You are what you absorb
Would you believe that most chronic diseases have their origins in the gut? It would therefore be negligent of me to exclude this topic in light of my obsession with healthy eating.
It really is pointless changing your diet before you’ve addressed your gut health for regardless how nutritious the food you’re consuming – if your gut is unable to absorb the goodness from it then what is the use?
The word ‘malnutrition’ immediately conjures up images sunken-eyed, emaciated people and although this would be true from an extreme definition of the word, many seemingly well-fed “affluent” people are affected by malnutrition in varying degrees.
Poor food choices, smoking, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, over the counter and prescription drugs, antibiotics and growth hormones in meat and dairy products, colourants and preservatives, pesticides, chemicals in plastics and water, mercury from fish, electromagnetic radiation, stress, lack of exercise and general pollution all put unnecessary strain on our digestive systems. So unless you’re living off the grid in an isolated part of the world – you will fall prey to modern life’s pitfalls.
Before your well-meaning healthcare practitioner tells you that this is all nonsense and that our body’s are designed to detox on their own – ask them why the incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is at an all-time high, or why chronic diseases like cancer are spinning out of control and why no drug or scientific intervention on earth is able to stop this noxious tide of degeneration from spreading.
Most chronic diseases have their origins in the gut.
It is pointless embarking on a healthy diet without first fixing the gut.
Poor diet, antibiotics, overeating & food-bombing all lead to a condition known as ‘leaky- gut syndrome’ Poor eating habits lead to poor digestion.
The ‘bugs’ in your gut determine the health of not only your digestive system but that of your entire body!
At least 80% of your immune system stems from your gut.
When I use the word gut I’m referring to a lot more than just the body’s digestive tube. I mean the living organisms inside the gut, the intestinal flora, and the immune and nervous systems within and around the walls of the intestines.
In fact your digestive system starts with your lips and ends with your anus; the body doesn’t make a distinction between these different parts and neither should we.
The gut performs essential functions in the body. The different organs of the gut, while working interdependently, remain in constant communication with each other via nerves and hormones.
How the gut functions has both a direct and indirect effect on every single cell in the human body, from the cells deep in your bone marrow to the hair and skin on the surface.
As humans evolved, food was scarce. Our digestive tube adapted to make sure the cells of the intestinal walls would come in contact with food. This gave the body a better chance of absorbing whatever nutrients it could find.
The body achieved this incredible task by creating folds and sub-folds of the intestinal wall (villi and microvilli), which increased its contact surface area to—believe it or not—two hundred times the area of the skin covering your body!!
The body acquires the nutrients necessary for its survival through digestion and absorption. Digestion is the process by which we break food into smaller pieces. It is done both mechanically (chewing) and chemically (digestive enzymes), and it involves different satellite organs, such as the salivary glands, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.
Absorption occurs once the broken-down food finds the cells of your intestinal wall, the first layer of the body’s cells to come in direct contact with the outside world. The cells of the intestinal wall let the smaller building blocks of food enter the body selectively through the cells or in between them, where they are tightly joined together in what are called “tight junctions.” That is how nutrients get into the bloodstream.
However through poor nutrition, chemicals and bad lifestyle choices; the microbiome in our gut changes to favour the ‘bad’ bugs, the lining of the intestinal wall is damaged becoming very porous which allows undigested food particles and bacteria to get into the blood stream.
The human immune system recognizes these as foreign invaders, and faced with this perceived threat, launches a defense strategy that involves not only the immune cells in the gut, but also all the immune cells around the body igniting a massive inflammatory and autoimmune response.
This leads to a condition called hyperpermeability, or leaky gut, which is the beginning of many illnesses.
The more damaged your gut the more chance that you will start reacting to a broader range of foods. It may start with gluten but after a few years you may also develop reactions to random things like chicken, broccoli or bananas.
For millions of people around the globe, the gut is where systemic inflammation is born and from where it is sustained! Sustained systemic inflammation is what leads to many of the chronic diseases in the world today.
