“All disease begins in the gut” – It’s a quote attributed to the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates nearly 2500 years ago. Well he wasn’t far off. Every time we eat or drink or expose ourselves to chemicals and hormones, we are either feeding disease or fighting it! Isn’t that amazing?
We call the millions of microbes that inhabit our bodies including the gut flora collectively The Human Microbiome and it may surprise you that there is 10 x more bacterial cells than human cells! In fact, most of your DNA is in your microbiome! Our Microbiome is generally playing a beneficial role in our bodies and helps us to metabolize and make some important vitamins. They help us to break down our food and produce energy from food, they help support your immune system, they produce anti-inflammatory compounds and keep the gut wall healthy and keep our immune system healthy. An unhealthy gut microbiome is given the term Dysbiosis.
We now know that changes in the composition of our microbiome correlate with many diseases. From Diabetes to Auto-immune diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Autoimmune Thyroid diseases we have now identified changes in the gut flora pre-disposing people to these conditions. The common thread in disease processes are a lack of bacterial diversity and a decrease in good bacteria. We receive a great deal of our body’s flora from our mother during birth and breast feeding. Today we are starting to recognize the impact of C-Section deliveries, early antibiotics both in mother and baby and formula feeding as well as over sanitation on the microbiota of children.
Dysbiosis leads to inflammation in the gut wall and this in turn effects the permeability of that barrier leading to something called Leaky Gut. Leaky gut is where tight cell junctions become compromised due to inflammation and particles that would normally not pass through this barrier now can. This then sets up immune reactivity including allergies and systemic inflammation that creates disease. It has also been established that the resulting gut inflammation due to dysbiosis induces anxiety! Anxiety affects one in three people in todays worlds so the implications of dysbiosis is huge.
So what are the factors that affect our Microbiome?
- Diet – not enough plant foods, too much sugar and animal foods, preservatives, high fat intake and gluten.
- Medications – antibiotics, pain killers such as Panadol, ant-acids such as Proton Pump Inhibitors, Chemotherapy drugs, Steroids
- Infections – Parasites, pathogenic bacteria and viruses
- Stress – acute and chronic stress, physical stress, surgery
- Chemicals in the environment – sanitisers, pesticides, cleaning chemicals such as bleach.
What can you do to support your microbiota?
Don’t over eat protein
A diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates leads to an increase in bile tolerant microbes and a decrease in Fermicutes which are important for converting food to energy.
Get enough sleep and exercise
Get the basics right.
Avoid too much sugar
This has a major negative effect to the gut flora typically increasing pathogens and decreasing the healthy species.
Support your digestion
One of the foundations of your body’s health is the strength of your digestion. Your digestive secretions such as stomach acid, bile and pancreatic enzymes all support a healthy microbiome and a healthy gut. As we age and/or because of stress our digestion is prone to becoming weak so it is important to support these processes by using herbal medicine. It is a key area I support in clinical practice to get results.
Signs of a weak digestion include bloating, coated tongue, reflux, indigestion, lack of appetite, lots of nasal or throat mucus, fatigue, heavy feeling in the stomach after eating, nausea, vomiting and loose bowel motions to name a few.
Avoid chemicals such as preservatives
Clean food, fresh food to support a healthy microbiome.
Avoid exposure to pesticides
Don’t use them in the home and don’t spray Round Up at home. Round Up (glyphosate) specifically effects the gut flora and inhibits the production of key nutrients such as Tryptophan that are needed for healthy production of Serotonin and Melatonin. Eat organic food if you can to avoid pesticides.
Eat lots of vegetables
Vegetable fiber and nutrients are key to help support a healthy gut flora.
How can a Naturopath help?
Naturopaths can use Functional Testing to assess the health of your gut wall and of your microbiota. Through Stool Analysis we can assess what is growing in your gut, what is dominant and what needs addressing. We can also choose the right products with key ingredients to sooth the gut wall, reduce gut inflammation and support detoxification. We can also choose the appropriate herbal medicines to repair the gut wall and improve digestion in order to set up the conditions to support a healthy microbiota. We can tailor a diet that is appropriate for you and your gut health as well as choose the appropriate diet and lifestyle changes to improve your health.
Naturopathic Medicine has long been looking at the gut and we are slowly seeing the mainstream catch up to this understanding. They are at least at the stage where they understand some of the impact of antibiotics. The gut really is a key area that needs addressing in most people in this day and age. What is your gut doing?