As expressed in Part 1, optimal health, like life, is not a ‘black or white’ issue - it is about achieving a healthy balance. And the discipline of balancing needs to be accompanied by a nuanced skill – the art of accurate diagnosis. We need to go beyond a focus on mere symptoms; we must understand the body as a whole – as an integrated ecosystem. This is key, as many times the symptoms appearing in one part of the body may be caused by imbalances in an entirely different organ or body system. There are several possible imbalances that may drive illness in the body. Some examples are: problems with metabolism (energy production), acid-alkali balance, elimination & detoxification system, enzymes, hormones and the immune function. A root-cause for several imbalances is an imbalance in the gut microflora. Hippocrates once said, ‘Bad digestion is the root of all evil’. The gut is swarming with about 100 trillion microflora, which outnumber the human cells in our body 10 to 1. Rightfully, the human body is now being called a ‘microbiome’ (a community of cells). Good bacteria produce healthy fats (short chain fatty acids), which help reduce inflammation and modulate the immune system. Bad bugs, on the other hand, produce fats that promote allergy and asthma, eczema and inflammation. Not surprisingly, the balance between the good and bad bacteria can influence a wide range of illnesses. Several other conditions are connected to the health of the microbiome - like anxiety, depression and diseases like arthritis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and colitis. Even obesity has been linked to changes in the gut ecosystem, thanks to our ‘modern’ high fat, processed inflammatory diet. Bad bugs produce toxins called Lipopolysaccharides (LPS), which trigger inflammation and insulin resistance (or pre-diabetes) and thus promote weight gain. Good bacteria aid the metabolism of nutrients and help their absorption into the bloodstream. As with ecology, the more diverse the population of health promoting flora, the more protection the gut gets from the ‘bad bugs’. In obese individuals and in diabetics, this diversity of bacteria seems to be missing. The good news is that you can reset your gut bacteria. Gut function and flora can be normalised, and the gut lining repaired, by taking a diet that is rich in nutrients and fibre, as well as daily probiotic supplementation and enzyme therapy.
Tip(s) of the Week
Limit your intake of sugar, overly processed foods, animal fats and animal protein - all of them provide food for unhealthy bugs. The bad bacteria simply love sugar and chemicals. Not only does this cause gas, discomfort, bloating and inflammation, but the intestinal lining can get compromised, thus allowing the undesirable chemicals to leak into the bloodstream, fanning a root-issue like inflammation.
Avoid the use of antibiotics, acid blockers and anti-inflammatories, as these change the gut flora for the worse. If you are compelled to use any strong medication, it should be followed up by a high potency, multi-strain variety of probiotic supplements. These are also especially helpful in the event of your catching an infectious diarrhoea during travel.
Limit stress, as it can also change the make-up of your gut flora; it alters the functioning of the immune system. Hence it is important to figure out how to better manage stress - meditation, yoga and positive psychology-based counselling can help a great deal.
Nature’s Wonder Food(s) of the Week: Gut microflora friendly foods
Each individual has a unique bacterial population in his/her GI tract. It is therefore important to find out which foods work best for you. In general, bacteria that live in our intestinal tract flourish on a fibre-rich whole foods-based colourful diet that is focused on plant-based foods.
Certain non-digestible carbohydrates help feed the ‘good bugs’. These are found in whole grains, beans, onions, garlic, leeks, artichokes, asparagus, mushrooms, nuts & seeds, fruits (especially banana, kiwi) and vegetables (especially dandelion greens), jicama(yambean), burdock and chicory root.
Probiotics that are especially rich in diverse strains of ‘good bacteria’ are critical components of a diet and must form a ‘daily habit’. These help reduce inflammation and allergic reactions/auto-immune disorders. The best source is ‘naturally fermented’ foods - ideally prepared at home or purchased as ‘organic’ versions. The fermented versions of all kinds of foods are just right to get the good bugs into high gear. These include fermented vegetables (especially sauerkraut & kimchi), fermented beans (especially miso, natto, tempeh), cultured dairy products (yoghurt & kefir, cheese, buttermilk or similar products made from organic soya or coconut milk), fermented grains & beans and fermented beverages (like kombucha or organic apple cider vinegar). Some less likely sources of support for the ‘good bugs’ come from organic butter – which can enhance the intestinal barrier and improve gut health, thanks to naturally occurring butyrates. A delightful source can also be Dark Chocolate (70% cocoa or above) - it can help produce fermentation and anti-inflammatory byproducts, which can benefit both a health gut as also a healthy heart.
To sum up, remember that tending to the garden within can be the answer to many seemingly unrelated health problems. An unhealthy gut is indeed a root cause for ill health.
For Education purposes only; always consult a Healthcare Practitioner for medical conditions