How the gut influences health and disease
Gut health may seem like it is receiving increasing attention from the health and wellness industry, and for good reason!
Hippocrates is well known for his famous quote: "All disease beings in the gut". The father of modern medicine was already onto something 2,000 years ago when he emphasized the influence that our gut has on our overall health (1).
The bacteria that live in the digestive tract play a big role in not only digestive function but also body wide health. The human body is home to trillions of microbes, most of which are beneficial by offering protection against pathogens, boosting immune function, and supporting the break down of food for energy.
Though the gut is home to "good" microorganisms, certain "not so good" bacteria are associated with states of disease. In a healthy gut the body can keep these unhealthy bacteria in check, however, when this balance gets disrupted from things like antibiotic use, chronic stress, poor dietary choices, and environmental toxins, dysbiosis can occur making the body more susceptible to disease and dsyfunction.
What's more, the integrity of the gut lining also plays a role in health and disease. When this protective lining becomes damaged, also known as leaky gut, it triggers the release of pro-inflammatory chemicals and increases the risk of disease and digestive issues (4).
Problems in our gastrointestinal tract don't just stay in the gut. In addition to digestive distress that can be experienced, a leaky gut or dysbiosis is often at the root of many chronic diseases such as hormonal imbalances, skin issues, mood imbalances, allergies, asthma, obesity, depression, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and even cancers (5).
We've talked about many ways you can support your gut health on the blog before including dietary choices, lifestyle practices, and prebiotics and probiotics, but today we'll be looking at a gut supporting supplement that may just surprise you.
How to improve your gut health with vitamin D
Vitamin D is not often referred to as a nutrient or supplement to improve gut health, yet research is now revealing its importance for the health of the digestive system.
Now science may be unraveling how vitamin D and gut status are more linked than we may have previously thought.
Gut bacteria and vitamin D status
New research suggests that gut bacteria may play a vital role in the conversion of inactive vitamin D into its active form.
Researchers found that greater diversity in the gut microbiome and better microbial health was associated with increased active levels of vitamin D (13).
Diversity in the gut microbiome means that you have a selection of different species of bacteria. A higher diversity of species in the gut microbiome is associated with a more resilient ecosystem and lowered risk of disease while lower diversity is associated with increased health concerns (14)(15).
Research has also indicated that butyrate producing bacteria appeared more often in the gut microbiomes of men that had high levels of active vitamin D (16).
Butyrate is a beneficial short chain fatty acid that helps to maintain the health of the gut lining by acting as fuel to the intestinal cells. The best way to boost butyrate levels is by making sure you are consuming enough fiber in your diet. Supplementation with probiotics and fish oil has also been shown to increase the production anti-inflammatory compounds, like short-chain fatty acids (17)(18)(19).
Vitamin D and gut healing
We have already discovered that the state of your gut may influence vitamin D levels, but does vitamin D also impact and interact with our gut health? Turns out, it can.
Recent evidence shows that vitamin D acts to maintain the integrity of the gut mucosal barrier by reducing pro-inflammatory molecules, among other mechanisms (20).
What's more, vitamin D supplementation has also been shown to improve gut related symptoms in those suffering from gastrointestinal conditions such as IBS (21).
And this doesn't just pertain to those suffering from gastrointestinal conditions, healthy individuals have also been shown to benefit from improved gut health with vitamin D supplementation.
A study found that vitamin D supplementation among otherwise healthy vitamin D-deficient women significantly increased gut microbial diversity (22).
This research highlights the positive impact that vitamin D supplementation may exert on the gut microbiota.
What does this mean?
There is increasing recognition of the role that our microbiome plays in states of health and disease and now emerging evidence is showing just how much vitamin D and gut health are closely connected.
Research is indicating that a healthy gut microbiome with plenty of diversity in bacteria may influence your vitamin D status and at the same time vitamin D may also help to heal the gut.
Though more research is needed to determine the extent to which vitamin D influences gut microbiota composition and vice versa, the evidence thus far highlights the positive influence that vitamin D and microbial composition have on one another (23).
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