Everywhere you look these days, someone is talking about “gut health,” “gut microbiome,” and related gastrointestinal (or GI) topics. There are thousands of probiotic products catering to everyone from wellness enthusiasts to new moms to people in need of dietary management for certain medical conditions, promising to help balance the good bacteria we need for a healthy immune system.
However, the jury is still out in the science community on which probiotics are helpful and which are not. Also unknown is exactly how much a person would need to take to reap all the possible benefits. Since most probiotics are sold in supplement form, which aren’t required to undergo the testing and approval process by the FDA that drugs do, they are largely unregulated in the U.S.
With so many unknowns about our guts/probiotics, what DO we know?
For one thing, our gastrointestinal tracts are filled with trillions of complex microorganisms that regulate body functions like metabolism and immune function. We also know that a big threat to our metabolism is obesity, which can trigger metabolic syndrome.
Nearly 25 percent of the world’s adult population suffers from metabolic syndrome, a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. But obesity isn’t a solo contributor. Vitamin D deficiency plus obesity is dangerous combo.
What is vitamin D deficiency?
Vitamin D is produced in the skin after we’ve been exposed to the sun or when we’ve consumed it in food or supplement form, but 30-60 percent of the world’s population doesn’t get enough of it.
A strict vegan diet, getting limited amounts of sunlight and certain autoimmune diseases can cause vitamin D deficiency, either because of insufficient intake or inadequate absorption. Another big risk factor? Obesity. People with a BMI of 30+ usually have low blood levels of vitamin D.
Why is vitamin D deficiency bad for our guts?
The production of Defensins—antimicrobial molecules necessary to maintain healthy glut flora—is decreased by vitamin D deficiency.
A majority of our immune system is found in our GI tract, so imbalances can lead to many health problems beyond metabolic syndrome, including cardiovascular, brain function, asthma, allergies and even chronic disease like cancer.
How vitamin D supplements can help
Thanks to a recent study performed on mice, scientists now know that sufficient vitamin D supplementation can improve metabolic syndrome and are hopeful that the same results will occur in a human study.
With 70 percent of the U.S. population now overweight, including obese, this is a really important area of research that can help improve health outcomes for a lot of people with a high risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
Even if you are a healthy, fit individual, taking a vitamin D supplement and getting a sufficient dose of outside time (with sunscreen of course), can help you maintain a healthy gut microbiota, which will keep your immune system and metabolism functioning optimally.
This, in addition to a healthy diet and lifestyle, can help you avoid metabolic syndrome from ever becoming a real threat in your life. Your doctor is the best person to help you figure out the right dose based on your individual needs.