Recently, I presented a talk and a sauerkraut demonstration at the NSW Health Wellness Expo. It was such a pleasure to meet up with all the other wonderful community and business groups who offer an amazing array of Health and Wellbeing services to our community.
I'd like to thank those who attended the talk and for your positive feedback. I thought I would re-cap on the talk for those who attended and for the others of you, who may be interested.
To understand the role that gut health plays in disease prevention and progression, first we need to look at gut flora.
What is gut flora? What are its functions?
And how does it get out of balance?
Research into the human microbiome (gut flora) is one of the most exciting areas of study in human health. This is a relatively new field with most being done in the last 20-30 years, so there is a lot more to be discovered. So what makes gut flora so important? Let’s run through a few of the functions of our microbiome.
Have you ever wondered what differentiates us from....say a carrot?
Well not that much genetically speaking. One of the surprises of the Human Genome Project was the discovery that the human genome contains only 20,000 - 25,000 protein-coding genes, about a fifth the number researchers had expected to find.
Researchers are now looking to the human microbiome, which houses a whopping 90% of our overall genetic material.
In other words, we are 10% human genes and 90% bacteria! Our microbiome is our second genome!
This burgeoning science is discovering just how much influence our microbiome has over our health and our genetic expression of disease.
We are beginning to understand that our evolution- what makes us a more “advanced” species over that of a vegetable may be down to our gut flora.
The microbiome is made up of a huge range of bacteria, yeasts and viruses. Rather than thinking of our gut microbes as either being just bad or good, we need to recognise that they can be either, depending on what species is dominant.
Research is now beginning to discover that the microbes in our gut communicate with each other. Gut microbes can sense how many of each microbe is present and send out messages between microbes. Essentially microbes are constantly conducting a sensus and coordinating a collective response according to the information that is being gathered. This is known as quorum sensing.
If only the Australian Bureau of Statistics was managed by gut flora our recent online sensus might have gone better- just another way that microbes could be more evolved than humans!!
Through quorum sensing gut bacteria can respond to incoming bacteria and viruses, and communicate with our brain using neurotransmitters via the vagus nerve.
This gives weight to the importance of having the right bacteria in dominance. When beneficial bacterial species dominate, it leads the response and keeps the opportunistic bacteria in check. I don’t want to get political here, but you really want the right guys in power, the ones that will look after the terrain (your body). Not the ones that decimate the environment and cause disease.
Transitional microbes are the ones that don’t take up residence in the body. They just come in, hang around for a few days then leave. But they can still have a huge impact on health. And a good example of this is a yeast called saccromyces boularrdii (SB). SB has been extensively studied for its use in gastrointestinal diseases such as post antibiotic diarrhea, blastocystis infection and other infections like travelers diarrohea, Bali Belly, that sort of thing. It is also very good for thrush or candida overgrowth and should be used in conjunction with antibiotics to prevent post antibiotic thrush. SB crowds out the candida, but does not take up residence in the body.
Healthy gut flora creates and extra barrier from the outside world.
It protects the gut lining from becoming inflamed when coming into contact with incoming food or pathogens and restricts the adherence of incoming pathogens to the gut wall by forming a blanket lining over the intestine. This also filters access to the blood stream.
Healthy gut flora creates short chain fatty acids, like butyrate, that help heal the gut lining and repair intestinal permeability or leaky gut.
Healthy gut flora is important in detoxification, neutralising nitrates, indoles, phenols and other toxic substances that can be ingested or made in the body.
Gut flora is involved in the breakdown and fermentation of food to make it more easily digested or converted to essential vitamins.
The following vitamins, synthesized by gut flora: K2, B5, Folic acid, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12 are important in bone health, cardiovascular health, DNA replication, mental wellbeing and energy production.
Lymphoid tissue which makes up part of our immune system is located just inside the gut wall. Bacteria in the gut communicate with the lymphoid tissue and modulate the production of lymphocytes (the cells that eat up parasites and viruses)
When the gut flora is out of balance, the immune system is compromised, causing allergies, leaky gut and autoimmunity. This is another complex subject- I have a whole other talk about Gut Health and Immunity!
Have you heard of the term "The Gut Brain Axis"?
The gut–brain axis is the biochemical signaling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system and this includes the gut flora.
Interest in this field was sparked by a 2004 study showing that germ-free mice showed an exaggerated stress response when compared to non-GF laboratory mice.
Most of the work that has been done since on the role of gut flora in the gut-brain axis has been conducted in animals, or has categorized the various neurotransmitters that gut flora can produce. Gut flora are responsible for making some of our most important neurotransmitters. One of the ones you might recognise is serotonin. Serotonin enhancing antidepressant prescriptions have tripled in the last 20 years, with a study published in 2014 showing that between 2010-11 8.9% of the Australian population were prescribed anti-depressants and this ranked the second most prescribed medication in Australia. Second to blood pressure medications (also strongly linked to stress).
What if Drs could prescribe a probiotic and some diet and lifestyle medication before heading for the antidepressants?
For more information on this topic see leading Australian researcher in this field Professor Felice Jacka of Deakin University.
Although serotonin is well known as a brain neurotransmitter, it is estimated that 90 percent of the body's serotonin is made in the digestive tract. In fact, altered levels of this peripheral serotonin have been linked to diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis.
I won’t go into too much detail about the other neurotransmitters,- it’s another talk that I do! But you get the picture, dopamine- parkinsons disease, norepinephrine- blood pressure, heart rate, stress; GABA- downregulates stress response, down regulates excitatory response (think ADD ADHD). And so on……
So what can damage our gut flora?
So that brings us to the question:
How do we look after our gut flora?
