(modified 9.8.2017) In the third century B.C.E Hippocrates first said that “All disease begin in the gut” and over a century ago, Elie Metchnikoff theorised that health could be enhanced and senility delayed by manipulating the intestinal microbiome with host-friendly bacteria found in yoghurt. However, until the 1990s, knowledge of the gut microbiota was limited and these previous findings had been long forgotten. (1)
Does ‘Slim’ Mean Healthy?
Even though I’ve never had challenges with gaining weight, thanks to my genes I guess, it doesn’t mean that I’ve been always healthy. Even a thin person can be “fat” inside, no matter if a child or adult, developing visceral or so-called “deep fat” around major organs. Also, something called micronutrient deficiency affects an additional 2 billion people worldwide. Meaning there are “hidden hunger”, because a person may eat sufficient calories and externally look fine, but lack essential vitamins, minerals, and omega fats in their diet.
That’s why a thin person might suffer from same health issues as a person who’s overweight – type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and out-of-control blood sugar. “When you’re eating a diet high in sugar and processed foods, it causes visceral fat storage, and that can lead to all sorts of risk factors of being overweight,” says Dr Mark Hyman, author of The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet. But it’s not only the visceral fat that makes us vulnerable to various diseases. We can also mess up our intestinal bacteria what leads to various health problems and is linked to obesity as well.
When I was in my twenties, I hardly paid any attention to the quality of the food. I ate processed foods as a large part of my diet because it was quick and easy to prepare. I thought I was eating ‘healthy enough’. I purchased food primarily to satisfy my hunger and sweets for sugar cravings. I felt that my relationship with food was very normal, thanks to my mother and our traditional Finnish childhood diet, which consisted mainly of homemade meals. It was very rare when we ate any burgers, pizzas or any other processed foods or sugary drinks.
But it all changed when I moved on my own. The world was full of treats and nobody was denying a chocolate bar from me. I remember the daily candies and instant noodles which were my favourites. The food I consumed was low in fat which meant cereals, low-fat yoghurt and skimmed milk – a lot. And I didn’t realise until recently how much sugar was added into those low-fat foods! The heavy milk drinking was originally a result of calcium propaganda at schools which has been a very powerful force in Finland, even today. Yes, dairy contains calcium but also vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans, lentils, nuts, seed, meat and fish also contribute to total calcium intake. I made make my “healthy” smoothies back in those days, but when I think about it now, I always added sugar!
What does all of this have to do with gut bacteria? Well… These issues mentioned above were the major factor, along with gluten sensitivity, that was leading my intestines to shout out loud. I remember the stomach aches, the pain and constipation and diarrhoea by turns. Thinking it was ‘kind of normal’, without knowing the original root cause for these intestinal issues. Not forgetting the increasing fatigue and strange apathy that followed me for all those years. And later on, if you have read my previous blog posts, you might know that I was developing chronic inflammation (such as chronic sinusitis) in my body in my early thirties and I ate loads of antibiotics for that reason. Along with some other health issues which I now understand why I got them.
What Makes Us Sick?
Only our intestines alone play a host to around 100 trillion microbes – microscopic living organisms containing more than 8 million genes of their own on average. These microbes mostly inhabit our gut but they are found everywhere in the body. Microbes carry an enormous role in our health and our own DNA, that scientists are only at the beginning of this journey of finding out the true power of these little germs that not only heal wounds but play a much bigger role. The fact that 99 percent of our genetic material actually belongs to the microbes, reveals they are actually part of our genetic code and affect our mood, immune system, metabolism and the whole well-being. What the science has already found out about the health effects of these little bugs, the possibilities are very fascinating!
Most of this bacteria is good bacteria, so-called ‘beneficial bacteria’ and only a handful of the bacteria is bad bacteria. Best known good bacteria is probably probiotic. Bad bacteria are traditionally defined as pathogenic bacteria, which means they may cause infection, make us sick or, in some cases, even kill us. Bad bacteria might come from an external source, such as spoiled food or environmental toxins that can make us sick. Or even from a chronic stress in our body. Depending on our lifestyle and diet, we can make a huge difference on a number of beneficial bacteria in our body. Changes in this population can have major consequences for human health and it might be either good or bad. Gut microbiota (or dysbiosis) seems to play a huge role for example in obesity, diabetes and chronic inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, colitis and Crohn’s disease. (2) For example, too many antibiotics, antibacterial soap, processed food, refined sugar (especially high fructose corn syrup HFCS), stress and lack of sleep are things that can cause an imbalance in our bacteria.
Gut Bacteria – Help For Brain Health?
The science is now starting to realise the connection between inflammation, immunity and neurology and how important role our gut bacteria plays within those. A multitude of studies show an undeniable link between gut dysfunction and the brain, chiefly by revealing the relationship between the volume of inflammatory markers in the blood and risk for inflammatory disorders including heart disease, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, cancer, dementia and even depression.
