More than 2000 years ago Aristotle said that ‘All disease begins in the gut’ and yet only recently have we begun to understand how right he was. Research has shown us that a healthy gut is critical for good health and that an unhealthy gut contributes to a wide variety of diseases from diabetes and obesity to autism and depression.
Our gut health is mainly driven by two areas: our gut microbiome or ‘gut flora’ and our gut barrier. Antonie van Leewenhoek has been credited as having discovered the human microbiome in the 1680s when he compared his oral and faecal microbes and noticed striking differences. He also compared samples from healthy and diseased people. Our gut microbes are key factors in our health and in fact the Yanomami people in the Venezuelan rainforest have the most diverse microbial flora ever recorded. They have never taken Western medication such as antibiotics and consume a high fibre diet.
Our gut is home to 100 trillion micro-organisms with about 400 different species of bacteria. Weighing approximately 4lbs these micro-organisms are now recognised by scientists to control many aspects of our overall health. These range from keeping our gut working optimally and protecting us from infection to regulating metabolism and maintaining a healthy weight. The gut microbiome is also referred to as ‘the second brain’ with the microbes ‘talking’ to our neurotransmitters which ultimately affects our brain health.
What we eat and then DOESN’T get digested and absorbed (fibre) affects the microbes which live in our gut.
They feed on the leftovers of digestion, old intestinal cells, dead bacteria, digestive enzymes and bile. The impact of a low fibre diet can be seen in the results of a comprehensive stool test which reveal a low diversity of fibre loving bacteria and a high incidence of mucus loving bacteria which love sugar and the preservatives seen in a typical ultra processed Western diet.
Aristotle was the earliest known physician to study the benefits of fibre which is edible plant material resistant to digestive enzymes. It is therefore not broken down into various compounds and the fermentation of it by bacteria releases many beneficial substances e.g. energy, vitamins and short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). One particular SCFA known as n-butyrate controls colonic fluid and is critical in determining whether you suffer from constipation or diarrhoea.
One client of mine came to me with chronic diarrhoea and had suffered with it for over 10 years. She had done the rounds of doctors and consultants and was at her wit’s end. Looking at the results of her comprehensive stool test I discovered that she had no detectable n-butyrate and put her on a supplement to rebuild it. Within 3 weeks she had proper formed stools and I was then able to focus on getting her eating a nutrient dense diet with lots of fibre. Her depression improved, her health dramatically improved and she was able to go back to work and go on holiday with her family again.
Research shows that the more different types of plants you eat, the greater the diversity of your gut microbiome. NB. Some people may not tolerate large amounts of fibre to begin with as they lack the microflora for fermentation. Gradual increases in vegetables are advised.
Here are some good habits to develop, try & eat a portion of each colour group every day:
Red: tomatoes, red peppers, goji berries, strawberries, red apples, redcurrants
Blue/ Red/ Purple: aubergine, cherries, blueberries, red cabbage, blackberries
Yellow/Orange: sweet potato, carrots, butternut, papaya, pineapple, physalis
Green: spinach, broccoli, lettuce, runner beans, kale, fresh herbs
White: garlic, onions, parsnips, turnips, white cabbage, celeriac, mushrooms, cauliflower
Brown/grey: spices, nuts, seeds, legumes
Avoid sugar, sweeteners and food additives
Take a daily probiotic to sustain your good bacteria
Harmful Habits to avoid:
- Antibiotics and other medications like birth control
- and NSAIDs
- Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and
- processed foods
- Antibacterial mouthwashes
- Chronic stress
The gut barrier is vital in the maintenance of our health, and in fact one of its main functions is to prevent foreign substances entering our body. If the gut barrier becomes compromised a condition known as ‘leaky gut’ occurs and this is when large protein molecules escape into the bloodstream. This in turn switches on the immune system and it attacks them. Studies show that these attacks trigger the development of autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, fibromyalgia, Hashimoto’s disease and many others. Researchers have identified a protein called zonulin as one of the drivers of leaky gut and it’s produced in greater quantities when a wheat protein called gliadin is present. One of the first steps in healing a leaky gut is to completely cut wheat and gluten out of the diet for a minimum of 6-12 weeks.
Got a gut feeling about your gut? You’re probably right! Don’t ignore it. If you need help with gut issues email or phone me to book a free 30 minute Discovery call.