“All disease begins in the gut.”-Hippocrates
Hippocrates was a classical Greek scholar born in 460 B.C. His wisdom is over 2,000 years old, but has stood the test of time. He has become one of the most outstanding contributors to medicine, and is even counted the “Father of Western Medicine.” In fact, every doctor who graduates from medical school takes the Hippocratic Oath, one of the oldest binding codes of ethics that exists.
This quote on the relationship between disease and gut health isn’t just a nice saying. It is backed up by science. It is thought that three quarters of our immune system resides in the gut, with over 500 different species of bacteria that live there. The number of microorganisms present in the gut alone is 10 times the number of cells in the entire human body. Research now suggests that this is not merely a peaceful co-existence, but more of a mutual relationship. Without a healthy immune system, you are susceptible to all kinds of disease, thus the reason Hippocrates said, “Disease begins in the gut.”
In modern times, we have severely harmed the health of our guts. Between overuse of antibiotics, sanitizing EVERYTHING, a lack of proper nutrition, eating highly processed foods and sugars, we have effectively destroyed gut bacteria. Old World, or traditional diets around the globe include the use of raw and fermented foods that are full of bacteria. These cultures aren’t afraid of it; they understand its beneficial relationship with their gut.
We are born with completely sterile digestive tracts because while in utero, we have no need to break down nutrients since our mother is doing that for us. We become colonized with various strains of bacteria (good and bad!) from our mothers during the rather messy but necessary process of vaginal birth. Breastfeeding also supports this process in infancy, due to strains of immune-boosting bacteria found only in breast milk, and provides a balance.
This is not to say babies who are born via c-section and/or are formula fed have no hope from the beginning. These babies just need a little extra help with supplementing what they didn’t get through vaginal birth and/or breastfeeding. Also, toddlers put everything in their mouths (dirt included), which helps build up the relationship of good bacteria in the gut if given proper resources for it to flourish, and thereby boost immunity.
Unfortunately, we don’t do a very good job at this anymore. We clean with bleach and make our worlds sterile. We eat too much sugar, starch, and processed foods, which alter the balance in the gut, leading to all kinds of problems with the integrity of its lining. This in turn allows the harmful bacteria to get into our bloodstream and deposit toxins throughout our cells and tissues. Problems with poor gut health have been linked to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Chron’s disease, Celiac disease, colitis, allergies, and even some mental illnesses.
Preventing a problem is always easier than treating it once we have it. Below you will find some tips to prevent the depletion of the good bacteria in your gut, and ways to increase the balance if you haven’t been so proactive in the past.
Ways to Prevent Good Bacteria Depletion:
• Careful use of antibiotics and other prescription drugs
• Limiting use of antibacterial soaps
• Avoid overuse of harsh cleaning chemicals
• Adequate self care to reduce the amount of stress on the body that is the result of a lack of sleep, overexertion, etc.
How to Boost Probiotic Balance:
• Cut down on sugars, grains, starches, and vegetable oils. These things quickly destroy good bacteria, suppress the immune system, and can lead to a plethora of health problems.
• Eat real food. Fruits, vegetables, protein and fats help support the beneficial bacteria. Certain bacteria are needed to help break down fiber from fruits and vegetables, and support the body to culture more of the same.
• Consume fermented foods and drinks. Sauerkraut, kombucha (a fermented tea), kimchi (a spicy Korean form of sauerkraut), fermented salsa, kefir (a fermented milk drink), yogurt and naturally aged cheeses are all good sources of foods with naturally occurring probiotics that help build beneficial bacteria in the gut.
• Natural soaps and water instead of antibacterial. Antibacterial soaps are now thought to be a part of the problem with drug resistant bacterial infections like MRSA and C. diff. Instead, use good quality natural soaps like Bronner’s or goat milk soap.
• Begin gardening. A little dirt won’t hurt you! In fact, it’s good for you. You will get your Vitamin D from the sun, probiotics from the dirt (bacteria can enter through your skin), and you are growing your own food and/or flowers. What’s to lose?
• Take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary. While there certainly are times when antibiotics are needed, many illnesses can be left to run their course, like the stomach bug, colds, or ear infections. Antibiotics don’t just target harmful bacteria, they also kill all the good stuff. In addition, antibiotics don’t work on viruses, only on bacterial infections.
• Take a probiotic supplement. This should be done in conjunction with a change in your diet, otherwise you are just throwing your money away. Make a few simple changes, one at a time, and consider supplementing your new habits with a probiotic source other than foods or drinks. It is also a good idea to help replenish your gut after a round of antibiotics by adding the supplementation of oral probiotics in addition to the fermented sources already in your diet.
By: Rachel Clark, RN, BSN