Dr Kelly Brogan, a holistic psychiatrist in NYC and an author of the best-selling book, A Mind of Your Own, declares that depression and all of its relatives are manifestations of glitches in the immune system and inflammatory pathways—not a neurochemical deficiency disorder. Kelly has created a 44-day Vital Mind Reset program to become happier and healthier without drugs. The gut healing diet and other lifestyle changes play a big role in this program.
There was an article in the Nature in 2014 about the connection between gut health and the brain: “Although correlations have been noted between the composition of the gut microbiome and behavioral conditions, especially autism, neuroscientists are only now starting to understand how gut bacteria may influence the brain” says Sarkis Mazmanian, a microbiologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. (5,6)
New research from Lund University in Sweden has shown that intestinal bacteria can accelerate the development of Alzheimer’s disease.“Our study is unique as it shows a direct causal link between gut bacteria and Alzheimer’s disease. It was striking that the mice which completely lacked bacteria developed much less plaque in the brain,” reveals researcher Frida Fåk Hållenius, at the Food for Health Science Centre.
Future Treatments – Faecal Microbial Transplantation
There are amazing stories in scientific studies as well as in clinical studies, where people’s state of the condition has dramatically shifted or even cured by this so simple but in many ways unpleasant procedure. Any number of health concerns from obesity to autism to multiple sclerosis, a faecal transplant might offer an opportunity to rebalance the gut microbiome and sets the stage for a return to better health.
Faecal microbial transplantation (FMT) has actually already been used 1,700 years ago to cure severe diarrhoea or food poisoning in China by famous alchemist Ge Hong. Since those days it has been used in silence and there has never been a single, serious side effect reported from this procedure.
Since it’s been used for a long time as an effective treatment to bring back the important bacteria in the gut and cure diseases like C. difficile infections (without this procedure they likely would have died), there’s a small handful of clinicians in the world today using this method also to treat brain disorders such as chronic fatigue, MS, autism, Parkinson’s and Tourette’s syndrome. And the results are great. (7) The problem seems to more in finding the right kind of donors because of the strict requirements for donors such as never had an antibiotic treatment, never smoked, used alcohol etc.
Bacterial “Footprint” Starts From The Birth Canal
Until recently, newborns were washed right after birth. Nowadays, at least in some hospitals, they don’t immediately wash the just-born baby, but instead, delay the bath for hours or even days. The white substance on baby’s skin called vernix, can moisture and protect the skin and the baby from hospital-acquired infections. Newer research indicates that vernix has immune properties and it provides a layer of protection while your new baby’s immune system is getting stronger.(3) So if the vernix is the
‘antibacterial’ coat that keeps bad germ away, what about the vaginal bacteria that covers the just-born baby? When babies are born vaginally they are exposed to a range of beneficial bacteria while moving down the birth canal.
If babies are born with c-section, they lack this vaginal bacteria. Now that we know how important the vaginal bacteria is for the baby, giving babies a swab of vaginal fluid after they’ve been born by caesarian section (c-section) gives them a different, and possibly beneficial, set of gut bacteria. However, there are conditions like group B strep (GBS), which is a serious infection and can be transferred to the baby on the swab. Also, some conditions that might cause no symptoms in the mother, such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and herpes simplex virus, could be transferred on the swab.(4) So there are two sides of the coin here. Having that said, a number of studies have found evidence that C-section microbiome could make the child more vulnerable to problems later in life, such as asthma, food allergies, hay fever and obesity.
The very next thing affecting to baby’s future health is whether she or he is being breastfed or formula-fed. So many factors drive changes in the microbiota, all the way from the mother’s birth canal, first breath, first bath and throughout the whole lifetime. We develop our own unique bacterial signal or ‘footprint’ that we take with us wherever we go.
How To Rebuilt The Gut Microbiota?
First of all, you need to minimise or eliminate the following foods from your diet to be able to let the good, beneficial bacteria to flourish instead of the bad bacteria. It might feel like a short cut to health to ask doctors for antibiotics, but the problem is that antibiotics are ineffective against the common cold. The common cold is caused by a virus and cannot be cured with drugs that target bacteria. Still respiratory tract infection (URTI)—is one of the top reasons for doctors’ visits and people easily demand a prescription for antibiotics. In some countries, antibiotics are even sold over the counter. There was a WHO European survey made in 2014 which reveals, that in 19 countries, people can legally buy some antibiotics over the counter. This has lead to a fight against antibiotic resistance due to the fact that antibiotics mean death for good bacteria. See what other things to avoid in order to gain for a better gut microbiota.
