June 5, 2017
423 Pathogens and our Gut Flora [5 June 2017]
The last two weeks [#421, #422] we looked at how our gut microbiome affects our immune system and our brain, mood and memory. This week we’ll examine the interaction between pathogens and our gut flora.
Justin and Erica Sonnenburg devote a chapter of their 2015 book The Good Gut to gastroenteritis – the invasion of our gut by food borne pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms like Salmonella and C. diff.) causing inflammation of the gut and diarrhea. It’s a serious problem hospitalizing a million Americans each year.
Our gut’s reaction to pathogens is a good example of the brain-gut axis described last week. We aren’t conscious of the pathogens, but the autonomic nervous system is quickly informed and directs the digestive system to vomit the stomach contents out one end and hasten the exit of the intestinal contents out the other.
A healthy gut flora protects us from invading pathogens by out-competing them for space and food, and sometimes by producing chemicals that are toxic to them. Oral broad-spectrum antibiotics kill not only the targeted bacteria but also many of the beneficial species of gut flora, which makes us more susceptible to further infections. This is often not considered when an antibiotic prescription is made.
Last fall I developed a sore throat with tender lymph nodes in my neck. When several weeks of my usual cold remedies didn’t work I went to my doctor. He diagnosed a bacterial infection and wrote me a prescription for an antibiotic with no discussion of possible effects on my digestive system. I took the prescription for the required 7 or 8 days and it did clear the infection. When it recurred a few months later I went straight back for another prescription and was given a different antibiotic. This is standard practice to prevent pathogens from becoming resistant but it means that it killed off another group of beneficial species in my gut.
After the first round I didn’t notice any changes in my digestive system (which studies show is typical despite significant losses of numbers and diversity of the gut microbiome) but after the second I experienced cramping, gas and looser stools. I’m still working on reintroducing good bacteria. When my throat infection returned a third time, only a week or two after the second round of antibiotics, I treated it myself with topical application of essential oils and it was gone in 3 or 4 days.
For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.