Updated: May 11
The 100 trillion microscopic bugs that inhabit our bodies, and make up our microbiome, are essential to our survival.
The vast majority of the microorganisms we come in contact with are in fact not disease producing but beneficial to our health and well being.
They appear to play a role in disease prevention, immune function, production of vitamins, and digestion and absorption of nutrients. Dysbiosis (microbial imbalance) has been linked to many illnesses, such as asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer & allergies.
In my previous blog - "We are 90% bugs, but are you the right kind?" I delved into the importance of having a healthy microbiome and gut, where the majority of the microbes reside. But what I didn't discuss was how can we aid our microbiome, heal our gut and boost our health and well-being. So here it is, the ultimate guide to start getting your health back.
The destruction of our microbiome
Recent studies suggest that our microbiome was more similar to primates and those in rural less developed countries. Our western diet of highly processed foods, heavy use of pesticides and overuse of medications such as antibiotics are mostly blamed for the destruction of our microbiome.
According to nutritionist & health expert Cyndi O'Meara, also author of the popular book Changing Habits, Changing Lives there are numerous ways that we destroy our microbiome every day.
the contraceptive pill
the enteric coating / phlatates on some supplements
genetically modified foods
exposure to the fertilizers, herbicides and other chemicals
water containing chlorine, fluoride, lye, secreted drugs, plastics, hormones & heavy metals
I can tick a number of those listed above, can you? How about children with repeated ear infections that have had numerous antibiotics? Women who have been on the contraceptive pill for years, if not decades. And those taking antacids and losec for heart burn?
So how can you improve your microbiome and heal your gut?
One suggestion is to have a poo transplant! Yip you read right. Fecal material from healthy individuals is delivered either to the intestine by enema or the stomach through a nasogastric tube. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that an infusion of donor feces can be a miracle cure for patients with recurrent and miserable Clostridium difficile infections, whose symptoms include diarrhea and severe abdominal pain. I haven't investigated the availability of this technique, and for most this simply isn't an option. So below are my top 6 steps to help heal your gut and improve your microbiome:
1. Reduce antibiotic and drug exposure
Obviously reducing your exposure to the items listed above is a great start. With antibiotic resistance at a scary state, save those gut destroying pills for when you really need it. Antibiotics kill off the good and the bad bacteria, and have no impact on viral microbes. However, many illnesses are viral in origin and your body's immune system is usually able to fight most illnesses off within 7 to 10 days.
Waiting 10 days is now the preferred approach of many medical doctors when it comes to mild ear infections.
Some medications are life saving and necessary, however many holistic health practitioners find there is a natural solution to many common ailments. For example, heart burn or gastroesophageal reflux can often be helped with zinc and/or P5P supplements. Chiropractic adjustments also appear to help with ear infections by improving the lymphatic drainage from the ears.
Another suggestion is to embrace bugs, and avoid hand sanitizer. In children, a couple of studies have indicated that exposure to infections through day-care attendance decreased the risk of childhood leukaemia!
The theory is when infants in modern societies are sheltered from routine infections, their immune systems are more likely to overreact during later infections, paving the way for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. So increasing the diversity of our microbiome with exposure to numerous bugs may in fact be beneficial for our health.
2. Address causes of chronic inflammation within your body
It has been said that chronic inflammation is the root of many a disease. Unfortunately the cause can often be hidden and difficult to determine. Help from a highly qualified holistic health / functional medicine practitioner is therefore recommended.
One blood test marker for systemic inflammation is high levels of c-reactive protein. So if this shows up on your blood tests, please do not ignore. (Ideally levels should be below 1, not 5 indicated on the results form).