There are endless ways in which the gut gets injured, and at varying levels of severity. Understanding how each of the gut’s four parts are affected independently is the foundation to realizing how distant and seemingly unrelated parts of our bodies can suffer combined dysfunctions.
In general terms, two parts of the gut—the intestinal flora and the intestinal wall—suffer first, while the other two—the immune system and the ‘brain’ in the gut—respond to the situation with only one goal: survival.
Cardiologist Jack Wolfson believes a leaky gut leads to Leaky Heart Syndrome.
The endothelium lines blood vessels and like the gut lining, when leaky, the endothelium no longer functions to keep damaged LDL and other inflammatory stimulators out of the vessel wall. Coronary artery blockage is the end result. In any person with symptoms or signs of disease, assume a leaky gut.
Your body is made up of a trillion bacteria having a human experience.
There is a great deal of evidence supporting the view that what is generally considered as normal gut structure and function is the end‐point of a complex set of interactions between you and the microorganisms in your gut.
The good ‘bugs’ have been shown to influence nutrient absorption, mucosal barrier function, synthetic chemical metabolism, the development of new blood vessels together with the nervous system of the intestines as well as the development of intestinal maturation after birth.
A relationship between normal flora and your immune system exists with a mutual dependency between the two.
Successful coexistence with a complex microflora presents a particular challenge to your immune system.
On the one hand, you need to avoid an overly aggressive response to this microbial population that would lead to the elimination of beneficial organisms and would almost certainly result in inflammation and extensive tissue damage.
On the other hand, the capability to limit the spread of bacteria and to mount an effective response to intestinal pathogens needs to be maintained.
A generalized under-responsiveness in the intestine would leave you highly vulnerable to a wide range of intestinal pathogens.
Many inflammatory diseases are influenced by alterations in the cross-talk between our immune system and the micro biome (gut flora).
With regard to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), there are three overlapping elements involved:
priming by an environmental factor
immune‐mediated tissue injury
The genetic susceptibility may determine the dysregulated immune response, a leaky mucosal barrier or even an imbalance in the gut flora. It is not clear whether the integrity of the mucosal barrier is primarily compromised by intrinsic defects in the epithelial cells, by infection with pathogens, or by the loss of or changes in the ‘cross-talk’ between the immune system and gut flora that are necessary to maintain it.
Inflammation in the gut leads to dysbiosis (an imbalance in the gut flora) which in turn may lead to auto-immune conditions.
There is increasing evidence that in the case of inflammatory bowel disease, the tissue‐damaging responses are derived from bacterial flora normally found in our gut! Yes you read correctly; evidence is mounting that in the case of IBD there is too much Lactobacillus Acidophilus! (the most common bug found in most probiotic formulas).
The role of the flora in disease has led to an interest in the use of probiotics as a therapeutic modality. For example Lactobacillus Reuteri seems to successfully help treat IBD. It is clear to see though that a shot-gun approach with probiotics can do more harm than good.
Probiotics are defined as ‘living organisms, which upon ingestion in certain numbers, exert health benefits.
Increased focus in this area has been due to the relentless use of antibiotics and the associated spread of antibiotic resistance.
Perhaps the most impressive evidence for the efficacy of probiotics in IBD has been the maintenance of remission and prevention of onset of pouchitis with a mixture of eight bacterial strains.
A different approach to altering the balance of the beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut is achieved through dietary supplementation.
A prebiotic is a non‐digestible food ingredient that beneficially affects the host by stimulating the growth or activity of a genus of bacteria, such as lactobacilli or bifidobacteria, that can improve your health.
Fructo‐oligosaccharides have a specific colonic fermentation directed towards bifidobacteria and their activity has been confirmed in trials.
