Digestion: Fresh Dirt on Gut Bacteria / Food Intolerance

Digestion: Fresh Dirt on Gut Bacteria / Food Intolerance

We’re now all familiar with “gluten-free” as it has become a recent fad and selling point in the food industry, but gluten intolerance is indeed a real health issue. For decades, integrative doctors have been recommending gluten-free diets. Years ago, a gluten-free diet generally required a whole foods based diet. Nowadays, a gluten-free diet can be easily achieved with highly processed and refined foods like cake, cookies and breads so don’t get caught up in this part of the fad….  My clinical experience is that immune reactions to foods are indeed on the rise these days so, let’s take a broad look at what may be causing the rise and what we can do about it.

So with digestion, “Why aren’t we able to digest food anymore?”

To start, you are not digesting your food well if you have any digestive symptoms (gas, bloat, reflux, constipation, diarrhea) but you can also be free of evident digestive symptoms and still be reacting to food.  So, if you have any of the following you should consider food reactions: autoimmune disease, eczema, psoriasis, acne, hypothyroid, arthritic pain, sinusitis, depression, and on.

A big piece of this puzzle and a relatively recent phenomenon involves our body’s microbial environment.  As much as we don’t like to think about it, we are walking microbes. Last time I checked, the ratio of microbial cells in our body to human cells was at 10 to 1.  Wild!  But, it always reminds me (and should you) that we need to take them seriously. So the first issue is that these days we’ve lost sight of, and even betrayed the importance of this vital and symbiotic partnership.

But, it’s not just the numbers, it’s also the balance of the various micorflora that is key in our digestive health, immune function, brain health, body weight.

But, “why is microbial imbalance becoming so common now,
resulting in more and more food related issues?

Let’s take a look at recent phenomena that have affected the factors known to establish our healthy gut microflora.  A newborn is initially “colonized” with their healthy microbes from Mom during a vaginal birth but we have increasing numbers of hospital C-sections.  After birth, breastfeeding is the next way that our newborn is persistently colonized but we saw breastfeeding fall out of favor for at least a generation, replaced by sterile formula, pasteurized dairy or such.  Beyond the breastfeeding years we have our obsession with hygiene.  Hygiene theory proposes that we have increasingly enveloped ourselves in a sterile lifestyle.  We no longer play in the dirt; we don’t really farm.  We wipe, spray, and clean every surface in our home and part on our body with anti-bacterial concoctions.  We pasteurize, irradiate, and “who knows what” before bringing foods to market.  At home we take it further to ensure our foods are clean like using special sprays to clean our fruits and veggies.  Our consumption of raw, unprocessed, unadulterated foods has dropped considerably.  Traditionally fermented foods have been out of favor since we developed other ways to preserve foods like canning and refrigeration. But, traditionally fermented foods contain a vast array of beneficial flora (despite the enticing television ads, grocery store yogurt hardly counts).  Lastly, but no less significantly, it is clear that we have been fairly heavy-handed in our abuse of the promise of antibiotics by inappropriately and excessively prescribing them over the last several decades.  These are clearly broad topics that we’ve only narrowly covered here and reflect just a few of the many facets of this issue.

So, Where do we start?

*eat dirt– just kidding, but don’t be afraid to get dirty — play in the garden, sit in the grass, build mud pies with your kids

*Be clean, but don’t be obsessive. Some vinegar and essential oils do a nice job of cleaning without being too harsh. Don’t scrub down every part of your body with soap every single day unless you really are playing in the dirt!

*Don’t over bathe your kids. A soapy bath everyday for the little ones can be too much.

*Probiotics and prebiotics– food sources and supplement forms.

*Consume traditionally fermented foods multiple times each week– fermented vegetables like cabbage, kimchi, miso/tempeh, plain yogurt and kefir.

*If you don’t eat anything raw, it’s probably time to start.

*Use discretion when considering the need for antibiotics, especially for chronic conditions like sinusitis and acne. There are many natural anti-microbial approaches that work well and do not create a flora imbalance. Some of my favorites, include the berberine class of botanicals, manuka honey and Silvercillin.

*Get a comprehensive digestive stool analysis to assess your gut microbial environment and overall digestion.

So, the story of microbial gut health, digestion and resultant food intolerance is complex but we need to restore our respect for this partnership to achieve the health that we desire.

 Want to explore more?

|:|  I have to put a plug in here for Jenny over at Nourished Kitchen. She has some great online cooking classes. One of which is called Get Cultured and she will teach you how to traditionally ferment your foods in your own kitchen! Love this! |:|

Interested in learning more about your gut microbes. This is a favorite site of mine.  Human Food Project

Find out more in this NY Times Article

photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc