Hippocrates, Gut Health, the Microbiome & Medication

Gut health is all of a sudden becoming front & centre in mainstream western medicine, as it rightly should be. Us naturopaths have been preaching it forever (we took a couple of things Hippocrates said pretty seriously – believing medicine should ‘do no harm’ & that ‘all disease begins in the gut.)’ Smart bloke old Hippocrates – no wonder he’s considered ‘the father of modern medicine’.  Here are some of my other favourite Hippocrates quotes (& how they can connect to the current microbiome / gut health picture). 

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”– the easiest way to alter the microbiome is by changing the diet. Changing a dysfunctional microbiome can restore health in many cases. 

“Walking is man’s best medicine. ” – exercise is crucial to maintain a healthy microbiome.

“It is far more important to know what person the disease has than what disease the person has.” – our individual gut microbial makeup can determine how we respond to many foods, medicines, health challenges & triggers. 

“A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit from his illnesses.” – never take good health for granted, always listen to your gut if it’s feeling out of whack & fix it ASAP! Recognise symptoms as signs that something has to change, find out what your illness can teach you.

“Extreme remedies are very appropriate for extreme diseases.”– strong pharmaceutical medications can be life-saving / necessary / powerful / awesome, but let’s save them for the ‘extreme’ cases & endeavour to fix the rest using food, lifestyle & gentler approaches. 

“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” – totally! Our guts (and our economy) would be a whole lot healthier too. It shoud be a requirement (like paying tax) to nourish ourselves properly & exercise regularly. Then – there’s very little need for medical treatment – with it’s side effects & expense :) 

Since Hippocrates’ time (460-375 BC) ‘modern medicine’ has veered (just a teensy bit) off-track unfortunately, propelled by profit-hungry pharmaceutical giants into a system that completely overlooks or even disregards many of these fundamental healing principles taught by it’s medical ‘dad’ & mother nature. I have a feeling that the father of modern medicine would not be too happy with his wayward offspring right now. 

But there’s a turning point ahead for medicine – there has to be. It simply cannot continue on the same trajectory, given recent scientific ‘discoveries’ on how important our gut ecology is to our overall health (naturopaths & integrative practitioners everywhere are rolling their eyes & saying ‘well, duh’).  

Many widely used & trusted medications will no longer be considered ‘free from harmful side effects’ as we take into account their (often very significant) impact on our gut microbiome & gut lining. The relative risks of home first-aid kit staples like Panadol, Nurofen, Aspirin, (& many other meds handed out like lollies to young & old for decades by well-meaning GP’s & pharmacies) will be reconsidered. Antibiotics, ant-acids, anti-depressants, anti-inflammatories, antihistamines, contraceptive pills…they’re not just fixing our symptoms & passing through our guts unnoticed by our gut bugs. And when you mess with your gut ecosystem, there’s always a knock-on effect, even if it takes years to become apparent. 

Do a little research & you’ll see that the way we’re using medicine is about to really start changing. Big pharma won’t be missing out though – they’re not stupid. As I write, there are many millions of dollars being poured into the research & development of new products & technologies made suddenly relevant by gut microbiome discoveries. This is truly game-changing. It means that whatever we introduce into our bodies has to be beneficial or at least compatible with our gut ecology, in order to be considered free from harmful side effects – not the case for most medicines & even for many of our chemical-laden & highly processed modern foods.

So…next time you’re prescribed a medication you feel may be unnecessary, ask the pharmacist or GP “What is the likely impact of this medication on my gut microbiome?” Unless you have a really ‘onto it’ practitioner, you probably won’t get much of an answer (in most cases it will be unknown anyway). But – at least make it clear that you’re aware there’s an impact, that you’re conscious of looking after your gut balance…& that his ‘dad’ would be concerned too. 

Read more about medication & your microbiome here:

surprising-number-of-common-medications-impact-the-gut-microbiome

Here are a few gut-wrecking / impacting meds that I would be finding alternatives for if you’re trying to get your gut / yourself truly well:

Antibiotics: only resort to these in really serious circumstances, when your body doesn’t seem capable of fighting the infection itself. Be guided by a Dr / practitioner who understands the gut & it’s crucial role in wellbeing as well as the very real risks that infection can pose – it’s never worth risking your life or serious side-effects of an infection striving to keep your gut microbial balance healthy. If you have to take them, there are probably times that you will – take them as directed, but also get advice & invest in some gut rehabilitation to minimise long-term damage & maximise your chances of a full recovery.

