Imagine, living inside your body, a group of organisms that can have a great impact on your health. How you nourish them depends on how you take care of your body. This goes to prove the saying that “no matter how small you are, you can make a big difference” and our gut microbiome is no exception. Scientific studies now show that within our gut, there is a whole “ecosystem” wherein trillions of microbes (bacteria, viruses, mould, fungus, protozoa, parasites) can live in a balance. When there is harmony among them, they help maintain a healthy gut. They also contribute to our immune system and protect against bad bugs and imbalances.
In healthy adults, there are about 1000 to 2000 species of bacteria living in a healthy gut. These good bugs help aid nutrient absorption, remove toxins, and regulate our immune system.
Changes in the balance of the microbiomes are found in humans who have cardiovascular disease, irritable bowel disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.* In these people dysbiosis is present (an imbalance between the good and the bad bugs).
The key factor to take note of here is that there should be BALANCE among all the bugs present in our gut as they each have a role to play in maintaining gut health.
There is still much to be learned about the role of microbes in our body, but it looks promising as it may lead to a whole new level of treatment for diseases.
“All disease begins in the gut” is a quote attributed to Hippocrates, the father of medicine and in this case, he is not too far from the truth! :) Science is finally catching up to what natural medicine practitioners (especially naturopaths) have always said! Yay!! It’s an exciting time to be doing this work :)
Why it is important to maintain a healthy gut
Do you know that most of our immune system’s responses come from our gut?
Problems like allergies, food sensitivities, skin problems, mood disorders, autoimmune diseases, inflammation, etc. - all of these can stem from an imbalance in our gut bugs! I know, crazy right!?
Let's take a look at how this happens.
It boils down to 3 main components: our lifestyle, the amount of stressors we encounter, and the food that we eat. These all affect the environment within the digestive system.
When we regularly feed our body with processed foods, alcohol, sugar, and get exposed to chemicals and toxins, the gut flora starts to lean towards bugs that like these foods. Interesting...poor food quality grows bad bugs! When this happens, the good bugs start to die off and more of the baddies grow. We know this is happening when we experience bloating, constipation, smelly gas, headaches, period pain, and fatigue, etc. The longer we practice an unhealthy lifestyle, the more side effects develop - mood problems, acne, allergies, autoimmune diseases, etc - and the longer it takes to correct.
How do we heal our gut?
The first thing you need to know is this: Gut healing is a step-by-step process.
There is no quick fix for gut issues that have developed over a long period of time. As I'm always saying to my clients, ”it takes time to get unwell and therefore, it also takes time to get better."
But do not be discouraged because healing is possible. I’ve helped hundreds of people do it.
The first thing I get people to do is to get off or remove gut irritants. This includes getting off gluten, dairy, sugar, coffee, and alcohol.
The next step I teach is to become conscious of the food that you eat. Switch to whole foods and cook your meals yourself! Nothing beats homemade food. I’m a big fan of easy, fast, tasty, and healthy meals; so slow-cooked meals, bone broth, soups, curries, and smoothies are all really good options for time-poor people of today's world. That being said, if you don’t have time to make your own, you can purchase good quality bone broths (I do this these days ;).
Next is sticking to natural foods and chemical-free foods as much as possible. This makes a massive difference! Eat more veggies, less meat, and fruits are kept to 2 servings a day.
It is also very important that we reduce the stressors around us. Stress really messes up our system. Looking after our mental and emotional health is vital to recovery as a stressed nervous system directly affects digestive health!
To rebalance my clients’ digestive system, I often also get them to do cleanses using herbs and supplements. This is not a one-size-fits-all healing process. Each type of cleanse or detox is tailored to a person’s needs and should be done under the guidance of a skilled naturopath.
Taking care of our health is the best gift we can give ourselves and when we do, our body will thank us for it.
References: *Carding, S., Verbeke, K., Vipond, D.T., Corfe, B.M. Owen, L.J. (2015) Dysbiosis of the gut microbiota in disease. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease, 26 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4315779/