The role of the gut flora in health and disease, and its modification as therapy
A. L. Hart ;A. J. Stagg ; M. Frame; H. Graffner; H. Glise; P. Falk ; M. A. Kamm
The microbiome can negatively be affected by:
Gluten stimulates the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and leads to gut inflammation
Too much salt in the diet
Trans-fats (fried & processed foods)
Too much Omega 6 fatty acids in the diet (polyunsaturated fats)
Sugar & artificial sweeteners
Excessive consumption of red meat
Antibiotics cannot distinguish between ‘good’ or ‘bad’ bacteria. When you take antibiotics they destroy a large population of your healthy microbiome
The overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals bred for food (including dairy) is giving rise to “superbugs” that are resistant to the antibiotics that are available to treat disease
C. Overeating & Food Bombing
D. Certain medications the likes of corticosteroids,
methotrexate and chemotherapy
How could simply avoiding certain foods affect our long-term health so much? As the author Michael Pollan taught us in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, our food and the way we eat has changed more in the last fifty years than in the last five thousand. All these changes mean that we’re eating in a way that’s significantly different from our ancestors.
High-fructose corn syrup, corn-fed factory-farmed meat, preservatives, genetically modified wheat, and hormone-injected dairy cows are all examples of foods that have never been consumed in the quantities and combinations that we’re consuming them in now.
Our food is changing, often for the worse, and we’re eating more of the stuff that is making us sick.
Convenience has replaced common sense and has led to an explosion of fast-food outlets that produce stuff that barely passes for food.
Furthermore the massive burden on the planet to feed 7 billion mouths has led to over-farming of animals in unnatural systems called feedlots which apart from the ethical dilemma is a breeding ground for disease leading to an overuse of antibiotics and vaccines. These drugs land up in the meat that we eat and ultimately find their way into our body’s.
The genetic manipulation of plants has ensured a higher yield at a massive cost to our health. We have only skimmed the top of the iceberg as far as the long-term effects of GMO’s are concerned not to mention the glyphosates and other pesticides used on crops.
When our digestive system is compromised it leads to a multitude of ills.
The first step to recovery is to fix the gut by eliminating the foods that continue to create inflammation. This step is non-negotiable for regardless of how good your supplementation might be you will just not reap the full benefits if your system is laden with toxins.
Foods to Avoid:
- Wheat-based foods i.e. breads, pasta, pastries
- Gluten (found in wheat flour, rye flour, spelt flour)
- Sugar in any shape or form
- Refined carbohydrates
- Processed Foods (food that no longer resembles the original form)
- Fried foods
- Food colourants, preservatives and additives
- Polyunsaturated fats should be limited; the ideal ratio between omega 3 & 6 should be 1:1
- Trans-fatty acids, margarine and artificial spreads
- Dairy products should be limited. Milk should be completely avoided.
- Meat & dairy from commercial feedlots
- Eggs from commercial batteries
- High sugar fruits should be limited
- Alcohol should be limited to red wine or the occasional spirit.
When we become clear on which foods are causing us challenges, we are able to return to that natural state of health in which we were designed to live. There is no greater investment we can make in living clean for life than identifying what not to eat by finding the foods that trigger our immune systems.
There is a lot of confusion about supplements, their effectiveness being questioned or even dismissed outright by many doctors.
The reality is that supplements help plug the nutritional gaps that keep us from reaching our health goals.
While eating a clean, nutrient-dense, whole-food diet is the most important first step, supplements can help correct nutritional deficiencies that have occurred as a result of poor lifestyle choices and impaired gut health. They can also make up for the nutrients and minerals much of our agricultural soil currently lacks.
In the ideal world, we would not need supplements, our food would provide us with all the nutrients required for optimal health.
However, over-farming, excessive application of pesticides and insecticides, and the use of genetically modified seeds often create more allergenic and less nutrient-dense foods. For example, magnesium is one of the major minerals lacking today in our soils and, as a result, it is one of the minerals people are most deficient in.
Eating processed, junk food; drinking sugary fizzy drinks and alcohol, smoking and environmental pollution actually depletes our body’s nutrient reserves.
When we replenish the depleted nutrients through high-quality supplements, we will note an improvement in our health and well-being. Like eating a clean diet, supplementation with key nutrients can support and build a sturdy foundation of health for years to come.