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What is The Gut Microbiome?

Recently there has been exciting new research into The Gut Microbiome. We have an ecosystem in our body. This is called the human gut microbiome.

Imagine a beautiful rain forest. This is a complete ecosystem that is defined as a mix of living organisms that are interdependent upon each other. The palm trees produce a seed that feeds the birds. The bird droppings plant the semi-digested seeds into the soil. The trees purify the air. The water nourishes life and plants, and the plants in the water feed the fish and keep the water clean.

Similarly we have an ecosystem in our body. This is called the human gut microbiome. Our entire gut is lined with living bacteria, fungi and yeasts and these living creatures are co-dependent upon each other and provide us with life giving nutrients, enzymes and immune defenders. Gut bacteria can cause weight loss or weight gain by effecting our metabolic type and rate. It is believed that they can even influence our appetite, and be the cause of our food cravings. They influence our moods by effecting our serotonin production. Did you know that 75% of our serotonin is produced in the gut, not in the brain?

Can you imagine 2-3 kg of bacteria lining your gut? In fact these bacteria hold an estimated 10 times more DNA than the actual cells of our body! It makes you wonder who or what is really in control of us! The state of our gut bacteria has an indirect influence on our brain. This is what new research refers to as "the gut brain connection".

The father of medicine, Hippocrates, has been quoted as saying, “death begins in the colon”. I like to use a more positive statement, “health begins in the colon”.

There are many strains of bacteria that have been studied in clinical trials. Many have been found to have a strong effect on re-balancing the ecosystem of the gut. There is not just one magic pill or magic bacterial strain. Natural health practitioners have to get our heads around that there are hundreds of species of bacteria, yeasts, and also fungi, lining our gut and that each individual patient has their own individual mix, or particular fingerprint of a gut ecosystem. Our role is to create a balanced and healthy gut ecosystem. It is not just about prescribing one “magic pill” containing a probiotic, but to help the body create a healthy balance of the many living bacteria so that the bad pathogenic bacteria are reduced and good healthy bacteria are enhanced.

How do we do this? Let's think of your gut as a "garden". You want healthy plants in it not weeds.

  1. Organise some specific tests to detect and measure the types of good bacteria and unhealthy bacteria you have in your gut. We do this with different tests that are sent off to the laboratory.

  2. Weed out some of the unhealthy bacteria. To do this we use certain herbal medicines that create a "die off" of the particular unhealthy bacteria that have grown like weeds in our gut "garden".

  3. Plant the seeds of the healthier bacteria we are needing. We do this with specific medicines called probiotics. This way we end up balancing the bacteria so that there is enough of a variety of healthy bacteria to create a healthy ecosystem.

  4. Fertilise and feed the healthy bacteria. Remember, bacteria are living creatures that need food to survive - our food! To provide a good soil for these healthy bacteria to thrive and grow in, we use a supplement called Prebiotics. These come in different forms, as tablets or powders. They are also present in fruits, vegetables and digestible fibres.

  5. Create a healthy gut membrane barrier. This barrier is between the gut wall and the blood stream. This is a living membrane that has many gateways which selectively allows good nutrients into our blood stream and refuses entry of anything toxic. If these gateways are left open, this will allow toxins to leak into our blood indiscriminately. This is what is called Leaky Gut Syndrome.

Leaky gut is actually quite common. It is caused mostly by unhealthy bacteria, fungi or even viruses. It is also triggered by processed foods, preservatives, food intolerances or allergies, nutrient deficiencies, and medications, especially antibiotics. Therefore, treatment involves identifying these causes. Each individual is different and that is why there is never a "one size fits all" type of program.

  1. Feed this gut membrane with the nutrients needed for it to repair itself and remain healthy. It can be damaged by infections, food intolerances, and also medications, especially antibiotics.

  2. Enhance the Immune System. The immune system doesn't just protect us from colds and flues. It is also the gardener of our gut microbiome, weeding out the bad bacteria and cultivating the good bacteria.

  3. Lastly it is so important to advise on a healthy diet that promotes the production of healthy enzymes, good liver function, balanced insulin levels and healthy metabolism. Again there is no "one diet fits all" as each individual has different needs and body types.

Claude Bernard had said that “it is the soil that determines the health of the body”. Even Louis Pasteur realised at the end of his life-long research on bacteria, that it is not all about the germ itself, but is instead is about the general health of the body, the soil, the gut microbiome.

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