Recently on the blog we have discussed factors relating to gut health, such as weight gain, impact of artificial sweeteners, and how to feed your gut. But is it true that the health of the microbiome could dictate health of the body?
As unlikely as it may seem, the state of your bowels is sexy science. The knowledge and growth of research into the interconnectedness of intestinal health to all body systems is exploding – and we still know so little!
However, what has been discovered is fascinating, and changing the way we approach medicine. Separating body systems in treatment of chronic disease may become a thing of the past, as we look forward to treatment that considers the body as a whole, a vast web of connections that are intrinsically linked.
And centre stage sits the intestinal microbiome.
Why you need to know that your gut is your friend
A research symposium took place recently, focusing largely on gut health and associated disease processes. The caliber of presenters and their presentations in this burgeoning field of medical science and health was next level.
I geeked – big time.
But gut health is fascinating to me. Great. Why do you need to care? Well, let’s get started!
We are 10 times more microbes than we are cells. Many of these bugs reside in the gut, and play a role in protecting us. This makes sense when considering the onslaught of stuff shoved down our gobs every 15minutes – our body needs to decide if what we ingest is helpful or harmful.
Our bacteria hold 99% of our genetic material. Hang on, say what? It may be that the 23,000 genes from ma and pa comprise only 1% of our genetic material. More importantly, our genes are NOT our destiny. Sure we will have predispositions, but environmental influence dictates if those genes are active or not.
In the words of physician Dr Mark Hyman “Genetics load the gun, environment pulls the trigger.” This is the study of epigenetics.
“The genome is the marble block that needs to be carved and sculptured by the environment,” says researcher and gastroenterologist Dr Alessio Fasano.
Our health destiny can depend on our lifestyle, and our lifestyle choices are (largely) in OUR hands. Better yet, if we mess it up, or get dealt a dodgy hand, we can clean it up. How empowering!
And so much of it begins with diet.
Early life bacterial exposure is immune system’s boot camp. Links are being made between a vaginal birth and any subsequent breastfeeding with decreased risk of allergies, behavioural disorders and auto-immune conditions.
There is a reason why the ladies bits are so near her poo bits. More importantly, flora from the vagina and received when breast-feeding account for most of the baby’s inoculation with bacterial populations. Then, our diet in early life encourages bacterial diversity and can be linked to leaner weight, protection from parasite infection, and less later life disease.2
On this note, let’s acknowledge that emergency C-section as a mode of delivery is a wonderful procedure that has saved countless lives. Now as medicine is armed with the knowledge of the importance of transferring mum’s bugs, there are options to inoculate a baby through wiping mum’s vagina with gauze that is then applied to the baby’s skin, mouth and eyes after birth, known as ‘seeding’.6
Poor gut health may drive chronic diseases. Yes, you read right. Three components behind all diseases include inflammation, oxidative stress and altered immune response. For some conditions, how these are induced comes down to the permeability of your intestinal lining, the populations of your microbiome, your environment and your lifestyle.1
For example, it has been found that increased intestinal permeability is associated with increased inflammation, and the development of obesity, fatty liver and type 2 diabetes.4;5;8;9
We share microbial functionality with the ocean and the air. Yep – the ocean and the troposphere are comprised of bugs too – and it seems we are all in this together. 3;7 What you do, eat and think can have influence at a micro level in your gut, and at a macro level across the globe, and vice versa. Madness!
As esoteric as it may seem, there is a beauty being connected. Much like the butterfly effect, everything you do, every choice you make, has an impact somewhere.
The power may be in our hands (and gut)
Overall, when it comes to human and gut health, we do not have all the answers. In fact this science is still so new!
To best to equip our body with the opportunity for happiness and optimal function, consider the following, which should help not only in the long run, but also in your everyday.
- Eat plenty of prebiotic and probiotic foods
Include fructan and inulin-containing foods, such as Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion greens, onion, garlic, and a variety of fibre in general.
Also include daily a variety of fermented foods such as whole fat unsweetened milk or coconut yoghurt, unpasteurised sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, good quality miso and tempeh.
- Diversity and seasonality
Eat an array of fibres, plant foods, and as seasonally as possible. This encourages diversity in microbiome population, associated with improved gut and overall health.
- Eat whole foods
Where possible, have foods as close to their original form as possible. Go easy on the refined grains.
- Eat sources of real food fats
Include sources of medium chained triglycerides, found in cold pressed extra virgin coconut oil, as well as cold pressed extra virgin olive, avocado, and nut oils.
