The Garden in Your Gut

Intestines with Gut Bacteria on Blackboard

My backyard is like a garden oasis. My wife and I are avid gardeners, and our three children have all understood where food comes from since they were babies. Every one of us still marvels about how tall a bean plant can grow (right now, ours are about 12 feet tall) and it’s hard not get excited about pulling a plump carrot out of the ground. Whether it’s vegetables, fruit, herbs, legumes, or flowers, gardening is extremely rewarding. It’s amazing to see a seed grow from nothing into a flourishing plant. When you tend a garden, you get to enjoy the beauty of nature thriving right before your eyes.

Today, I wanted to talk about a different sort of garden — one that is invisible, but very important to cultivate. I’m talking about the garden inside your gut.

The human digestive system (I prefer the term “gut”) is home to trillions of microorganisms, including thousands of different species. Collectively, we call this complex ecosystem the GI microbiome. It’s amazing to think that there are at least as many microorganisms living in our gut as there are cells in our bodies — and possibly many more. These microorganisms can be thought of as the plants and the weeds of our gut garden: some we want, some we don’t.

Inside the womb, the infant GI tract is sterile, devoid of any bacteria. As an infant comes into the world, microorganisms from the mother’s birth canal surround them, and some of this bacteria enters their mouths. These are the first seeds of that will eventually become a flourishing garden of gut bacteria. By the time the child is a few years old, trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms have taken up residence: the garden has grown.

The health of this inner garden, and the way that it grows and develops, is influenced by many factors. For example, if a child is born via a C-section instead of a natural birth, they may not get contact with the mother’s birth canal bacteria. This could start the landscape of their gut with foreign bacteria, which are sometimes like invasive weeds. The foods we eat (and the ones we don’t) also have a huge influence on our microbiome. And not surprisingly, medications we take can act like an herbicide that can greatly affect the ecosystem in the GI tract. This is especially true for antibiotics, which can have serious and damaging effects on the microbiome.

When we think about our gut, the first thing that comes to mind is the process of digesting food. However, the condition of our gut can affect much more than that. Modern science has revealed that our body systems are interconnected in ways that almost seem like science fiction. The health of the gut, and the health of the garden within it, exert a powerful influence on the health of every other body system.

The gut is intrinsically tied to the immune system, and if it is brimming with harmful microorganisms, we may be more prone to all sorts of illnesses. Conversely, if the gut garden is well nourished, the immune system becomes stronger.

The health of our gut can even influence our behavior. For example, if your gut is full of harmful organisms that crave sugar (as many of them do), you may find yourself craving donuts and other sugary snacks on a regular basis. Eating these foods further feeds the harmful bacteria, and the cycle continues to spiral into a more negative state.

To keep our gut garden thriving, we need to give it the nutrients it needs. Eating nutritious foods, including prebiotic veggies with lots of fiber, as well as probiotic naturally fermented foods, can help to keep the microbiome in excellent shape. On the other hand, if we eat processed foods, filled with chemicals and added sugars, we are feeding the harmful organisms in our microbiome, and weakening the “plants” in the process. Taking unnecessary antibiotics also harms the garden, as it destroys the plants as well as the weeds.

Additionally, it is vitally important to keep our digestive systems working optimally. Some people, for a variety of reasons, don’t digest food thoroughly. If food passes through the body only partially digested, these scraps and leftovers serve to feed harmful microorganisms in our gut, or fertilize the weeds, if you will. When our food is properly digested, it provides nourishment for beneficial bacteria: it allows the plants to thrive.

For this reason, taking a high quality digestive enzyme, such as UpZymes, can give an important boost to your digestion, and the health of your gut. These enzymes ensure that food is properly broken down within the digestive tract, so that it can fuel your body efficiently, and keep your gut garden in the best condition possible.

In short, if you take good care of the garden in your gut, it will take care of you. Make sure you give it the attention it deserves.

– Dr. Joshua Levitt