The gut microbiome in a nutshell
February 28, 2018
noun, (used with a singular or plural verb)
1. the microorganisms, both flora and fauna, that inhabit a particular region, when considered collectively.
2000 years ago, Hippocrates said ‘all disease begins in the gut’ – and boy how right he was…
Naturopathic physicians have long known this to be true and more often then not, correcting a patient’s gut ecosystem is at the core of many practitioners healing protocols. The human gut “microbiome” is essentially the ecology, diversity and spread of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria that inhabit ones digestive tract. Research into the gut microbiome and how it affects our health has exploded over the past ten years. The old understanding had us relate to the gut microbiome as merely a system within the body confined to conditions of the gastrointestinal tract (such as IBS, Coeliac, Colitis etc). Turns out, the microbiome is intrinsically connected with our cognitive function & brain health, our immune function, our ability to produce neurotransmitters and so much more. Did you know 90% of serotonin is manufactured in the gut? The bugs in our gut actually outnumber human cells by 10 to 1. Yes, that means you are more bacteria than human.
Conditions such as Diabetes, Multiple sclerosis, Obesity, Alzheimers, Anxiety, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Depression and even heart disease are all now known to be largely influenced by the health of ones gut microbes. This means we are at the cutting edge of the paradigm shift in the way health is managed and treated. As a clinical Naturopath this excites me. I have the ability to screen a patients microbiome, interpret overall diversity, balance (or imbalance) of their gut bugs and prescribe individualised treatment protocols consisting of diet, prebiotics, probiotics, supplements and lifestyle modifications to alter their inner ecosystem and stack the odds in their favour.
Having a health gut microbiome all starts in the womb. Did you know that your microbiome is forged largely on the foundation of your Mother’s gut health throughout pregnancy and is largely affected by method of birth? (vaginal delivery versus C-section). Multiple peer reviewed studies show that the diversity and overall health of newborn gut flora differs vastly as result of natural delivery. Don’t stress if you’re reading this and thinking “but wait..I wasn’t naturally birthed??!”. There’s a lot you can do that can drastically change your microbiome. Plus the amniotic fluid from the placenta delivers a degree of microbial colonisation from mother to newborn.
Another critical factor is FIBRE intake. It’s quite simple – the good bugs in your gut eat the fibre that you consume and then produce short chain fatty acids which are tied to a myriad of health benefits. You want to nourish these guys and grow them? Don’t always reach for a probiotic supplement. Instead, increase your intake of PRE-biotic rich foods such as onion, garlic, bananas, berries, chickpeas, artichoke, legumes, asparagus, seeds, leeks etc. These are classed as insoluble fibre as they aren’t degraded by the small intestine and instead reach the large colon where they are eaten/fermented by these good bugs.
Fibre intake in western society is actually ridiculously low. One of the last hunter-gatherer societies consuming a wild organic diet known as the Hadza tribe (Tanzania) take in between 100-150mg of fibre daily. Alarmingly, the average daily intake of fibre in Australia is 15mg. Is it a co-incidence that the rates of western diseases are practically non-existent in this region? It all comes back to a strong gut microbiome!
What factors create a strong microbiome?
Breastfeeding (1-2 years)
Fibre & plant rich diet
Eating mostly vegetarian
Exposure to soil based microbes
Low levels of stress
Regular time in nature
What factors disrupt the gut microbiome?
Lack of breastfeeding
Lack of infantile exposure to soil/animals
Lack of fibre and plant diversity
Conventional meat (contains antibiotics)
Conventional fruit & veg (pesticides/herbicides)
Glyphosate (the main ingredient in Round-up)
If you’re not feeling on your game, you’re getting sick and run down regularly, or feel mentally low, my advice is to look to your gut. It holds all the clues. Get your microbiome tested and interpreted so you can make the appropriate changes now and tip the odds in your favour. I conduct microbiome testing in clinic and via Skype appointment through the US based company uBiome as well as others. If you are interested in finding out more, please head over to my contact page and drop me a line!
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