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Understanding your Microbiome/Gut bacteria

By David Coory

We hear a lot about inflammation nowadays, and Dr Shaun Holt wrote a good article about it in our May-July catalogue 2023.

Modern research is discovering that inflammation inside our bodies is linked with almost every modern disease – narrowed arteries, Type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis), irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, and mental disorders (such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease). It appears that almost every human disease state is caused by inflammation of one sort or another.

So, what exactly is going on?l!m3

We understand inflammation if we get a splinter in our skin, a bee sting, sunburn, toothache, or sprain a muscle. Our body rushes extra blood to the injured area, causing it to become hot and inflamed. But eventually, all going well, these injuries are healed and we return to normal.

So yes, that makes sense, but why on earth should we get inflammation in our organs, our arteries, our joints, throat, lungs, bowels and brain, etc?

The surprising answer

Well it’s now becoming clear that the surprising answer is – it’s caused by our gut bacteria immune system, in its role of healing infection, controlling digestion and many other aspects of health. Both the good bacteria in our gut (probiotics) and the bad bacteria (pathogens) play a huge role in our immune system.

A quality probiotic can support our gut microbiome as imbalances can occur from contaminated food, food additives and colours, pesticides, smoke and other harmful fumes.

Good bacteria help organise the increased flow of specialised blood cells to affected areas, resulting in healing inflammation. Then they control and monitor progress until the healing is complete and then switch off the inflammation. These good bacteria are mostly from the bifida
and lacto families.

That’s all fine when our probiotic gut bacteria are in healthy balance. However, all too often we have an imbalance of gut microbiome, like candida (thrush), clostridium, staphylococcus and e-coli. These can cause our immune response
to go haywire.

They can cause one of two opposite reactions – firstly they can weaken the immune response of our good bacteria to a toxic invasion, resulting in ignoring the invasion all together.

Alternatively, they can cause our immune system to over-react to ingested allergens like foods and airborne pollutants, foreign bacteria or viruses. This can cause us to become hyper-sensitive to certain foods, harmful bacteria, viruses or other toxins. Whereas a person with a well-balanced gut biome, could shrug it off effortlessly.

Bad bacteria’s ‘over the top’ reactions

These ‘over the top’ allergic reactions can cause serious inflammation, resulting in swelling and narrowing of coronary arteries, throat or lung passages (as in asthma), swelling of heart muscle (as in myocarditis) and digestive disorders. Other reactions can cause brain inflammation resulting in emotional upset, depression or serious anti-social behaviour.

What is worse about bad bacteria’s influence on our immune system, is that it sometimes stops this system from switching off the inflammation when the healing is done. So, the inflammation becomes like a permanent sunburn, or a sprain inside the body that never heals. The often-painful inflammation never stops. 

It can affect the walls of our arteries (heart surgeons say inflamed arteries are a common sight), our intestinal linings, our joints (rheumatoid arthritis), our brain, our gums and many other areas of the body. 

Inflammation necessary for healing

Inflammation itself is not bad – it’s a necessary part of healing of a toxic invasion or serious injury. But when it’s due to over-reaction from the influence of bad gut bacteria and runs rampant, or is necessary but not switched off after healing, it becomes nasty.

So, the solution is to maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria in our gut. But how do we do that? There are trillions and trillions of bacteria, both good and bad, and many different strains. Most of these have important roles to play in the digestion of our food, converting our food nutrients to fluid, so they can seep through our gut walls into our blood stream. They also make vitamins and form proteins. And of course, they help control harmful invasions of our body and play an important role in the immune system.

The vast complexity of our gut microbiome

The weight of these trillions of bacteria in our gut is similar to the weight of our brains – about 1.4 kg. They are continually breeding, multiplying and dying. About a third of the weight of our faeces is made up of gut bacteria, both living and dead.

It’s mind-bogglingly complicated as to how they all interact, and extremely difficult to study. Also, no two of us have the same combination of bacteria strains, or microbiome as they are known. Mice have similar digestive systems to humans, so research is now being done using specially bred mice with no bacteria whatever in their gut and so virtually no immune system. Various strains of good and bad bacteria are then introduced and their effects studied.

How to have healthily balanced gut bacteria

Ensure that gut bacteria are well established at birth by natural delivery when possible, and breast feeding for six months.

Greatly reduce foods with white flour, added sugar and all sweet drinks, including fruit juices. Avoid chemical sweeteners as they disrupt our gut microbiome.

Eat healthy fats – it does not cause obesity as does sugar and white flour.

Healthy fats/oils for the gut are olive, butter, lard, coconut and avocado. Avoid margarines and seed oils (misleadingly labelled as vegetable oil on the labels of processed foods).

Eat mostly natural, unprocessed foods like legumes and vegetables, fruit in moderation, whole-grains, nuts, unprocessed meat and fish, eggs, and dairy (in moderation). Avoid MSG.

Don’t eat when not hungry – your body is telling you it’s not ready for food. Eat until you are just satisfied, rather than full. Fast (water only) for at least a 12-hour period, every 24 hours.

Try and include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yoghurt, kefir, sourdough bread, pickles, cider vinegar, kombucha or miso.

Unless you’re a menstruating woman, avoid excess iron which is added to some processed foods.

Anxiety, anger, resentment and disturbed sleep are known to increase bad gut bacteria.

Avoid taking antibiotics by mouth wherever possible. Injections and infusions spare the gut biome.

Try and have a vigorous exercise program that increases your pulse rate to over 100, for 20 minutes, three or more days a week.