Updated: Mar 27, 2019
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).
Food sensitivities and allergies
For some a cause of chronic inflammation could be a food intolerance or allergy. An elimination diet may be a good start. Food intolerances and allergies are common, with nuts, gluten and dairy being high on the list.
A large study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people with diagnosed, undiagnosed, and “latent” celiac disease or gluten sensitivity had a higher risk of death, mostly from heart disease and cancer. There was a 72 percent increased risk in those with gut inflammation related to gluten!
With a highly refined, sugar laden diet comes the rise of fungal infections, most commonly candida albicans. This is another common cause of inflammation within the body.
You do not need to have thrush or other outward signs to have an overgrowth of candida within your gut. So diagnosis can be difficult. But symptoms can include any number of the following:
- frequent sugar, high carb or alcohol cravings
- difficulty losing weight
- brain fog / poor memory
- mood swings
- cold hands / feet
- irritable bowel syndrome
- frequent infections and so many more.
I also find that parasitic infections are more prevalent than thought. Diagnosis is usually made with a stool sample. However false negatives can easily occur if the parasite is higher up in the gut or elsewhere in the body. Accurate testing involves at least 4 individual stool samples to be taken, which is almost never done.
Chronic underlying bacterial or viral infections and heavy metal toxicities are other possible causes of chronic inflammation.
Although you can address any of the issues mentioned above effectively with natural remedies, it does require help from a highly qualified holistic health or functional medicine practitioner to do so safely. Otherwise you have the potential to "bury" the issue deeper or make yourself sicker. The first step is to always address food intolerances.
3. Use probiotics and / or eat fermented foods
Most of us have heard of probiotics. These are the friendly live microorganisms that can in the right amounts have a beneficial effect on our body. They are mostly bacterial organisms such as the group Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillis. Within each group, there are also many different species, and each species has many strains.
Beneficial probiotics have a range of jobs from producing vitamins, balancing gut flora, boosting immunity and protecting against disease.
Food sources of probiotics include fermented foods or beverages such as kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, tempeh and kimchee.
For all you need to know about probiotics, check out my ultimate guide here.
4. Filter your water
It's all about reducing your chemical exposure again. There are many different types and with quality comes cost. If you wish to remove chlorine and fluoride, a reverse osmosis filter is necessary. But even a cheap jug filter is a start when trying to reduce toxin exposure.
Also watch your drink bottles. Plastics have been known to leach BPA (bisphenol A) and other chemicals over time, especially when exposed to the heat.
Some aluminium bottles have the potential to increase our aluminium exposure. Aluminium is a known neurotoxin and can also be found in some cosmetics, deodorants, and processed foods such as flours and baking powder. It might not be a problem for those that can detoxify adequately. But do you know how well your body tolerates and detoxifies frequent chemical and heavy metal exposure?
Personally I would recommend choosing stainless steel & BPA free or glass drink bottles to hold your deliciously filtered drinking water.
5. Reduce chemical & pesticide exposure
Organic fruit and vegetables have been shown to be more nutritious and contain less contaminants. (Check out this article).
If buying organic produce is just not in your budget, try growing some of your own or using a vinegar spray to reduce the number of residues that still can remain, despite rinsing in water. You can also use Lemon essential oil in a sink of water to wash your fruit and vegetables of any residue.
Or you could pick a few produce items you regularly buy that contain the highest amounts of pesticide residue from the dirty dozen list and choose organic when purchasing those. E.g. potatoes and apples.
6. Eat whole foods, choose seasonal local produce & skip foods with numbers!
Our diet is our fuel, our building blocks for growth, healing and repair. If you are wondering why you feel like crap, then you are likely eating crap! Help heal your body by choosing unprocessed, preservative and chemical free foods. Get back to basics and you won't regret it.
Remember it's not just your health at stake, but future generations!