Following these simple rules can go a long way to looking after your second Genome.
If you feel you need help, please consider my 12-week gut health program. I have researched extensively on gut health and have put together a plan that incorporates the most successful diets for managing digestive symptoms and healing & sealing the gut lining. As well as following and elimination diet my plan includes the GAPS diet (Dr Natasha Campbell McBride), the Low FODMAP diet ( Dr Sue Shepherd) and the Autoimmune Paleo Diet- AIP (Dr. Loren Cordain).
I really appreciate all the interest that I've had for my Detox Myths series of posts on Facebook. Thank you so much for reading, liking,commenting and asking questions. I am going to start by answering these questions that came from the beautiful Tarnya McNair:
"What are the signs that your body may need a detox? and What can one expect to notice after detoxing?"
Here are the main signs that I would look out for when considering a detox...
Feeling Tired all the time...
You may want to consider a detox if you are feeling consistently fatigued, if you find it hard to wake in the morning and you are relying on stimulants like coffee, sugar and cigarettes to keep you pepped up during the day, then you would benefit from a detox. Your liver is a major organ that governs blood sugar control, along with the adrenals and of course the pancreas. If you NEEED your nanna nap in the afternoon, and you get the grumps before a meal, and you are constantly sniffing out sweets like a sugar ant, it's a sure sign that your blood sugar control is a bit out of whack and you need a reset.
What you can expect to feel after the detox:
Many people are surprised how much energy (like real energy) that they gain from doing a detox. My detox programs are a cellular clean up. Optimising cellular (mitochondrial) function is like recharging your batteries or filling the tank. So, instead of running on empty and topping up with stimulants, you have more sustained energy reserves. Most people on my detox programs find that sugar cravings become a thing of the past, because they have learned how to nourish their body i a more healthy way giving them sustained energy.
Brain fog, can't think properly....
One of the major detoxification organs is the liver, it is involved in blood glucose regulation and the filtering of toxins from the blood. What has this got to do with my brain? you say? Well the brains main source of energy is from blood glucose, so if your blood glucose is swinging wildly then your brain won't be able to function properly. An overgrowth of the yeast Candida will cause foggy brain and the accumulation of toxins in the blood stream will also affect blood flow, hydration levels and will impair your clarity of thought.
What you can expect to feel after a detox:
Once any candida is under control and your liver is functioning better you will find that you have greater clarity of thought and the clouds will lift from your head.
Digestive issues....constipation, diarrhea, reflux, ulcers, gas, bloating, wind, pain.
This is a big one! As the old and much quoted saying goes "all disease begins in the gut". Healing the digestive system is one of the main components of my detox programs. Nourishing mucous membranes, hydrating the bowel, encouraging healthy bowel function, reducing inflammation and re-balancing gut flora are an integral part of detoxing.
What you can expect to feel after a detox:
Who doesn't enjoy doing a good healthy poo?? Coome onnn!!! it's magic isn't it? Many people become desensitised to the impact that their gut issues have on other areas of their life, often told by doctors to just live with it, as there is nothing to be done..... it is not until they begin to experience good gut health that they realise how much energy it has been draining from them. And YES! there is something you can do about it! and NO! you don't just have to live with it.
Skin Problems.....rashes, psoriasis, ecezema...
Impurities in the blood, poor liver function, over growth of candida, gut issues and stress all have a big impact on the health of your skin. Detoxing address all of these issues in an wholistic way.
What you can expect after a detox:
Most people find that skin issues improve after a detox, often removing inflammatory foods (as is done in a detox diet) is of great assistance and can be a pointer for possible food intolerance. If you don't have skin issues, expect that after doing a detox you skin, hair and eyes will have a more vibrant and healthy glow. YES to that!!
Allergies and Hayfever
If you have allergies and hayfever, you can bet your bottom dollar that you've got poor liver function. Of course, as always the gut plays a major factor in any kind of allergy including any autoimmune disease.
What to expect after a detox:
Many people find that there hayfever and allergies improve after completing a detox. If the condition was mild or newly acquired then more often than not it is resolved from a good detox. Again, removing inflammatory foods while detoxing often points to any food intolerance that may need to be addressed long term.
Trouble losing weight
Think of your fat cells as a safe storage unit for toxins. When your liver becomes over burdened your body will store toxins away in fat cells to be processed- WHEN IT IS SAFE TO DO SO..
When you do a detox, taking the burden off the liver, and decreasing your inflammatory foods, you give your body the signal- it is safe now. and THEN it begins to break down the fat stores to burn. Our body will much more readily break down muscle rather than fat to be made in to glucose when calorie intake is lower than energy expenditure. It is extremely important to maintain muscle when trying to lose weight! I can't stress that enough! We have to encourage the body to burn fat for fuel rather than muscle, that is how we reset metabolism and increase our basal metabolic rate. During my detox and weight loss program you get a weekly check on my Bio Impedance machine which measures your muscle mass, your fat percentage and your hydration. I can tell you it's fascinating!!
What you can expect after the detox
Sustained weight loss is my ultimate goal for my people wanting to lose weight, I'm not a starve yourself and lose X amount of kgs in X amount of weeks kind of Gal. Yes, some of my detox people have lost big numbers, but all of them have said that it is actually FEELING better that they most value. Feeling better means less stress, less emotional eating/drinking, and more exercise and self care. Oh look, you are probably going to lose weight too OK?!
So there you go... a few reasons to go ahead and do a good detox.
Tomorrow I will be answering a question from Mischi West on good protein sources for vegetarians....a very meaty topic (Oh god I'm sorry!!).
Melanie Turner, Naturopath, mother, gardener, lover of wholesome food