Alternative: Keep your immune system strong – it is meant to be your infection-defender! Prioritise sleep, stay well-hydrated, exercise regularly with moderate intensity, figure out how to deal with stress & do it, eat the rainbow, focus your diet on gut-loving pre & probiotic foods, minimise chemical toxicity in your life, get a good dose of sunshine regularly, minimise sugar & processed foods, eat natural, organically grown food as much as you can.   

Read more here: 101101083144.htm  

Ant-acids: Think about it. If you’re getting acid reflux, something is ‘up’ with your digestion, & you need to address that as a priority – your body is literally screaming at you to change something. Don’t just cover the symptom with a medication that blocks your ability to digest proteins & disrupts your digestive process further!! I can almost guarantee you’ll end up with worse issues than the reflux as a result. Your body relies on stomach acid to help start the break down of protein you eat. If you’re taking acid blockers or antacids continually, you’re not going to break down & absorb protein properly & you also risk developing many other nutritional deficiencies, as well as bone fractures, gastro infections, & IBS-type symptoms.

Alternative: If you suffer from reflux, GERD etc – don’t just opt for the band-aid medication solution. My advice would be to see a naturopath or functional GP who specialises in gut health (they will normally list this as a specialty). They may order some tests, prescribe a change in diet & include things like apple cider vinegar or digestive bitters before meals. Read more here: skip-the-antacid

The Contraceptive Pill: You may not realise that your hormones & gut bugs are very connected. There are many different ‘pills’ in use today, with different hormonal effects, just be aware that some have been linked to increased risk of active inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s) & that they do cause alterations in your gut (& vaginal) microbiome, which can lead to changes in bowel habits as well. 

Read more here: PMC4928680

To find a more extensive list of meds you may want to research, this is a great article:

the-effects-of-non-antibiotic-drugs-on-the-microbiome

If you have a story to share about medication & your gut – I’d really love to hear it. I’m not anti-medication, just believe that we should save them to use as a last resort – cos they can often upset our all-important gut microbial balance.

Jeanie
jeanie@goodmix.com.au

Why You Need to Focus on Fibre: The Forgotten Nutrient

Protein, carbohydrates & fats have received plenty of attention in the health & medical industries over the past 20 years, with Drs & diet gurus telling us to ‘eat less fat’, ‘increase complex carbs’, ‘increase protein’ & then ‘eat more fat’ ‘decrease carbs’ & ‘eat less animal protein’….it’s confusing & exhausting just trying to keep up with research & changing opinions! Many of us health-conscious people now have a substantial collection of conflicting dietary advice books, largely focussed on fat, carbs & protein….but fibre has been quietly sitting in the corner waiting its turn – left out of the equation & only seen as important for constipated folks.

It makes sense – we humans can’t actually digest fibre. It’s obviously not that important to our health if we can’t break it down into anything usable, right?…it’s just good to keep everything moving through the bowel, right?

WRONG! It seems as though fibre will finally start getting the massive attention it deserves, now we’re discovering all the links between our gut microbes & health. Did you know that your fibre intake can influence everything in the list below? And this is just a very basic short list, there are many, many more.  

  • weight loss & body composition
  • cholesterol problems & cardiovascular disease
  • diabetes & metabolic syndrome
  • inflammation in the gut & throughout the body
  • allergies, eczema, asthma & hay fever
  • skin issues
  • mood disorders & mental health
  • energy levels
  • hormone balance
  • Immunity
  • digestion & absorption of nutrients

How Does Fibre Effect Your Gut Health?

The reasons it can help with the above list are complex – but basically, fibre helps to improve your ‘internal ecosystem’ (specifically your gut microbial diversity & abundance). Our gut bugs eat whatever makes it through into the large intestine intact (i.e. fibre), & when they are well fed every day – they do all kinds of great things for us. Our gut is like an internal compost heap, & the rest of our body the garden. When our gut is working well it can generate a lot of goodness to nourish & heal our body, & when it is not working properly – the entire system will struggle. The research on this topic is fascinating, & will completely change the way we look at food, medicine & health over the coming years.

Quick! Get Me Some Fibre, Any Fibre Will Do!!

Not so fast. Before you reach for the ‘All-Bran’, you need to know that DIVERSITY is really important with your fibre intake. 

The old approach of using a single source fibre supplement (i.e. bran, psyllium, inulin etc) may help you to become more regular, but is not optimal to support overall good gut health & microbial balance (which is a foundation of good overall health). You can’t just ‘fix’ a low fibre diet with a few tablespoons of some supplement! It’s like relying on just one type of vegetable for your vitamins & minerals, instead of eating a variety – you’ll miss out on so many nutrients & end up really unbalanced.  

