Improve your Digestive Health Naturally
Most illnesses start in the gut. If the digestive system is not working well, then you are not absorbing vital nutrients which can cause many health problems and discomfort.
Our digestive tract is an ecosystem of good and bad bacteria. It is responsible for the balance of health, absorption of nutrients and forms 80% of the immune system. These good and bad bacteria co-exist without any problems, attending to digestive functions and gut maintenance, as long as there is enough good bacteria/flora to control the overgrowth of pathogens, including yeast, fungi, bacteria and parasites. It is also where 90% of the neuro transmitters for our brain are manufactured, such as serotonin (the anti-stress, anti-anxiety hormone) and dopamine (the ‘happy’ hormone).
It is the loss of this “good” flora that eventually leads to “gut dysbiosis” – a build up of these pathogens that cause most gut problems including bloating, flatulence, indigestion, reflux, irritable bowel, spastic colon, chronic diarrhoea or constipation, crohn’s, colitis, and even colon cancer. Furthermore the breakdown of the digestive tract means that less nutrients are being absorbed, leading to a host of other vague problems such as lack of energy, depression, sleeplessness etc. Eventually the pathogens, especially yeasts, break down the walls of the gut, causing “leaky” gut and allergies.
Even more sadly, there has recently been a correlation between these gut problems and childhood learning disorders, such as Dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADD, ADHD, Autism, depression and Schizophrenia. The overgrowth of these bad pathogens, now in the blood stream, also leads to damaged arteries, causing heart disease, candida, thrush, headaches, cancer, liver conditions and congested lymph glands.
So what causes the breakdown of these very vital gut flora? As the production of antibiotics grew from hundreds of tons a year in 1950s to tens of thousands of tons a year in the 1990s, so grew the evident and worried research into the harmful effect of these groups of drugs on human health. Antibiotics have a devastating effect on beneficial bacteria, not only in the gut, but in the organs such as the urinary tract system and tissue. Antibiotics change bacteria making it resistant to antibiotics, so the industry has to work on more and more powerful new antibiotics to attack these new “mutant” bacteria.
A good example is tuberculosis where new varieties of the Mycobacterium Tuberculosis is resistant to all existing antibiotics. They also have a direct damaging effect on the immune system making us more vulnerable to infections, which leads to a vicious cycle of more antibiotics and more infections.
Even people not actively taking antibiotics are subjected to it daily from farm animals and poultry which are routinely given antibiotics to the meat, milk and eggs which provide us with a constant supply of antibiotics and antibiotic resistant bacterial. A lot of fruit and vegetables are sprayed with antibiotics to control disease, so we simply cannot avoid exposure to antibiotics. When an antibiotic is prescribed in a high dose, it leaves the gut with a lot of empty niches to be populated by whatever bacteria, viruses or fungi would get there first. Also candida yeasts are resistant to antibiotics, hence the follow up of thrush infection in women (and itchy anus in men). This is a crucial time to administer a good probiotic to re-populate the beneficial flora. Even when the course of antibiotic is short and the dose is low, it takes a long time to recover and the probiotics should be continued beyond the antibiotic course.
Most drugs, particularly prescribed for long periods of time, including sleeping bills, antacids, neuroleptis and cholinolytic drugs permanently have a detrimental effect on gut flora. Pain killers (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc) stimulate growth of haemolytic forms of bacteria and campylobacter in the gut. Steroid drugs damage gut flora and have strong immunosuppressant ability, making it vulnerable to all sorts of infection. Contraception pills have a devastating effect on the gut flora and by the time a woman is ready to have children, she has been on these drugs for a long time and has an abnormal gut flora.
A human baby is born with a sterile gut and acquires most of its gut flora from the mother during the journey of its birth and then from breastfeeding. Lack of this flora predisposes this child to eczema asthma, allergies and in severe cases learning disabilities. Babies born of caesarean section have the disadvantage of missing out on this flora in the birth stage.
What we eat also has a direct effect on the composition of the gut flora. A modern diet of convenience rather than nutrition, full of processed foods has a serious detrimental effect on the gut flora. Too much sugary foods and processed carbohydrates increase number of different fungi, Candida species in particular, Streptococci, Staphylococci, Clostridia, Bacteroids and some aerobic bacteria. Processed and sugary carbohydrates and starches (white bread, cakes, biscuits, pastries and pasta) also promote population of the gut with candida, worms and other parasites. Excessive alcohol has the same effect.
Infections diseases like dysentery salmonella, some viral infections and operations under anaesthetic can cause lasting damage to the gut flora. It is a common after effect of surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and radiotherapy. Repopulating the gut with beneficial bacteria is an important part of the treatment of these serious infections. Different chronic illnesses are accompanied by serious defects in gut flora, like diabetes, autoimmune disease, endocrine disease, obesity, depression and neurological conditions.
