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Exploring the Gut Impact of Overall Wellbeing

In recent years, the scientific and medical community has begun focusing more on gut health, particularly on how it is influenced by our lifestyle, dietary components, the gut microbiota and its metabolites.

Also interesting for researchers is the relationship between gut health and overall health with specific focus on immune health or cognition. One key aspect of this relationship seems to involve the characteristics and function of the microbiota.
The microbiota
“Microbiota” or “Microbiome”? People generally use these two terms interchangeably however they refer to two different things: “microbiota” describes the microorganisms including a bacteria, viruses, and fungi found in a defined environment (e.g. the gut microbiota). “Microbiome” on the other hand is a broader term which refers not only to the microorganisms, but also their genes.(1) Additionally, when people talk about the microbiota, they are referring to the human gut. However, the microbiota exist in other areas of the human body, including the mouth, the skin, the urinary and reproductive tract. The gut microbiota is the delicate balance of trillions of good and bad bugs that populate the human gastrointestinal tract.

In a healthy condition, gut microorganisms are contained in the gastrointestinal tract by a structure composed of epithelial cells called the intestinal barrier. The gut microbiota relies on specific dietary components, namely dietary fibers, for survival, growth and production of crucial signaling molecules. This finely tuned combination of elements plays a vital role in various biological functions, including aiding digestion and regulating immune system functioning.(2) A well-functioning microbiota is essential for good overall health, but interestingly, no two people have the same gut environment. Instead, it is shaped by a person’s DNA, environmental, and dietary exposures.

How does gut microbiota benefit us?

The microbiota plays a myriad of important roles in human health. First, through the intricate balance of good and bad bacteria, it modulates the immune system to be more effective in fighting potential pathogens. Second, it is important for various aspects of the digestion process including the breakdown of fiber humans are not able to digest. Third, its influence goes beyond the gut thanks to the release of various types of metabolites that work as signals in the body and modulate several physiological functions.(3) The metabolic exchanges between the microbiota and the host, as well as among bacteria themselves, are essential contributors to maintaining good health. However, just like the microbiota can benefit us, it can also harm us if unbalanced. There are many internal and external factors that could contribute to this imbalance.

Gut microbiota: a major player in the function of the GI tract

The relationship between the gut microbiota and the gastrointestinal tract has been somewhat unclear. As a result, researchers have been interested in discovering key elements influencing the structure and function of the gut.
A recent review (4) addresses the vast and diverse community of microorganisms arbored in our gut and the exquisite range of metabolic capacities which work in tandem with the activity of enzymes in the liver and gut mucosa. The gut microbiota plays a significant role in human metabolism by providing enzymes that we are not able to produce. The microbiota contributes to processing polyphenols, production of essential micronutrients and important vitamins, and digestion of dietary fiber. Digestion of dietary fiber by the microbiota results in the production of important molecules called short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), the most abundant being acetate, propionate, and butyrate. These SCFAs are involved in maintaining the health of the gastrointestinal tract since they are a critical energy source for the intestinal cells and are important in maintaining the integrity of the intestinal barrier which tightly regulates what enters the body and what needs to remain “out”.(5)
Many people struggle with poor digestion. This can express itself in numerous ways, ranging from heartburn after eating a big meal too close to bedtime to constipation and diarrhea. One often overlooked reason for this poor digestion is disruption in the gut microbiome balance or “dysbiosis” and the potential consequent changes in SCFA production. Supplementation with SCFA has been linked to the reduction of gastrointestinal symptoms and intestinal comfort. Furthermore, SCFA are crucial signaling molecules that interact with specific receptors found in the cells of the immune system located in the gut and in other organs or tissue such as the pancreas, the liver and adipose tissue.
The gut’s role in immunity
Even though many people think of the gut and the gut microbiota simply as part of the digestive system, the truth is that the gut microbiome plays a more complex and integral role in overall human health.
The link between the gut, microbiota and the immune system is complex, multifactorial and multidirectional. The gut microbiota actually conditions the immune system. Interestingly, the immune system can be modulated and/or primed by different agents or stimuli: dietary components such as beta 1,3 glucans (6), host microbiota, and its metabolites, namely SCFA. Beta 1,3 glucans are considered immunomodulators7. When beta 1,3 glucans are ingested, they can directly interact with immune cells. Receptors in the immune cells detect the beta 1,3 glucans, process them, and regulate a response though the production of various signaling molecules that prime the immune system. Beta 1,3 glucans can also shape the gut microbiota overall contributing to maintain a healthy immune response in the gut and beyond.
SCFA can also directly interact with the cells of the immune system and with the microbiota itself, providing this dual support. Specific receptors for SCFA are found on the cells of the immune system. The interaction between SCFA and these receptors promotes immune balance, tissue integrity and contributes to the response to pathogens.

Research on the gut microbiome continues

The role of the gut microbiota and its metabolites has received increasing levels of scientific interest in recent years, and a wide range of studies have been published. This research has explored a wide range of topics, such as the role of the gut biome and it’s related compounds aid in digestion and influence in the immune system. Furthermore, investigation is starting to explore other potential health benefits linked to the gut-brain axis.

Kemin explores new ways to continuously enhance health and wellness to provide everyone the opportunity to have a healthier life. To learn more about how Kemin’s ingredients may align with your products, view our portfolio of ingredients here



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