We’ve all heard the phrase ‘You are what you eat’ but how many of us really understand the significance of this statement and its effect on our gut?
Over 2000 years ago, the Grand-daddy of medicine, Hippocrates, claimed ‘All disease begins in the gut’. Extensive research today continues to prove this to be true.
Fast forward to the modern day: The way in which our lifestyles have evolved into such a fast-paced, fast-food kind of way in the last 50 years, is so far removed from our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Their intake of fibre alone was far greater than our own today. And that has a huge impact on our health.
Our modern, constant stressed-state lifestyles, coupled with our over-use of antibiotics and other prescribed medicine, has made our guts vulnerable – to the point of extinguishing the essential friendly bacteria which resides there. It’s hardly any wonder a plethora of illnesses have evolved with us.
‘You are what you eat’… These simple little words have never rung truer or had more of an impact upon us than they do today.
For better or worse.
The impact food has on the body absolutely fascinates me. How our body turns it into fuel to provide us with all the energy and nutrients required to effectively function. The friendly army of trillions inside our guts waiting for the next mouthful to transform what we eat and collaborate with our immune system… Our bodies really are amazing. Every single thing we put into our mouths and every lifestyle choice we make, directly impacts our health – for better or worse. That’s worth remembering.
Traditionally, when a person visits their doctor, the GP has tended to isolate symptoms in order to treat the patient. For example, if a patient was suffering with a mental health issue like depression, the clinician would treat from the neck up and disregard the rest of the body.
Also a lot has been reported how GPs are fairly quick to treat the symptoms, as opposed to the root cause, of an illness. How patients willingly throw synthetically produced prescribed chemicals down their throats in a bid to ease their symptoms. Perhaps not realising this not only has negative knock on effect on other areas of their massively-connected bodies, but also is very costly for our Health Service, which, let’s face it, is already having it’s own health crisis.
When you think a quarter of prescribed drugs (antibiotics, anti depressants, anti psychotic drugs etc) have a negative impact upon gut microbiome and which in turn negatively impacts our general health – as 60% of our immune system lies in the lining of our gut, it’s no surprise we keep getting ill, is it? It’s a catch 22 situation. Cause & effect. In trying to make ourselves better, we are making ourselves ill.
Chronic diseases don’t happen overnight
It takes many years of abuse – feeding your body junk, before it finally says ‘enough is enough’ and you get sick. You literally are what you eat. What you put into your mouth – such as diet and medication, are the two most influential factors in modifying the composition of your gut microbiome, according to one of the worlds leading researchers, Professor John Cryan (author of over 200 medical papers and the incredible book, The Pshychobiotic Revolution).
Although research into gut health is still relatively young, medical practitioners know that by altering our gut microbes, we can change the course of chronic disease – not all of which are digestive-related like IBS or Crohns, but also everything from allergies, obesity, diabetes to autism, arthritis, depression, cirrhosis. We can not only treat these diseases, but prevent them occurring in the first place!
We all know stress is a killer but bit of stress is actually good for us. It’s a natural absolutely necessary response: our body’s way of dealing with threat. But it’s not good for us to constantly live in this state – which is something we are doing more and more. It’s well documented that chronic stress affects all parts of the body. Areas go out of kilter and have a knock on effect with other areas – then we become vulnerable. We become sick.
But what if I told you that it’s your gut health that drives your psychological wellbeing?
Think about that for a moment. It’s a bold statement. It’s also absolutely true. It is proven that increasing our gut microbiome directly influences our brain activity & our brains response. Making us more productive, less stressed, increasing our ability to retain and recall information and be happier.
On the subject of ‘happy’: the happy hormone, Seratonin is produced in the digestive system – not in the brain, so it makes sense to nourish from the gut. A poor diet heavy in processed food directly impacts negative changes in brain. Depression and anxiety can be relieved by adjusting the good bacteria residing in your gut. Improving gut health can positively affect a variety of mental health conditions including Autism, Alzheimers, Parkinsons, anxiety and depression.
Ever get that gut feeling?
You’ve heard the phrase ‘gut-feeling’. We’ve all experienced that feeling you get in your gut when you receive bad news. Increasingly, the worlds leading researchers have discovered that our bodies are massively interconnected and the gut has a direct connection and impact upon every other cell in the human body – including the brain. They call this ‘the gut-brain axis’.
They believe many modern ailments; everything from mental health issues to Type 2 diabetes, is caused by imbalances in our gut health – not in our brain. Who would’ve thought those little guys in our gut had so much power over the health of, say, our super-computer brains?
A change is on the horizon.