We carry (in our large intestine) many different types / strains of fibre-loving microbes, & they all have different food preferences. Relying heavily on one type of fibre will create an unbalanced population as you overfeed some of these critters, but neglect to feed the rest – so you end up with an overproliferation of the ‘few’ who love & thrive on all-bran, or psyllium, or inulin, or prunes, or whatever – & these guys can take over / over-crowd the gut ecosystem leaving little room for the rest.

The key is to eat plenty of fibre daily, & ensure that you are getting it from loads of different kinds of plants – ie a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, seaweed, herbs & other plant fibre sources with diverse polysaccharides (parts of the plant that we cannot digest in the upper GI tract, but that will become food for our microbes in the bowel). Hint – these are not found in the refined foods that we’ve become accustomed to over the past 50 years!

Refined sugars & starches tip the balance in the wrong way – they support the growth of the bad guys. Not to mention the gut bacterial impact of things like preservatives, artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers etc…these additives may have been ‘tested safe for human consumption’ but unless we know how they are impacting our gut ecosystem – how can we really know their long-term effects? The indirect health impact (through our gut bugs) may in fact be quite significant. The point is – we need to keep our diet as natural as possible, & include a good variety of nutritious plants to keep our gut bugs well fed, & balanced, thus maintaining a thriving internal ecosystem.

Unfortunately, the opposite is generally true. The average westerner eats too many refined carbs, a lot of sugar & poor quality fats, plenty of artificials with very limited fermentable fibre – sourced from only a few different types of unrefined plants (a token daily apple or lettuce & tomato on their lunchtime burger).

This means we are providing copious amounts of simple carbs / sugars to feed the ‘bad guys’, & very little roughage for the good guys in the bowel. As a result, there is precious little fermentation happening in the large intestine, which is one of the absolutely vital keys to good health – fibre is the fermentation material needed by our bowel bugs – they convert complex carbs (from fibrous foods) into SCFA’s (short chain fatty acids), which are potent anti-inflammatory substances & key nutrients for maintaining the health & integrity of the gut lining – among many other things (worth reading up on).

My Own Internal Anti-inflammatory Factory??

Gut bugs + diverse fibre = home-made anti-inflammatories = better health & happiness = yay! When you think about inflammation as a cause / key contributor in almost all modern disease states – it makes really good sense to be feeding our own ‘anti-inflammatory generators’ with diverse fibre, every day, as a priority.

It has even been questioned whether just adding a heap of plant fibre to a junk food diet can somewhat mitigate the damage / inflammation caused by the junk in this way…questioned, but not proven.

When Food Shopping, Think About This…

The less processed our food is, the more likely that it will make it through our stomach & small intestine undigested, which may sound like a bad thing… BUT, it is these undigested fibrous foods that become food for our friendly helper-bugs! I.e. raw veg are better for the bugs than cooked, whole grains better than refined flour… we seem to do best on a combination of really unrefined foods & some more refined / easier to digest stuff, but experts believe the modern diet is much too far towards the ‘easy to digest’ processed end of the spectrum.

Do The Experiment! 

If your gut is not super-sensitive / already out of whack, do an experiment on yourself by increasing your intake of unprocessed plant foods (making sure to focus on diversity), & just see what happens. Go slowly to transition comfortably – increase your intake gradually over time rather than all at once, or you may initially become bloated, gassy, uncomfortable & possibly constipated as your unprepared, unpopulated gut struggles to deal with the sudden influx of fibre. Over a few days / weeks though, your population of bacterial fibre-munchers should increase hugely & become much more healthy & diverse. Take note of how this effects you – look for changes in regularity / gut symptoms, body composition / weight-loss, mood, brain function, skin, immunity, aches & pains…it’s such an easy experiment with massive potential gains! If you feel that there’s no way you can tolerate fibrous foods due to severe gut symptoms – look into the low FODMAP diet. This can help many with IBS / gut issues to uncover the foods that are setting off their pain / bloating / gut symptoms.

Everyone is Different:

Remember that every gut is different, & the high fibre diet that works well for your neighbour might make you feel awful. This can be because you & your neighbour both have different digestive systems & gut bacterial populations. You may have lots of bean-loving bugs, but your neighbour may have very few, so she may feel uncomfortable after a big bowl of high-fibre hommus & celery sticks whereas you can thrive on it. Maybe apricots are ok for your neighbour but give you diarrhoea. Different fibre will have varying effects on different people, & sometimes it’s all in the dose. If you’re not used to a particular food, or way of eating – make changes gradually to ensure a smooth transition, or get some help from a professional to start with. 

