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