War movies are not really my thing.
There’s so much blood, guts and violence. Also their portrayal of true to life stories just really pull on my sensitive heart strings. So, I’d rather leave my husband to them.
But there is one war that fascinates me – it’s a war we all face. And it’s going on inside you and me right now.
It’s the war for your health and the battle ground is your gut. Where the forces of good and evil fight for control of your gut lining and ultimately your health.
Sounds pretty serious. Well, it is.
Hippocrates, the father of medicine (c.400BC) stated that
All disease starts in your gut.
He wasn’t far from the truth. Modern science has made huge discoveries in recent times that reveal the link between common illnesses and the state of our gut. These diseases include allergies, hayfever, diabetes, obesity, asthma, autism, emphysema, rheumatoid arthritis, depression and anxiety, acne, multiple sclerosis, Irritable Bowel Disease and ulcerative colitis just to name a few.
How could all these diseases possibly be linked to the health and well being of just one organ?
Let’s quickly revisit the anatomy of our digestive system to better understand what we are talking about.
(I have added a little glossary of terms at the bottom of the page)
Once we see and smell our food the digestion process has begun. It continues in our mouths as enzymes in our salvia start to breakdown the food through the chewing motion. Once food is swallowed it hits the stomach. Here the food is broken down and mixed with our stomach acid and enzymes to produce chyme. The chyme then moves into the small intestine where, with the help of the; liver, gallbladder, pancreas and gut flora; absorption of nutrients takes place. The remaining material moves into the large intestine where our good bacteria live and a process of fermentation occurs. Once it’s moved through the large bowel it’s time for a quick trip to the bathroom to rid us of any waste we might have.
Today we’ll pick up the story where the action is taking place-
The gut or intestines is a living organism filled with good and bad bacteria all fighting for their place along the epithelium. It is our diet and lifestyle that determines the outcome of this battle and it can begin as early as our birth. Those who were delivered through a natural birth process began to colonise (or set up camp) good bacteria along the digestive tract straight away. Everything since then from breast feeding to what goes on our dinner plate has either helped to flourish and develop a variety of good bacteria or cause them to die off. Our diet and lifestyle account for the cascade of reactions that can lead us to poor health and even chronic disease.
As with any war there are casualties and in this case it is our immune system. In part, the regulation of our immune system is controlled through a system of signals from the good bacteria in your gut to the immune cells along the gut lining. It’s likened to the messages sent back and forth from foot solider, to commander, to the air support that blows your enemy out of the water.
Simply put many of the conditions I listed above are a result of a defective immune system.
Let me explain a little further.
When our good bacteria (AKA gut flora) in our gut has been damaged there are a number of consequences.
- Harmful toxic bacteria and yeast thrive in place of our healthy good bacteria. The large bowel is home to over 500 different species of beneficial bacteria yet due to influences of our western lifestyle many ‘good guys’ have been wiped out in such number that toxic bacteria and fungi such as Candida thrive in greater number.
What this means? When our good guys start losing the war; the bad guys overcome and many symptoms like thrush and bloating can be pinpointed back to infections of these harmful organisms.
- Reduced absorption of nutrients – Many if not all of our essential vitamins and minerals are absorbed through the epithelium with the help of our beneficial flora. The flora and our absorption process has a unique symbiotic relationship which suffers when numbers of good bacteria are reduced.
What this means? Nutrients that are in our food are not getting to their destination. This can result in a myriad of symptoms like fatigue, increased infections, weight gain … and the list goes on.
- Reduced ability to repair and regenerate the lining of the epithelium – During the process of fermentation of fibre in the large bowel, valuable Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA’s) are produced. These fatty acids help create a protective coating and have a role in the repair and protection of gut lining. These SCFA’s may even have a role in preventing bowel cancer.
What this means? Without the repair and protection of our gut our good bacteria have no healthy tissue in live in and eventually our gut wall will become red, inflamed and eventually ulcerated.
- Abnormal signaling of the immune system – Our immune system uses complex signaling codes to regulate each cells function. Particular cells within this system rely largely on communication with our beneficial bacteria to be able to recognise the difference between friend or foe. It is believed that this consequently results in defective immune modulation and ultimately disease.
What this means? During World War I morse code was used heavily to send secret messages between military personnel across the world. Imagine the devastation: A navy fleet commander misinterpreted the coded message and attacks with full force at the wrong co-ordinates. That is essential the story of a defective immune system.