How do we re-populate?
Traditionally, our ancestors used fermented foods to maintain the delicate ecosystem of the gastro intestinal tract and this is still important to maintain gut health, but often not enough to reverse the damage or re-establish the good bacteria.
In the short term (or even long term for people who do not consume fermented foods), cultured probiotic supplements in the form of capsules, powders or liquids from a reputable supplier, will help to re-establish this vital gut flora. Most probiotic supplements need to be refrigerated and should therefore be bought from a store where they are stored in the fridge so that they have not lost their strength.
Once the good bacteria are established in the digestive system, it is important to ensure that this healthy eco system is maintained by good food sources, called ‘pre-biotic foods’ especially fermented foods,
REPAIRING THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
We have talked about how low gut flora brought about an increase in pathogens and yeasts, causing many health problems, not just of the gut, but learning problems in children and even cardiovascular disease, due to the “furring up” of arteries and development of “bad” cholesterol and lipoproteins that cause plaque in the arteries.
The diminished gut flora can be caused by low birth flora, medications, bad diet, stress and disease. The rise in pathogens then causes a break down in the gut wall, causing “leaky” gut, meaning that food particles – especially indigestible proteins from gluten in wheat or casein in milk, pass through the gut wall into the bloodstream, causing allergies, asthma, eczema and learning disorders (from neurotoxins getting to the brain and nervous system, affecting its development and functioning). Research at the University of Reading in the UK found very high levels of Clostridia in the gut of 150 autistic children.
The treatment involves detoxing the person, clearing the gut, to lift the toxic fog off the brain. This is achieved by 3 steps. 1. Diet. 2. Supplementation. 3 life style changes.
Although the Gluten protein and wheat and the Casein protein in milk have been found in many cases to be culprits, it is not that simple. An IGG test (delayed reaction food antigen) will ascertain any food allergies. However, foods that are high glycaemic (turn to glucose quickly) will feed and fuel many pathogens and yeasts. Most people with gut problems crave the very food that harms them – processed carbohydrates.
The typical pattern of young children with learning problems is a diet high in processed carbohydrates, dairy and sugar: breads, biscuits, cakes, sweets, crisps, breakfast cereals, pasta, milk and sweet yoghurts. Changing to health foods that are un processed but still high in high starch foods such as rice, sugar, potato starch, tapioca flour, buckwheat flour etc, will still feed the abnormal flora in the gut as much as the previous diet, as all these foods are high glycaemia.
The diet should therefore be high in “good” carbohydrates, such as vegetables, salads, fruits, as well as easily digested proteins in meat, fish eggs, etc.
> Vitamin C – Everybody needs it, especially those with coronary artery problems or impaired immune system.
> B Vitamins – are essential for us to have every day and are especially needed to feed good gut flora
> Essential fatty acids – Omega 3 6 (fish and flax oil) and 9 (olive oil) – essential for brain development and always found low in people with learning disorders, dry ski, scalp and eyes, gall bladder problems and bad cholesterol
> Amino acids – pure protein source in the diet or supplements for vegetarians or fussy eaters – essential for neurotransmitters for the brain and nervous system
> Probiotics and probiotic foods – most important of all. This is needed to re-establish the good gut flora, repair the villi of the small intestine where food is absorbed and therefore increase digestion and absorption, as well as to prevent good enterocytes needed for absorption turning carcinogenic (cancer forming). This should be taken for some time (up to 2 years, but can be taken forever in people with sensitive guts, colon cancer history or taking chronic medication, including the Pill and HRT). Of course it stands to reason that a good probiotic should be taken during antibiotic or cortisone use, during (taken at a different time) and for 2-4 weeks after.
Probiotics are also needed to help to people with recurring urinary tract infections who have lost the beneficial bladder flora due to on-going antibiotic treatment.
In addition to probiotics – pre and probiotic fermented foods are needed to feed the good bacteria, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kobucha, kefir an yoghurt etc.
> Other supplements that may be needed include, L-glutamine to repair the gut wall, anti-parasite herbs, Cascara to correct constipation, Vitamin K and fulvic acid to further assist establishment of gut flora (lacking in some people who bruise easily).
3. Life-style Changes
Apart from a healthy diet of nutritional foods and low processed foods it is important to understand the damage that stress does to the body. Hobbies, exercise, meditation and a positive attitude can help to reverse this. Some supplements such as 5HTP, Rhodiola or Sceletium can help to deal with stress (or lack of serotonin) without side effects, but long term a solution to the stress is better. Exercise keeps the body in good condition, but excess causes high free radical damage.