Improve Gut Microbiome: Optimal Mitochondrial Energy Production – Part 2

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM; Carrie Lam, MD


Read Part 1 | Part 3

Improve Gut Microbiome and Mitochondria

Improve gut microbiome and their interaction with the cell's mitochondriaIn the gut, there are cells with their mitochondria and ATP production right next to where the bacteria that make up the gut microbiota reside. The gut’s bacteria interact with the body’s cells mostly through the cell’s mitochondria, and, as we mentioned earlier, this could be because the bacteria and the cell’s mitochondria share some functional and structural similarities, such as similar genetic origins.Studies show that if you improve gut microbiome, the health of the microbiome will improve the quality and diversity of the mitochondria’s functions.

The gut microbiome is intimately linked with the brain, immune system and the different hormonal systems of the body. It also has a major influence over chronic disease risk and genetic expression.

One of the big reasons why is because the gut is where inflammation begins. With much of the body’s immune tissue located there, the gut’s microbiome produces cytokines that help regulate the immune response.

Cytokines are types of proteins, glycoproteins and peptides that help cells communicate during an immune response. They help stimulate the cells needed for the immune response to move to the sites of inflammation or injury.

These cytokines also signal the brain to produce neurochemicals in order to support the inflammation response. These neurochemicals can affect mitochondrial ATP production and also the hormone response involving cortisol. In fact, the gut is sometimes referred to as the second brain for good reasons.

When you have any degree of dysbiosis, where gut flora is out of balance, this can create a state of chronic inflammation that affects the brain as well as systemically. Chronic inflammation acts like a constant negative force on the delicate balance of hormones and the mitochondrial processes that are so essential for energy.

That is because a dysbiotic microbiome will increase the permeability of the intestinal epithelial barrier, creating leaks. This barrier is a single-cell layer, and it is the largest and most important one that protects the body from the environment. Its selective permeability allows the absorption of nutrients, water and electrolytes while keeping out antigens, gut flora and toxins from the bloodstream.

When there are leaks in this barrier – which is sometimes referred to as a “leaky gut” – substances enter the system that aren’t supposed to be there and the immune system sees them as threats and attacks them.

If these leaks are not sealed, it creates a state where the immune response is constantly triggered. As more and more cytokines adversely affect mitochondrial ATP production, and cortisol levels are thrown out of balance, a state of fatigue and a host of other symptoms inevitably follow. Improving the health of the gut’s microbiome will help seal these leaks and protect ATP production.

Improve Gut Microbiome, Free Radicals and Metabolites

Improve gut microbiome and free radicalsThe relationship between dysbiosis and mitochondrial function is a two-way street. Mitochondria produce reactive oxygen species, also called free radicals, when they break down the carbohydrates and fatty acids in order to produce ATP.

Although a certain amount of free radicals are inevitable in the process of cellular respiration and energy production, if there is an excess of them in the system without sufficient neutralization by antioxidants, you get a state called oxidative stress, resulting in reactive metabolites that are destructive in nature.

Therefore, oxidative stress has many health hazards. It speeds up the aging process and can cause a number of conditions including cardiovascular disease, age-related cancers, liver congestion, extracellular matrix pollution.

As well, oxidative stress has an impact on mitochondrial health. It can trigger mitochondrial genetic mutations, change the permeability of mitochondrial membranes, cause damage to the mitochondrial respiratory chain and impact the mitochondria’s defense systems.

All of this can lead to mitochondrial dysfunction, which can then lead to many of the problematic health conditions associated with it. This is especially the case with neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. The clinical picture becomes convoluted and confusing even to the best of practitioners. Most healthcare professionals give up and patients are abandoned when the situation becomes severe.

The production of free radicals by the mitochondria also plays a role in inflammation and the immune system response, and it is sometimes targeted by pathogens. Too many free radicals will damage the ability of the microbiota to regulate the gut epithelial barrier and increase the permeability of the gut lining.

So now that we know how free radicals released by the mitochondria can affect the gut, let’s now look at how metabolites released by the gut affect mitochondria.

The gut’s microbiome releases metabolites that can influence many things, including ATP production. The production of these metabolites is not something static. Although, it can be affected by things like your diet, whether you were breastfed or not, if you’ve been taking antibiotics, if you use disinfectants, and if you’re exposed to toxins, among others. If you improve gut microbiome health then you will improve these metabolites.

