Unfortunately, several features of the modern lifestyle directly contribute to unhealthy gut flora (gut dysbiosis) and ‘leaky’ gut. Scientists working on microbiome say that it (the microbiome) is not there by accident and has evolved with humans. It is believed that we have lost many of our ancient microbes in this century.
Here is a list of the culprits:
- Antibiotic use is considered the major disruptor with loss of diversity and composition of the microbiome, according to scientists. Antibiotics can target and knock out a bacterial infection however, they can also clear out other important gut microbes causing an imbalance of good to bad guys, and creating an environment that allows pathogens to flourish. This imbalance is not rectified without intervention.
- Diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, processed foods and alcohol produce toxins that damage the lining of the gut. Sugar especially feeds bad bacteria, yeasts and pathogens.
- Diet low in dietary fibre. The good bacteria feed primarily on dietary fibre. In a process similar to the way bacteria turn milk into yoghurt or cabbage into sauerkraut, the bugs in our bodies break down the fibre that nourish and repair the cells of the GIT. Dietary fibre helps to maintain an acidic environment in the gut – friendly to the good guys and inhospitable to the potentially nasty strains of yeast, bacteria and parasites.
- Diet high in grains There is a growing body of scientific evidence showing that grains, as well as legumes, contain anti-nutrients and other problem substances that may increase intestinal permeability. This includes Gliadin (a component of gluten) and Lectin.Gliadin – Gliadin is the primary immunotoxic protein found in wheat gluten and is among the most damaging to your health. Gliadin gives wheat bread its doughy texture and is capable of increasing the production of the intestinal protein zonulin, which in turn opens up gaps in the normally tight junctures between intestinal cells. It is likely that our intolerance to gliadin and related wheat proteins is a species-specific intolerance, applicable to all humans, with the difference being a matter of the degree to which it causes harm. Lectins – Lectins are a key mechanism through which plants protect themselves against being eaten, and are found in highest concentrations in their seed form — which makes sense, considering that seeds are the plants’ “babies” and whose survival ensures the continuation of their species. When animals consume foods containing lectins, they may experience digestive irritation, along with a wide range of other health complaints. Studies indicate that it has the potential to contribute to a wide range of adverse health effects, including gut inflammation and damage to your gastrointestinal tract.
- Chronic Stress A recent study demonstrated that psychological stress can alter the integrity of indigenous microflora for several days. It also inhibits the release of gastric acid and slows the digestive processes. The important immunoglobulin A (IgA) production is decreased which increases the likelihood of colonisation of pathogens.
- Chronic infections – may overtake the good guys in the microbiome and overwhelm the immune system.
- Gut parasites, worms, amoeba, protozoans and infections cause toxins, inflammation and over crowd the microbiome tipping the balance of good gut flora in favour of the nasties.
What you can do about it
The good news is that there’s a lot that can be done to correct the imbalances and heal the gut when problems arise.
The first step to a healthy journey is to partner with a health professional (like me).
Times to do that would be when you experience:-
- gastrointestinal infection, food poisoning or travellers diarrhoea
- gut discomfort during or after taking antibiotics
- an illness that becomes chronic (longer than four weeks duration)
- suffer regular bloating, pain, reflux, constipation or diarrhoea
A typical protocol would start by removing the bad guys from the gut (weed), repairing the mucous membrane, restoring good microflora (seed) and providing the right nutrients for a healthy environment for good bacteria to flourish (feed). This is done effectively with herbal medicines and nutritional supplements.
If you rarely (or never) experience digestive discomfort you can keep your tummy in tip-top shape by following this guide.
- Eliminate food and toxins that stress your system and sustain unhealthy bacteria. This means limiting sugar, processed foods, animal fats and animal protein. Reduce intake of grains (especially wheat) to one serve a day
- Keep alcohol to a minimum
- Repair integrity of intestinal lining by eating a fibre-rich, wholefoods diet rich in fruits and raw and cooked vegetables, all of which feed good bacteria.
- Restore balance to the gut flora by taking a course of high quality multi species probiotic (see me, or your naturopath or herbalist for the one most suited to you), especially after taking a course of antibiotics
- Consume prebiotic fermented foods like yoghurt, sauerkraut or kefir that feed good bacteria.
- Yoghurt is one of the most familiar sources of probiotics — “good” bacteria that keep a healthy balance in your gut. Studies suggest that probiotics can help ease lactose intolerance. They also may help tame gas, diarrhoea, and other digestive problems.
- Sauerkraut – Choose the unpasteurized kind, because pasteurization (used to treat most supermarket sauerkraut) kills active, good bacteria. This sour, salty food — and the similar but spicy Korean dish, kimchi — is also loaded with immune-boosting vitamins.
- Miso soup is a popular breakfast food in Japan, this fermented soybean paste can get your digestive system moving. Probiotic-filled miso reportedly has more than 160 bacteria strains. It’s often used to make a salty soup that’s low in calories and high in B vitamins and protective antioxidants.
- According to legend, kefir dates back to the shepherds of Eurasia’s Caucasus Mountains. They discovered the milk they carried tended to ferment into a bubbly beverage. Thick, creamy, and tangy like yoghurt, kefir has its own strains of probiotic bacteria, plus a few helpful yeast varieties.
- Take steps to manage any stress – yoga and or meditation are proving particularly beneficial in times of stress
See me or your naturopath for a prescription of appropriate supplements. My favourite gut herbs and supplements are:
· Golden seal ( heals and seals gut lining )
· Turmeric (anti inflammatory)
· Wormwood (anti parasitic)
· Pau d’arco (anti fungal)
· Horipito (anti parasitic)
· Dandelion root (digestive support)
· St Mary’s Thistle (liver function support)
· Schizandra (liver detox support)
· Garlic (anti microbial)
· Zinc (heal mucous membrane)
· Glutamine (heals gut lining)
· Slippery elm
· Aloe vera
· Digestive enzymes
· EFA (omega 3 fish oils)
New research is proving the importance of maintaining a healthy microbiome and gut lining as a way of preventing and managing illness. Many of the factors that influence our gut bacteria are within our control and I urge you take these simple steps to help create a healthy balance to keep you well and happy.