5 Things To Avoid or Eliminate:
- foods to avoid: sugar, processed food, grains (gluten), conventional grain-fed dairy, unhealthy oils
- highly chlorinated water
- environmental toxins, GMO’s like glyphosate
Signs of Bad Gut Bacteria:
- Antibiotics (over 40% of antibiotic prescriptions are inappropriate, found in recent studies).
- Digestive issues like constipation or diarrhoea.
- Skin issues like acne, rosacea, psoriasis, eczema.
- Mental issues like depression, anxiety, Tourette’s, ADHD…
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
- Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease.
- Chronic unmanaged stress.
For most people, taking a probiotic supplement and eating more traditional fermented foods as well as prebiotic vegetables and fruits, will be enough to increase the number of beneficial microorganisms in the gut.
Fermenting is a process that makes milk products go sour and cause vegetables to ferment. These foods are rich in beneficial lactic acid-producing bacteria that helps humans to ferment carbohydrates in the digestive tract. This process is developing important byproducts, which prevents harmful organisms from being able to grow. At the same time, it allows the good gut bacteria to establish themselves more firmly.
Pickled vegetables, fermented milk products like kefir, and fermented soy products are some examples of traditional fermented foods.
What is Kefir?
Kefir can be made from the milk of any ruminant animal, such as a cow, goat or sheep. But you can basically turn any milk or even plain water into kefir. They might just need some natural sugar to feed the probiotic organisms, along with the kefir grains or starter. For example, there are 3 ways to culture coconut milk: use milk kefir grains, kefir starter culture or finished water kefir which is totally dairy-free version.
Milk Kefir’s health benefits
Kefir contains many vitamins, minerals and nutrients such as vitamin B12 (especially vegetarians/vegans might lack this vitamin), vitamin K2, biotin, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous. But what makes it even more superb with its health benefits, is that there can be hundreds of billions of colony forming units.
But what makes this yogurt-like beverage even more superb with its health benefits, is that kefir grains contain about 30 strains of bacteria and yeasts, making it a very rich and diverse probiotic source. Even the best probiotic supplements include only about three strains of probiotics. There are hundreds of billions of colony forming units (CFUs) in just one glass of kefir.
This beneficial yeast and good probiotic bacteria make kefir one of the most potent probiotic foods available and one of the best ways to improve digestion, boost the immune system, fight against harmful bacteria and inhibit cancerous tumour growths.
Calcium, magnesium and vitamin 2, found in kefir, are very important for the bone density. By reducing inflammation in the body, kefir can help fight against allergies and asthma and by binding environmental toxins in our body, kefir can help with detoxification as well.
Because sauerkraut is fermented, it’s rich in probiotics – a live bacteria that support the beneficial microorganisms in your gut. Sauerkraut is also high in fibre and contains nutrients such as iron, calcium and vitamins A, C and K.
You can make your own fresh batch of sauerkraut at home but if you prefer buying a ready made one from the grocery store, there are few things to keep in mind when buying sauerkraut. There are a wide variety of different qualities and not all of them contain a high amount of that beautiful, healing good bacteria. And that rich bacteria is exactly what we are looking for, right?
Sauerkraut is better to be bought from the refrigerated section of a health-food store or farmer’s market. Fermenting process continues if the product is kept at room temperature. You might also want to look for a product that’s not in a jar, but rather in a pouch or some kind of another container where the lid is not too tightly sealed. Sauerkraut is raw and ‘living’ and therefore ‘breathing’ and needs a package with some ventilation.
- Try to find a sauerkraut which has not been pasteurised. Many beneficial microbes die during the heating process when pasteurised. For example, vitamin C and the lactobacillus probiotic bacteria, both found in sauerkraut, are killed during this process.
- Check out the label of ingredients. What you DON’T want to see is vinegar, sodium benzoate, sodium bisulphate or sugar. Those sauerkrauts are better to be left on the shelf! These preservatives often lower the food’s probiotic count and they are not healthy for you in any way. Sometimes the manufacturers use so-called ‘starter culture’ and that’s just fine. That helps the fermentation process get going a bit faster.
Feed Your Probiotics With Prebiotics
The answer doesn’t lie only in probiotics. You also need prebiotics to feed your probiotics – a live bacteria – to able them to live and flourish. Prebiotics basically mean fibre, that comes mainly from vegetables and fruits and humans can’t digest, but bugs can. Eating balanced amounts of both pro- and prebiotics can help ensure that you have the right balance of these bacteria, which should improve your health.
Most Dietary Fibre Rich Foods:
- Jerusalem artichoke
- chicory root
- white onions
- cooked beans
- asparagus spears
Sources and more reading:
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3859987/ (Elie Metchnikoff)
www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170210085532.htm (Alzheimer’s disease)