So introduce slowly, find out what works for you, & enjoy the whole-body benefits of eating more fibre!

Print out this Bristol Stool Chart and laminate for the toilet door, & leave it there until your kids know exactly what they should be doing (or pooing) each day, & the many reasons they might go off track. You could save them from a heap of pain, stress & money later on in life by teaching them the importance of gut health.

Your visitors will get a good laugh (& possibly an education) too :-)

Click the image to get the free chart.

Bristol Stool Chart
Best Poos Ever

5 Easy Ways To Get More Good Bugs Into & Onto Your Body!

1. Stop killing them all the time!

We are constantly showering / washing all our external microbes off & using all kinds of microbe-killers & things that mess with our internal & external ecosystems. Antibacterial hand wash, antibiotics, mouthwash, deodorant, facial cleansers, shampoo, feminine hygiene products, make-up etc – all great & useful products (I’m not saying never shower or use deodorant) but we need to be aware that these things can seriously mess with our natural microbes. Use ‘hygiene’ products minimally – not just out of habit (think of being ‘clean’ as being covered in a healthy microbial population more so than being completely sanitised). You are much less likely to get an infection when you have loads of harmless microbes all over you to protect you from baddies (a stripped, clean slate will just give any baddies that come along free reign to multiply). Opt for gentle, chemical free, plant-based alternatives to harsh chemical products that claim to destroy 99.5% of bacteria for a certain period (many toothpastes, deodorants & hand washes claim such things).

2. Expose yourself, inside & outside the house.

Open the windows every day, let the air into your home, or better still – get out into nature! Get dirty, sandy, muddy, salty, leafy, furry – get some new natural bugs into your ecosystem. Nature is full of great microbes that we’ve evolved with, we know how to handle them & they can help us in many cases. Google ‘hookworm & coeliac disease’ – trials are showing very positive results – everyone wants to keep their parasites as they feel healthier & any accidental gluten ingestion is less problematic. Also read about peanut allergy & probiotics, an area of study promising to help kids who live in fear of accidentally coming into contact with nuts. Probiotics & hay fever, fermented foods & anxiety…even babies growing up with pets (or grubby older siblings) are healthier than those raised in more ‘clean’ homes. The key is that when you have a baby, you want something that carries dirt & microbes into your house daily to keep your bubs immune system occupied. Put down the sanitiser, let the dog in, & kick the toddlers off the i-pad to go & play mud-pies!!)

3. Eat them. Organic fruit & veggies fresh from garden to mouth = more ‘buggy’ (in a good way)!

These will deliver not just better nutrition & less toxicity, but also a heap of healthy microbes as a bonus…not so when you’re eating produce grown with artificial fertilisers & sprayed with chemicals, then transported & left sitting in cold storage (sometimes for months) before it gets to your plate. If you’ve never been a green thumb, try growing just a tiny garden with salad greens & herbs – even start with a pot / planter box. If you just don’t wanna grow anything yourself, get to your local farmer’s markets or organic produce store regularly.

4. The big guns. Regularly consume foods that contain live bacteria.

Quality yoghurts, aged cheeses, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha,…this stuff is alive with bugs that produce amazing & helpful substances for our gut & body, while helping us to breakdown the things that they’re fermenting (so we can digest more easily & extract more nutrition). If you’re sensitive to fermented foods / probiotics then start very slowly, you may notice some ‘turbulence’ (sometimes an increase in gas) when you introduce more of these into your system, like when you suddenly increase fibre.

5. Change the environment = change the bacterial balance.

You can very quickly alter your gut bacterial population by changing what you eat each day. We know that many helpful gut bugs thrive on fibre – veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole ancient grains…these all provide fodder for your good guys. Feed the goodies & they’ll begin to multiply & crowd out the baddies. Your baddies (the gut bugs that make you less healthy in general) love to eat sugars & refined carbohydrates – that’s one reason you may crave these foods – the more of these carb-munchers you have, the more sugar you’ll want. It’s your gut bugs demanding a regular intake of what they need to survive. Making initial changes to your diet can be really hard, but once you’re well into the change it will feel hard to go back – your gut bugs want you to keep feeding them their favourites. Your dominant belly bugs are a product of what you’ve been consistently eating, so if you’re a sugar feind, they’ll strongly resist a change to a high veggie / low sugar diet, but in the end (once you’ve balanced them out) they will actually help you stay healthy).

Love to get your feedback in the comments below – how hard has it been for you to change your gut bacterial balance, & what helped most?

Jeanie x