Healthy Gut, Healthy Body – Managing the Microbiome
Written by Toni Baker, Balanced Living Naturopath
It’s harder to think of a hotter topic right now in both the science and natural medicine world than gut health! It’s as if the world has caught up with what us natural medicine practitioners have known for a long time that ‘disease starts in the gut’.
A good place to start within the digestive system are the six main areas that can influence our health as each needs to be functioning optimally in order to maintain our health and wellbeing. These are diet, enzymes, bacteria, barrier, immune and the Enteric Nervous System. Let’s have a look into these:
Have we got the guts?
Many people make food choices that may be detrimental to their digestive health. For instance, a diet high in carbohydrates can often result in a dysbiotic gastrointestinal tract (GIT).
A gluten and diary free diet may be useful and our top picks for digestion would be foods such as bone broth, fermented vegetables, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and sprouted seeds like chia and flaxseed.
Things that don’t work so well for our GIT are highly processed foods, refined foods like wheat, sugars and artificial sweeteners and refined oils and fats.
Where possible it is also advised to stay away from antibiotics (said to take up to 1 year to heal the gut after a course), hormones including the birth control pill, steroids and acid blockers. These can literally be like a bomb going off in the gut!
Let’s get those enzymes working!
In a healthy system, our digestive organs secrete acids and enzymes that break down nutrients to make them small enough to use.
While many people think they have too much stomach acid, the reality is that most people don’t have enough. Around 90% of people produce too little stomach acid. Stomach acid (aka hydrochloric acid or HCL) production can be inhibited by stress, eating too many processed carbs, nutrient deficiencies, allergies, and/or excess alcohol consumption.
Our top picks for digestion enzymes are:
Quantum Nutrition Health – HCL
Premier Research Labs – Digestase-SP
Healthforce Superfoods - Digestion Enhancement Enzymes
When choosing a product, look for the 3 main types of digestive enzymes:
- Amylase breaks down starches and carbohydrates into sugars.
- Protease breaks down proteins into amino acids.
- Lipase breaks down lipids, which are fats and oils, into glycerol and fatty acids.
You can also try 2 tbsp Apple cider vinegar in water 20 mins before meals to get the digestive juices flowing.
So what should a healthy microbiome look like?
The more we learn we about our microbiome, the more we realise the importance of the balance of flora in the GIT. An imbalance can be related to pathological bacteria which causes a huge impact on the gut and other organs and in particular our immune systems.
We can restore the balance with use of anti-microbials such as Wormwood, Black Walnut, Berberine, Bearberry and Baptisia plus a good probiotic and lifestyle changes.
What are our barriers to pathogens?
We have three main lines of defense in preventing bacteria from getting through the gut barrier. Our first being immunoglobulin A (IgA) which binds to bacteria in the gut to keep it in the digestive tract therefore causing less damage.
The second line is the mucous; the physical barrier between the gut lumen and epithelial cells. This prevents bacterial adherence to the epithelial cells.
The third is the epithelial cells which have selective permeability. Many of us have heard of ‘leaky gut’ which is when the tight junctions between the epithelial cells can become opened allowing foreign particles to penetrate the gut barrier.
Many nutrients can support the mucosa including L-Glutamine, deglycyrrhizinated Licorice, Marshmellow and Slippery Elm. High dose Turmeric can also be a great anti-inflammatory here.
Our favourite products here include:
Bioceuticals – Intestamine Powder
Quantum Nutrition Health Turmeric
Are we immune?
Did you know that around 60-70% of the immune system is within the gut and the systems are very closely related. The main approach when treating this condition is to target a patient specific immune protocol whilst treating the gut at the same time. The key players in treatment here are probiotics.
Probiotics play a huge role in assisting plentiful and diverse gut bacteria. The world of probiotics has changed greatly over the years with a much more targeted strain specific treatment in place. Great for supporting our microbiome, the immune system, skin and allergy protection.
Some of our favourites here are:
Microbiome 18 - 18 different strains of beneficial bacteria with a guaranteed 15 billion CFUs per capsule. Bacillus subtilis is stable in stomach acid and great for the microbiome.
Femdophilis - Lactobacillus GR-1 and Lactobacillus RC-14 – great for the urinary tract and vaginal flora. Especially beneficial pre-birth.
We have a number of other high dose probiotics that are available on prescription if you under the care of one of our natural healthcare practitioners.
It’s become commonly known that the gut is the body’s ‘second brain’ referring to the Enteric Nervous System. The ENS regulates motility and GIT secretions. By managing our stress and supporting our gut, this will often have a huge impact on the GIT especially with patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Again, a patient specific protocol would be good here to treat the stress and anxiety whilst supporting the gut.
When to test the gut?
We definitely have the opportunity to better understand our own microbiome with testing these days. Anyone motivated to find out how to better their health could truly benefit from a comprehensive gut test.
We offer both a GI Map stool test and a SIBO test if indicated. Faecal biochemistry markers can be invaluable to treatment and health outcomes.
With a modern-day westernised lifestyle taking its toll on the microbiome, dietary changes can have a significant impact on numerous GIT conditions, however it’s become clear that many people need the additional support of enzymes or herbs to optimise digestive function.
To end on, I love the quote “always trust your gut instinct, it knows what your head hasn’t worked out yet”!
- Emma Paris