By Kristin Lehar –
With Halloween barely behind us and Christmas just around the corner, the sweets and sugary temptations are not easy to escape. It’s hard not to give in to the shiny, embellished displays of seasonal sweets popping out from every corner at the grocery store and at the same time how many times have we all heard not to eat too much sugar? No doubt we all know why refined sugar should be kept to a bare minimum but here is just one more reason why you should stay strong and say “no” to the sugar displays this year.
One of my favorite topics in the field of holistic nutrition would definitely be the health of the gut—the intestines. Though awareness is growing, it is still a subject few have enough knowledge about and considering the fact that health and disease stem from our gut, and that our lives literally depend the micro-organisms living in it, I feel it to be something people should be aware of at the very least. Who knew the microbiology of our intestinal tract, our gut flora, hugely affects our mental health, our digestion, and our immunity? Our intestine is home to around 400 different species of bacteria, outnumbering the total cells of our body by 10-1 at least, and their roles are huge. Though we have developed disgust towards the idea of bacteria living in and around us, our symbiotic relationship with our friendly intestinal bacteria is a very beautiful, not to mention powerful, one as without them we would cease to exist.
An estimated 80 percent of the immune system lies in and around the intestinal tract. Here, the microbes form a layer around the intestine preventing pathogens, undigested food particles, and toxins from being absorbed into the bloodstream. An imbalance in the intestinal flora causes the intestine to become permeable and leads to foreign particles being absorbed into the bloodstream. As a result, the immune system is constantly at work trying to eliminate incoming pathogens and eventually it becomes sluggish and weak, unable to properly deal with larger matters. Food allergies and sensitivities can easily develop as a result of unbalanced gut flora, also known as dysbiosis. Furthermore, studies have indicated “the composition of the microbiota can have a significant effect on the development of inflammatory/autoimmune disease in humans,” according to researchers Kosiewicz et al. The health of our intestinal micro biome is the heart of our immune systems. If we all adjust our diets to nourish our friendly bacteria, digestive and immune disorders would be far less common.
The idea that bacteria in our intestines influence not only the gut but the mind seems crazy, but the amount of work and research being done around the subject is growing more than ever and presents fascinating and valuable information that will hopefully soon be common knowledge. The gut is sometimes referred to as the “second brain” of the body. The gut-brain connection is established by the vagus nerve—the tenth cranial nerve leading from the digestive tract to the brain stem. The constant neurochemical interaction and the influences these two systems have on each other are profound. The gastrointestinal tract is home to about 90 per cent of the serotonin–the neurotransmitter regulating appetite, sleep, and mood—in our body while the brain synthesizes the remaining 10 per cent. Research shows a lack of healthy flora or an imbalance in the gut flora greatly reduces the serotonin production in the intestinal tract and, according to researcher Catharine Paddock, PhD, “imbalances in this peripheral serotonin have been linked to diseases ranging from irritable bowel syndrome and cardiovascular disease, to osteoporosis.”
There has also been much work done around the healing of the bacterial lining in the intestines to treat disorders such as autism, ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia, namely the research and work done by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride. She explains in her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome that a compromised bacterial population, especially in developing children, allows for an accumulation of toxins into the brain resulting in such disorders. She has developed a diet designed to heal the gut lining and restore healthy bacterial populations, thus strengthening immunity, and has successfully treated children with such disorders.
How does dysbiosisoccur? First off, the gut contains the helpful organisms and some unfavorable strains of bacteria. In a healthy gut, the bad guys are greatly outnumbered by the friendly ones who keep their populations under control. However, as soon as the good bacterial populations begin to get wiped out, the pathogenic bacteria begin to thrive until the entire gut is compromised. Yeast infections and candidiasis are a couple examples of such an imbalance.
To maintain healthy populations of friendly bacteria it is especially important to feed the body with nourishing foods but also to avoid substances that kill them off. Antibiotics and many pharmaceutical drugs are the biggest culprits in compromising the immune system through the intestinal micro biome. If one must take antibiotics (anti-life) it is especially important to eat probiotic (pro-life) foods during that time to prevent too much of the healthy bacteria from being killed. Sugar, chlorinated water, refined and processed foods, heavy metals, pesticide residue on conventionally grown foods, and household chemicals are among the other culprits. On the contrary, the best foods you can feed your gut and mind are fiber-rich vegetables and fruits as they feed off and digest the fibers that our bodies cannot, and fermented foods which also happen to contain high levels of friendly bacteria. When eaten, they will work overtime help repopulate and rebalance a compromised gut. So there you have it folks, one more reason to make your own holiday goodies with natural sweeteners and one more reason to indulge in your fermented foods.
Kristin is a holistic nutritionist in training whose main goal is to live a simple and awesome life. She loves to inspire others to realize the power of the body and its amazing capabilities to restore and maintain health and to realize we each have the power to bring our bodies back into well-being. Having love for and being connected to the language of the body is the first step on the path to a thriving life and thriving planet.