs through which nutrients pass into circulation and nourish our bodies is not tightly controlled, and toxins can enter our system. As you can imagine this is not good and keeping a healthy membrane is integral to our overall health.
Polyphenols have been shown to assist with keeping the membrane healthy. They improve the sensitivity of our bacteria to compounds collectively known as xenobiotics. This is good because they can react to these foreign substances at a quicker rate, preventing harm (link).
HOW DO ANTIOXIDANTS IMPACT GUT HEALTH?
Antioxidants in ginger shots have a similar effect to polyphenols on gut health. Antioxidants have been shown to potentially protect your intestine from oxidative stress. As they improve the composition of beneficial microbes in the gut (link).
A simple ginger shot a day could be the helping hand that your gut needs.
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