GOOD DIGESTIVE HEALTH Post #4
Walk into almost any ethnic market or restaurant and you will find something they all have in common: fermented food. From kimchi to kosher pickles, fermented soybeans to miso, kimchi to kefir. These foods have been around for centuries because as long as humans have been cooking, they have been creating living foods that not only last outside of refrigeration, they bring life into our digestive tract. Life – by way of bacteria.
The standard American diet doesn’t include much by way of ferments. But fermented foods give us live cultures that help populate and repopulate the microbiome that is vital to a balanced digestive tract. It is no longer news that the bacteria living in our guts and elsewhere on our bodies are much more important than anyone ever knew. It is becoming common knowledge in medical circles that the microbiome is crucial for good gut health and is connected to our brain and central nervous system. How that connection works, exactly, is not yet entirely understood. What we have learned is that there are ten times more bacteria living on and in us than cells in our entire body. Yet 80% of the microbes in our guts we can’t even see on cultures. We have so much to learn.
We know that microbes have their own immune systems, which in turn affects a person’s immune system and metabolism. Those bacteria might be the reason why we crave certain foods or wish to avoid other foods. Microbes can even facilitate altruistic behavior and some say, these little life forms might even be part of our personalities. Scientists have begun to study and understand that depression can be reduced significantly in people who have taken lactobacillus. They’ve also discovered that serotonin changes microbes. Indeed, some in the scientific community have theorized that the bacteria might actually be controlling us, instead of what we always assumed was the other way around. Microbes have their own reactions to toxins – so, while studies might show that round up and glyphosate might be safe for humans, it might not be safe at all for our microbes.
So how did we do such a spectacular job of disrupting these incredibly important ecosystems in our gut, where good bacteria coexists yet overrides the damage that can be created by bad bacteria? The answer is, us. Both the food and medical systems here in America have gone overboard with antibiotic use and abuse. Antibiotics can wreak havoc on us. As a practitioner and a parent, I have seen how they can impact digestion, the immune system and even neurological development- particularly in those who had chronic ear infections as a young child. I have also seen antibiotics as the miracle drugs they are- they did in fact save my son’s life. However, science has recently begin to prove what many practitioners have known for years- that antibiotics not only kill bad and dangerous bacteria but also the good bacteria that our guts need in order to properly digest and extract the nutrients from the food we eat. For many individuals, everything could be working well in the digestive tract, but the absence of enough good bacteria in the colon could lead to a variety of ailments or disease.
Antibiotics also have had a significant impact on our food system and led to superbugs that are impervious to the drugs. We also are building up immunity to so many of these incredible life saving medicines. All the while, we have been wrecking our digestive systems by killing good gut flora that keeps our guts in balance and allows our digestion to function optimally. Antibiotics have saved thousands of lives over decades but we are now just beginning to understand the detrimental effects.
Now we are forced with the task of improving and restoring our microbiome – which is no simple task. Probiotics can make a small but specific impact. But just buying the most expensive probiotic: a) might not be necessary; b) might not help you; and c) could cause a candida (yeast) overgrowth. Until we know more about this mysterious ecosystem and, specifically, until you know more about what exactly is missing in your gut, it is best to eat your way to good health because a good long term diet could have a huge impact on your microbiome. This means eating prebiotic and probiotic fermented foods like whole milk, grass-fed, preferably raw yogurt or kefir; live, fermented vegetables (sorry, pickles made with vinegar don’t count- a helpful pickle needs to be fermented); organic raw vegetables; and making your own kombucha (the mass produced commercial products sadly don’t have much in the way of real live cultures). And unless it’s absolutely necessary, stay clear of the antibiotics. Instead, talk to your doctor about using natural antimicrobials like raw, local honey, garlic or apple cider vinegar, to name just a few.