But it doesn’t stop with the head. Almost any ailment, from weight gain, insomnia, diabetes, hypothyroidism, can be healed without the need to resort to prescribed medicine. The key doesn’t lie in treating the symptom but by treating the root cause: the gut health. Restoring the health of this key body component improves the overall health of your entire body.
Many GPs are now advocating ‘Prescriptive Lifestyle Medicine’: Where they take a different approach: looking at, and then treating, the root cause rather than just the symptoms. They believe not only our diet but also our lifestyle has a huge impact upon our health and prescribe a change there first. So rather than dishing out the pills, they get the patient to be more accountable for looking after their own health by changing key areas within their lifestyles: Sleep (your gut microbiome affect your circadian rhythms), diet, exercise, and relaxation, to name a few. Dr Ranjan Chatterjee is championing this most effectively within the NHS.
Time to say ‘hello’ to your little army
So what are Microbiome?
Put simply, they’re our tiny little unique friends. A rather surprisingly miniscule army of trillions of allies who exist in our gut ‘ecosystem’ and are absolutely essential for keeping our health in equilibrium. They work tirelessly to keep us fighting fit and help to metabolize food.
Microbiome are the bacteria, bugs, fungi etc that reside in the gut and are essential for our optimal health. They were also here long before we were and without them we couldn’t exist! We have literally evolved with them.
Here comes the science bit…
Everyone has a unique combination of microorganisms in their gut. While our DNA may be like other humans, our microbiome is not. Factors such as environment, sleep, early-life conditions, fitness and stress contribute to the very nature of everyone’s gut microbiome, making it completely unique to you.
Scarily, in the last 50-60 years, we have changed our lives so dramatically – in the name of ‘convenience’ – that our very own garden of Eden is under attack from our over reliance on antibiotics, processed foods, emulsifiers and other chemically-formulated additives within our food chain. This rubbish is literally annihilating our gut microbiome to the point of mass extinction. Without this army, our immune system will fail and all manner of illnesses will prevail.
Wake up call.
But you can improve it and it’s easier than you think to get started.
The good news is gut microbes react very quickly to a change in diet – after just 24 hours there will be a shift in composition. So by altering our diets and lifestyle, we can alter our gut health which in turn, alters and improves our general health. So, as our Microbiome sends signals to all areas of the body – including the brain, there is no downside to improving your gut health. There are companies out there who can tailor a package to specifically improve your very own gut Microbiota too.
For example, eating more fibre equals a more diverse bacteria culture in your gut. Unfortunately, the western diet – compared to many other diets, lacks a lot of fibre and therefore we have a diminished gut microbiota.
So what can we do about it?
Smoothly does it…
Anyone who follows me on Instagram will know I love a smoothie. You may also be aware of my mild (*ahem) obsession with all things gut-health related. I try to make sure I eat well anyway. But I do love experimenting with various ingredients when making my super-smoothies. One thing I always make sure of is every smoothie I make has some ingredient in it which promotes my gut health. Sauerkraut is a usual addition (don’t knock it ‘til you try it – you’re feeding your gut bacteria and you can’t even taste it! It’s a win, win!)
Tips for success
I’ve already mentioned GPs advocating lifestyle changes: exercise, relaxation and sleep, but what you consume is absolutely critical to the success of a well-cultivated and diverse microbiome.
As with all diets, there’s no ‘One size fits all’ approach but with making just a few little changes we can all head in the right direction. A diverse microbiome is driven by a diverse diet and this is conducive to good health.
We’ve heard the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. A healthy, well-balanced mix of fresh leafy green vegetables, fish, wholefoods, nuts, plenty of water etc. It is believed this is the ideal way to nourish our bodies. It’s full of polyphenols, omega 3, fatty acids – positively affecting our microbiome. Incorporating fermented foods like Kefir, Kombucha, Sauerkraut and yogurt are proven to be beneficial too.
Ditch the junk!
Ditch the processed junk – we know its bad for us anyway.
Avoid sweetners and emulsifiers – they are worse than table sugar!
Don’t buy ‘diet’ foods. All the good stuff is removed and rubbish is added to make them taste acceptable!
Only take antibiotics when absolutely necessary.
Turn off technology 2 hours prior to bedtime to aid a restful sleep.
These are just a few of the things you can do to improve your overall health. Gut-health is well documented, so there’s plenty of resources out there to help you take back control. But it would serve us well to listen to some age old advice. By going back to ancient Greece, when Hippocrates taught under the plane tree in Kos Town. Where he preached his ‘Let food be thy medicine’ message.
If you feed your body well, you’ll feel well. Feed your body crap and that’s exactly how you will feel!
Happy gut health!