The human body is so complex in it’s design that no single organ can function alone. And each component, each cell affects the entire system.
Who knew the gut was so integral to our health!
Now you have seen the story unfold I bet you have a burning question or two…
Who’s winning the war in my gut?
What can I do about it?
The first question may be simpler to answer than you think. You may have one of the conditions I listed above or you may be experiencing some of these symptoms:
Fatigue, hormonal issues, weight gain, diarrhea, constipation, frequent or recurrent infections, brain fog, iron deficiency, undigested food in your poop and mood changes like depression and anxiety.
If so then your good guys are probably down in number.
There is a constant deadly assault on the beneficial bacteria living in our gut.
- Environmental toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides.
- Dietary components such as processed food and high dietary protein intake.
- Stress – both physiological and psychological.
- Medicines in particular Antibiotic Use.
When we translate antibiotic it literally means ‘against or opposed to life’. And ingestion of this medicine, albeit lifesaving for some, kills all good and bad bacteria in you digestive system. Despite global health campaigns designed to reduce overconsumption of antibiotics, resistant strains are on the rise. Inappropriate use of antibiotics still contribute to the development of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.
And if you’re thinking you never take antibiotics – then think again.
The majority of antibiotics imported in to Australia every year is used in our food supply. From the animals that we eat to the apples in our pies.
But it’s not all doom and gloom!
There are several things that you can do to help support your good guys and to help colonise the gut for your benefit.
1 – Stress Less. In a perfect world stress would still kill us. Stress can be internally or externally driven and it goes beyond the mental impact on our body. It is important that you take care of yourself by; taking some time out, holidaying, doing something you enjoy and above all sharing your troubles with someone who cares.
2- Avoid Sugar and Processed Food. While total exclusion of these foods is usually not necessary, a reduction in their intake would greatly benefit you gut – and your waistline. These foods cause Candida infections to thrive which is no good for your good guys. These foods also create a toxic environment which inhibits the growth and development of colonies of good bacteria.
3- High Fibre Diet. Australian recommendations set the intake at 25 grams of fibre a day for women (men need a little more) however this is only a moderate estimation of fibre intake and there are no known disadvantages to consuming much more. Your fibre intake should come from a variety of sources focusing specifically on non-starch forms. Good examples include; beans, lentils, nuts, broccoli, brussel sprouts, oats, apples and pears. The added benefit of extra fibre in your diet is that it dramatically decreases your chances of bowel cancer! Coincidence? I think not. This fibre helps to nourish the good bacteria which in turn makes SCFA’s that are essential for growing new healthy cells in the gut wall.
4- Top up your good guys with extra doses of friendly bacteria every day. There are two ways to do this and I’m a fan of both.
Probiotics supplements are potent doses of good bacteria to help grow your colonies quickly. These are great especially after a dose of antibiotics or if you have a chronic condition. Talk to your health practitioner as to the specific strains you may need as there are many strains and each has a unique role in the gut. I know a good Nutritionist 🙂 (You can contact me here).
Fermented foods. The tradition of fermenting foods goes back as far as recorded history. From ancient civilizations till today most cultures have developed their own fermentations. Benefits of fermenting foods include; reduction of food wastage, increasing of it’s nutritional value and it often improves digestibility. A good dose of a variety of fermented foods every day will keep your gut happy and healthy. And as with everything -fresh is best. Make sure if you’re buying ready made fermented food for their good bacteria content, ensure you buy an ‘active’ brand.
Here’s a little infographic showing the some great international fermented foods.
Try some today!
Now you’re equipped go into all the world, try new things and look after that gut of yours!
For more information please don’t hesitate to contact me and remember- Sharing is Caring!
A few key terms to help you wade through the technical jargon.
Enzymes – we produce chemicals called digestive enzymes that help break down food.
Chyme – a slurry of partially digested food.
Epithelium – the protective lining along your intestines and other areas in the body.
Colonise – These microorganisms live in colonies and each unique microbe has a specific environmental requirement.
Fermentation – The good bacteria in your digestive tract produces Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA’s) from dietary fiber through a process of fermentation.
Immune Modulation – Our immune system lives in a delicate balance. Overactive and it can cause allergies, intolerances and autoimmune disease. Underactive and we can develop cancer.
Reference list is available on request.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please see your preferred health professional if you are concerned about your health.