Our soil has been over farmed and is nutrient depleted, which means that we don’t get the nutritional value from our food that we used to.
There has also been a rise in pollution, toxins and chemicals in the environment. As a result, the liver needs to work at triple the rate to detoxify everything coming in through the food we eat, the air we breathe and the products we put on our skin. It requires additional nutritional support to be able to do that.
Mental health rates are at an all-time high and continue to grow. Stress rapidly depletes the body of essential nutrients including vitamin C, magnesium, zinc and B group vitamins. Our nutrient stores are being depleted at a higher rate than they are being put in.
Food, stress and the environment also impact your gut health.
The standard Western diet is high in sugar, fat and salt. It’s also low in fibre and micronutrients. The research shows that diets of this nature starve your good gut bacteria and feed the bad.
Stress also disrupts the gut microbiome. Stress has a profound impact on the composition and health of the gut bacteria and your digestion. Ever felt that ‘kick in the guts’ sensation, butterflies or a sinking stomach? That’s your gut microbes reacting to your emotions.
Environmental toxins including chemicals, pesticides, additives, preservatives, medication and alcohol also negatively affect the gut bacteria.
Without addressing this, the gut becomes an inefficient system that eventually causes harmful effects to the body.
The gut contains more bacteria than there are stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. It’s hard to comprehend the enormity of this system. The bacterial DNA outnumber human DNA by over 100 times – there are 23,000 human genes and over 3.3 million bacterial genes! This essentially means that we are more bacteria than we are human.
The gut microbiome in Western societies is becoming less and less diverse (diversity refers to the number of different types of bacteria in the gut). Studies compared the gut microbiome of Westerners to the gut microbiome of the Hadza tribe in Tanzania. The diversity score of the Hadza tribe was found to be 5 x higher than that of Westerners. This is important because the gut bacteria all play different roles in the body.
The gut is like a huge factory where each department (bacterial species) has a specific role to carry out to produce the final product (you). Imagine a macadamia nut production line, for example. Suddenly the entire packing team gets wiped out. The final product doesn’t get delivered.
As a human, the missing bacteria might be involved in protection of the gut lining (the lining of cells that separates your gut from your body). If a big chunk of this bacteria is wiped out, the lining will get damaged and this creates all sorts of issues in the body.
Having too few beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, and too many of the inflammatory bacteria like lipopolysaccharides, pathogens and parasites in the gut is a core driver of many chronic diseases today. Digestive disorders, obesity, cardiovascular issues, anxiety and depression have all been linked with an imbalance in gut bacteria (called dysbiosis).
So how do we counter this?
We give the gut what it needs so that it can be healthy.
Prebiotics are like fertiliser for the gut bacteria. They are indigestible fibres that your bacteria essentially eat. The best way to get more prebiotics into your diet is to eat as many different plant-based foods as possible – fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes (including the skins but wash them first).
Typically, there is insufficient fibre in the Western diet. Adding psyllium husks, slippery elm or ground LSA (linseeds, sunflower seeds and almonds) to smoothies or yoghurt is a great way to supplement your diet with additional prebiotics.
Partially hydrolysed guar gum and acacia fibre are also prebiotic supplements that can be purchased from health food stores and some pharmacies.
Probiotics essentially put a dose of healthy bacteria directly into your gut. Traditionally there were more fermented foods in our diets like sauerkraut and kimchi. These foods are regaining popularity, along with Kombucha and Kefir, and are now widely available. Include these foods in your diet to give your beneficial gut bacteria a boost (however be sure to check with your practitioner first as some people react to fermented foods).
It’s worth considering supplementing with probiotics, but there are some important things to know before doing so. Different strains behave in different ways. There are strains that work better for bloating, and strains that work better for eczema. Also, it is possible that if you supplement with certain strains of bacteria for too long, it will create an imbalance of bacteria in the gut.
If you’re considering supplementing with probiotics, or any supplements in general, always check with a qualified practitioner. There are billions of options on the market and it’s worth spending your money on a product that will actually work for you.