In Functional Medicine, we put a heavy emphasis on gut health. We know that a strong gut is not just essential for digesting food and absorbing nutrients, but that it plays a vital role in the immune system and affects the health of the entire body.
This is in large part thanks to the microbiome—the trillions of microorganisms in and on the body, both beneficial and harmful, found in the greatest amounts in the small and large intestines. The exact number and types of bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses (collectively referred to as “bugs”) that create the microbiome are unique to each person; this is one of the many reasons we need to treat the individual and not just the symptoms when it comes to managing illness.
You might not expect it to be, but the bacterial composition of the gut is even linked to the brain. This bidirectional communication system, called the gut-brain axis, is responsible for the correlation between the microbiome, brain function, and emotional behavior. Ever notice different bowel habits when you’re stressed, anxious, or scared? This is why.
Emerging research has also identified patterns within the microbiome that correlate to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is a term that includes both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Unsurprisingly, many IBD patients also experience emotional symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
My most recent guest on The Doctor’s Farmacy believes the microbiome is the future of medicine, especially as we work towards better treatment options for IBD. Dr. Miguel Regueiro is the chair of the Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology; his main clinical and research interest is IBD, with a focus on the natural course of these diseases and postoperative prevention of Crohn’s disease.
He supports an integrative treatment model for IBD, including the use of dietary and lifestyle changes which conventional gastroenterology long ignored. Throughout our recent discussion, Dr. Regueiro shares his expertise on the connection between diet and the microbiome, using a collaborative approach to treat IBD, and the promising research on leveraging bacteria to treat inflammation in the gut, which can range from probiotics to fecal transplants.
Taking care of your gut is an essential step towards wellness. I hope you’ll tune in to my latest podcast episode to learn more about the microbiome and better understand its impacts on your health.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD