Understanding inflammation and the gut

Now that you are progressed in your Gut Plan Clinic programme, we can dive deeper into some of the links between your gut health and your wider health outcomes, starting with inflammation.

What is inflammation?

Acute inflammation is the body’s immediate response to tissue and cell damage that is caused by pathogens, stimuli or injury. Despite the unpleasant physical symptoms (pain, redness) inflammation like this is essential, because it allows wounds and infections to heal.

Chronic inflammation – the kind we are discussing in relation to wider health – is a maladaptive version of acute inflammation, where immune cells keep firing, sometimes for months or years. Elevations in what are known as pro-inflammatory mediators (tumour necrosis factor (TNF-a), interleukin-6 (IL-6) and C-reactive protein (CPR)) are reported, despite the absence of an infection.

Chronic inflammation and gut health

Diseases that have ties to chronic inflammation (such as cardiovascular disease and rheumatoid arthritis) often have links to gut dysbiosis. This condition is also known as leaky gut syndrome.

What is a leaky gut?

A leaky gut means a gut barrier isn’t working as it should and is instead letting undigested protein molecules, toxins, and pathogens into our circulation, resulting in an immune response. Covering our epithelial cells (i.e. the cells lining our gut) is a thin layer of mucus, that protect these cells from inflammatory causing compounds and bacteria. While the microbiota lining our GI tract do not act as the intestinal barrier, they are a support player in helping to control its ability to function properly.

The role of the gut in immunity

Because the microbiome has such a vital role in our immune system, there is a good reason to believe the gut could play a role in reducing chronic inflammation. This also limits the risk of chronic inflammatory diseases. Recent research has pointed to a loss of microbiota diversity as a potential contributor to chronic inflammation. Age-related changes to the gut microbiome are believed to be in response to antibiotic use, consumption of a ‘western diet’ and declines in overall nutrient intake. These factors contribute to a loss of beneficial gut bacteria, and in turn the chronic activation of the immune system.

What’s bad about ‘bad’ bacteria?

Last but not least, when beneficial bacteria populations decrease in the intestine, harmful bacteria gain ground. When these bacteria die, they release molecules called endotoxins known for their pro-inflammatory action.

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