As these bioactive metabolites enter circulation, they can have an effect on your health and even behavior. Some of these metabolites are inert. They are harmless but have to be excreted. Others are reactive and toxic.

These reactive metabolites can be most problematic as they add to the removal workload burden of an already weak body. Untimely or incomplete clearance of such reactive metabolites can trigger adrenal crashes, multiple chemical sensitivities, food intolerance, paradoxical reaction to drugs and nutritional supplements, and exaggerated response to medications.

For example, we have seen that when we do metabolite testing and there are higher than optimal levels of the reactive metabolites, we find that sufferers also tend to have a multitude of non specific symptoms such as those mentioned above.

It is clear that the relationship between microbiota and mitochondria can be thrown out of balance by free radicals on one hand and metabolites on the other.

Since the microbiota acts on mitochondrial activity in order to strengthen interaction with host cells, if the relationship is not working properly, that interaction is in turn weakened.

So, understanding the microbiota-mitochondria relationship can open up new windows into the treatment of mitochondrial and metabolic diseases, and how to improve the gut balance in the microbiome in order to support mitochondrial function. This balance depends on the quality and diversity of the microbiota.

Improve Gut Microbiome, Improve Health

Live healthy and improve gut microbiomeThe relationship between mitochondria and microbiota is just one example of how the gut’s microbiome can affect the rest of the body. Dysbiosis can impact nutrient supply, protection from pathogens and susceptibility to infections, vitamin production, and other metabolic and immunological issues.

As we know, the microbiome is vital for the body’s immune response. With such a large chunk of the immune system’s tissues there, a strong and healthy microbiota will yield a strong and healthy immune system that can fight off pathogens, clear out toxins and damaged cells, and return to normal after its job is done. A weak gut makes for a weak immune response.

Also, over 80 percent of serotonin comes from the gut, so if we improve gut microbiome, it can help with issues like depression and anxiety. There are opioid receptors in the gut that can affect the pain throughout the entire body.

Diet has also been shown time and again to alter heart function, and as the heart needs a lot of energy, what you eat plays a key role in providing the necessary fuel for your mitochondria to produce ATP.

Nutrition and the gut microbiome are prime environmental triggers for the development and modification of lifestyle-related chronic disease, including chronic inflammatory diseases of the GI tract, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

More Americans die of Alzheimer’s disease than anywhere else in the world, and Americans die of more cancers than many other parts of the world.

The answer could be found in how people in the West eat. In the US, we have the Standard American Diet, which is very high in fat and low in fiber, and full of sodium and processed sugar. There is also a higher tendency to eat fast food in Western countries.

Other studies show the effects on health of populations that take on similar diets after centuries of eating differently. For example, in the Somali diaspora that migrated to Western countries, there is a significant increase in autism compared to the level that exists in Somalia itself.

This seems to confirm the idea that diet can help improve gut microbiome, and produces metabolites, which in turn affect mitochondrial function and genetics, as well as behavior.

There is a scientific field called nutrigenomics that studies the effects of food on genes, and it focuses on how to prevent or treat diseases along those lines. With regards to obesity, the general consensus is that both genetic and environmental factors play a role.

For example, you are more likely to be overweight if your mother is overweight. Previously, this link was thought to be because of the passing down of unhealthy eating habits, but recently we’re seeing that it also has to do with the mother’s microbiota. The microbiota of an overweight mother differs from that of a mother who has a healthy weight.

Another factor is whether you’ve been inoculated or not as an infant, because that has an effect on the early development, as well as, how you will improve gut microbiome.

Improve gut microbiome and reduce the risk of obesityOver the last few decades, obesity among adults and children has risen significantly. It has become a worldwide epidemic, affecting 35 percent of the global populations and half of Americans over 50 years of age. Obesity creates a proinflammatory environment in the body, and we are also seeing that it is a disease of inflammation. As we have seen, inflammation starts in the gut.

Recent studies show that the gut microbiota plays a central role in maintaining healthy body weight, and in the prevention and treatment of obesity. Prebiotics have become one weapon in the fight against obesity, with some formulas out there whose purpose is to help with weight loss and leanness.

Prebiotics are a special type of plant fiber that helps feed and strengthen the good bacteria already present in the gut. Probiotics are foods or formulas that contain live “good” bacteria.

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© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


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