Our Guts Do More Than Digest Our Food…Way More!
Every good action movie has good guys and bad guys, and our guts are no different.
Weird comparison? Maybe. But hear me out!
It’s hard to wrap our heads around, but we have TRILLIONS of microbes living in our digestive tracts, including both “good” and “bad” bacteria, which collectively make up our gut microbiome. Some estimates say these microbes outnumber our cells 2:1, while others claim a whopping 10:1 ratio! Regardless, they carry out very, very important work in the body.
The “good guys” — the bacteria that is beneficial and necessary for good health — fight the good fight day in and day out to keep the “bad guys” — the bacteria capable of causing disease — at bay.
Sounds like the plot for a good action movie to me!
“All disease begins in the gut.”
Hippocrates — the father of modern medicine — is credited with declaring that “all disease begins in the gut.” I used to not believe that…but after nearly four decades in practice I can say without question that there’s a whole lot of truth in that statement.
The intricacies of the microbiome and the role it plays in our overall health were unknown to Hippocrates…nonetheless, he recognized the connection that has since been proven between the gut and nearly every part of our brain and body. The microbiome is so important, in fact, that it’s been dubbed the body’s “second brain!”
Our microbiomes play an important role in:
- Proper immune system function
- Cognition & mental health
- Nutrient & neurotransmitter creation
- Weight regulation & the ability to lose weight
As we’ve established, a healthy microbiome is predicated on an abundance of good bacteria, which keeps the bad at bay. Gut dysbiosis occurs when that delicate balance is disturbed, and the bad overtakes the good.
Gut Dysbiosis and Leaky Gut Syndrome
Unfortunately, many things in modern life disrupt the balance of our microbiomes, things like:
-The foods we eat. We know that a diet high in sugar and inflammatory fats (i.e. the Standard American Diet) can squeeze out the good bacteria and feed the bad, allowing them to proliferate in our gut.
-Overuse of antibiotics and antibacterial products. Taking just one round of antibiotics can wipe out 30% of our good bacteria…30%! And that doesn’t include all of the antibiotics found in our food. Nearly 80% of all antibiotics in circulation are used in livestock, which inevitably makes its way in to the foods we eat that come from those animals.
Things like antibacterial soap are also problematic, since they’re being applied to and absorbed by our largest organ…our skin.
When we kill the good bacteria, we become a breeding ground for infection.
It’s an unfortunate fact that a higher number of Americans today, percentage wise, die of infections than before the advent of antibiotics.
That’s not to say that there aren’t times and situations where antibiotics are warranted and even lifesaving, because they certainly can be — but they are overused to an extreme, and our health is suffering for it.
-Exposure to insecticides and herbicides, like glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp. Four seconds after it touches the lining of our gut, it begins breaking down and disrupting the microbiome.
Culprits like these contribute to irritation and chronic inflammation in the gut, and can culminate in leaky gut syndrome…a condition where the gut lining becomes akin to Swiss cheese. Instead of having tight junctions in the lining to keep things in the gut that need to stay there in, and keep things that shouldn’t be in the gut out, these junctions loosen, and microscopic holes develop.
As you would assume this is a recipe for disaster — the body is now literally leaking a river of toxins into the bloodstream, which results in a cascade of chronic inflammation throughout the entire body.
Virtually every disease known to man begins as inflammation at the cell level of the body. This is why I believe that Hippocrates is mostly right in his statement that “all disease begins in the gut”…when we’re driving disease because we damage our guts, it can manifest itself in any number of maladies.
Inflammatory environments in the body are supportive of the development of disease; anti-inflammatory environments are supportive of cellular health and healing.
Which environment are we driving through the lifestyle choices we make each and every day? Are we fueling disease or preventing it?
How to Support a Healthy Microbiome
We wield a great deal of power to influence the health of our microbiomes — the choices we make every day make a huge difference.
To keep the good guys in the lead,
- Eat a healthy, whole food diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables, high-quality protein, and good fats, and eliminate processed, sugary, refined foods.
- Start eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, or other fermented vegetables to introduce more beneficial bacteria to your system. Bone broth is also an incredibly healing food, and L-glutamine and licorice (the herb, not the candy!) can be great for healing the gut, too.
- Probiotics can be used to help re-establish a dominance of good bacteria as well, but they must be cycled regularly (every month) to ensure that certain strains don’t become dominate — that can cause its own set of problems!
- Avoid unnecessary antibiotics and antibacterial products, as well as toxins.
- Integrate fasting in to your life — partial, intermittent, or full fasts all have merit and benefits. Read my blog here for more information!
Go on, you’ve got this!