- Eat organic where possible
It has been suggested that pesticides added to crops may not be great for the gut bugs.
- Bone broth
Using grass-fed/organic/wild meat we consume glycine and proline, great for gut repair.
To fuel intestinal cells, boost glutamine intake. The body produces glutamine from glutamic acid. As cooking destroys it, consume glutamic acid containing foods in raw form, such as spinach, spirulina, cabbage and parsley. Cabbage juice is an old-school remedy you could try! Or maybe just add some to a smoothie.
Cortisol is not our friend in the long-term. Make sure you take time to practice deep breathing, meditation, or whatever soul soothing activity you prefer each day.
- Include herbs
Herbs such as slippery elm and liquorice (no, not the All Sorts variety) can be soothing to the gut lining. Try in a herbal tea.
- Get some sunshine
Vitamin D, created in our skin on exposure to the sun, is critical for signalling between the host and gut microbes. 10-15minutes a day of exposure to golden rays should do it!
What you want to avoid:
- Limit intake of sugar
- Limit intake of processed, refined, deep-fried, smoked and artificial food and beverages
- Limit alcohol and stimulants
- Avoid genetically modified foods
- Avoid antibiotic-treated foods
Now, go get yourself a happy gut!
By Angela Johnson
Angela Johnson is our resident nutritionist. Holding a BHSc in Nutritional Medicine and a geek for all things food and health, she has shared much of the writing here at That Sugar with the aim to help inform each of us on ways to live happier, healthier lives. Recently, Angela attended a health industry symposium on all things gut health, and writes to share with us her findings on some pretty amazing stuff!
- Brown, K, DeCoffe, D, Molcan, E, & Gibson, DL 2012, ‘Diet-Induced Dysbiosis of the Intestinal Microbiota and the Effects on Immunity and Disease’, Nutrients, vol. 4, no. 8, pp. 1095-1119 25p.
- De Filippo, C, Cavalieri, D, Di Paola, M, Ramazzotti, M, Poullet, JB, Massart, S, Collini, S, Pieraccini, G, & Lionetti, P 2010, ‘Impact of diet in shaping gut microbiota revealed by a comparative study in children from Europe and rural Africa’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, no. 33, p. 14691.
- DeLeon-Rodriguez, N, Lathem, TL, Rodriguez-R., LM, Barazesh, JM, Anderson, BE, Beyersdorf, AJ, Ziemba, LD, Bergin, M, Nenes, A, & Konstantinidis, KT 2013, ‘Microbiome of the upper troposphere: species composition and prevalence, effects of tropical storms, and atmospheric implications’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, no. 7, p. 2575.
- Frazier, TH, DiBaise, JK, & McClain, CJ 2011, ‘Gut microbiota, intestinal permeability, obesity-induced inflammation, and liver injury’, Journal Of Parenteral And Enteral Nutrition, vol. 35, no. 5 Suppl, pp. 14S-20S.
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- Neu, J, & Rushing, J 2011, ‘Cesarean Versus Vaginal Delivery: Long-term Infant Outcomes and the Hygiene Hypothesis’, Clinics in Perinatology, vol. 38, no. Delivery After Previous Cesarean, pp. 321-331.
- Sunagawa, S, Coelho, LP, Chaffron, S, Kultima, JR, Labadie, K, Salazar, G, Djahanschiri, B, Zeller, G, Mende, DR, Alberti, A, Cornejo-Castillo, FM, Costea, PI, Cruaud, C, d’Ovidio, F, Engelen, S, Ferrera, I, Gasol, JM, Guidi, L, Hildebrand, F, Kokoszka, F, Lepoivre, C, Lima-Mendez, G, Poulain, J, Poulos, BT, Royo-Llonch, M, Sarmento, H, Vieira-Silva, S, Dimier, C, Picheral, M, Searson, S, Kandels-Lewis, S, Bowler, C, de Vargas, C, Gorsky, G, Grimsley, N, Hingamp, P, Iudicone, D, Jaillon, O, Not, F, Ogata, H, Pesant, S, Speich, S, Stemmann, L, Sullivan, MB, Weissenbach, J, Wincker, P, Karsenti, E, Raes, J, Acinas, SG, & Bork, P 2015, ‘Ocean plankton. Structure and function of the global ocean microbiome’, Science (New York, N.Y.), vol. 348, no. 6237, p. 1261359.
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