Happy 2018!! A tad bit late but it's still early in the year right? I hope you had an enjoyable holiday season, a happy new year, and are enjoying 2018 thus far. A new year is a great opportunity to set new goals, pursue new interests, and learn new things. In this post I aim to help you to learn more about digestive health so that your year is just a bit better and healthier.
This is Part II of Gut Health Facts Everyone Should Know, which is based off of the book The Microbiome Solution by Dr. Robynne Chutkan, a gastroenterologist and founder of the Digestive Center for Women. If you haven’t read Part I of the series yet, I strongly suggest you start there before reading this post! It provides the background and basis for what we’ll be discussing today.
Part I touches on the impact of birth and diet on the microbiome. Today’s post will focus on the use of antibiotics and how depression and disease can be linked to gut dysbiosis. As in my last post, all of the quotes in this post come directly from the book unless noted otherwise.
Did you know we are one of two countries that allows for marketing of pharmaceutical drugs directly to consumers? Yep, us and New Zealand.
Instead of being taught nutrition and how to find the underlying cause for disease, we are sold on what medications will make us feel better. This creates a bias that has been perpetuated by the medical community. As a population, we are over-prescribed medications. Granted, I understand that sometimes they are necessary, but a lot of times they are not.
I heard a great analogy for this phenomenon once that has stuck with me. Imagine you have a rock in your shoe that is really bothering you. Would you take a pain pill to help ease the discomfort or would you take your shoe off and just remove the rock that’s causing the problem? Would you take a pill to deal with your symptoms or would you work to find the underlying cause for the issue that you are experiencing?
Many people depend on their doctors to tell them what’s best and when the doctor tells them to take a prescription they do it, no questions asked, because they trust that their doctor is doing what is best for them. But many times it is not what is best for them. Maybe the doctor wasn’t taught nutrition in med school, has a pharmaceutical sales rep who is really good at his job, or just has too many patients and not enough time to really invest in what’s needed to help all of them. It is up to us consumers to become educated so we can have knowledgeable conversations with our doctors.
One type of medication that really gets me fired up are acne medications, which are devastating to the microbiome. Dr. Chutkan states that “taking antibiotics for acne tends to be the most damaging factor because those drugs are so effective against gut bacteria and the treatment usually lasts months or even years.” I took acne medication for almost 15 years of my life. If I hadn’t, would I still be experiencing the gut dysbiosis I’m going through today? Hindsight is 20/20 but I’d like to think I wouldn’t.
There is also a “direct relationship between widespread use of antibiotics, especially in children, and skyrocketing rates of food allergies.” Antibiotics wipe out both the good and bad bacteria in our guts. Bad bacteria are actually a bit hardier than the good ones and are more likely to survive the antibiotic assault. They multiply to fill the gap created by the loss of good bacteria which, in time, leads to a decrease in diversity of gut bacteria, high levels of bad bacteria, and lower levels of good bacteria, which are three of the main causes of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
One last thing on antibiotics. It’s not just the ones you take directly that impact you. About 80% of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used in the livestock and poultry industry, either to enhance growth in healthy animals or to prevent infection because the animals are being raised in crowded, unsanitary conditions that increase the risk of illness. When you eat meat from animals raised in factory farms, you absorb all of the medications they were given in their lifetime. If you can, eat organic meat from humanely-raised animals. We use Butcher Box at our house, which will ship you a monthly supply of various cuts of pork, beef, and chicken from humanely-raised animals. I love it and the meat are some of the best cuts I’ve ever tasted.
You can also absorb trace amounts of medications through drinking tap water. If you can, use filtered water and please don’t flush your unused pills down the toilet.
Our mental health is profoundly impacted by our gut. Do you feel sick to your stomach before a big performance or speech? Do you stress eat or lose your appetite when you’re stressed? When you’re tired, do you crave sugar?
The enteric nervous system (ENS) is a branch of the nervous system located in the GI tract. It is commonly called the second brain. Your gut and brain are also directly connected by what is called the vagus nerve. They interact constantly and what happens in one directly impacts what happens in the other.
“Gut bacteria determine the availability of the precursor materials that your brain needs to make neurotransmitters” and are the main producers of serotonin, the body’s feel-good hormone. Up to 90% of our serotonin is made in our gut, so if you’ve got some gut dysbiosis going on, chances are you are struggling with mood issues as well. I personally notice a significant difference in my mood when I’m eating a clean diet and avoiding foods that I am sensitive to.
Depression is a symptom for many forms of dysbiosis, including yeast overgrowth (candida), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and Celiac Disease.
Hippocrates is famous for quoting that “all disease begins in the gut.” More and more information is coming out these days from the naturopathic and functional medicine communities that is finding this indeed to be true.
Did you know that obesity can be predicted up to 90% just by examining someone’s gut bacteria?
“Many diseases that run in families that we thought were primarily genetic, such as heart disease and some forms of cancer, turn out to be hugely influenced by gut bacteria.” In fact, our microbiome “has one of the biggest impacts on our genes, turning them on and off and determining which ones are ultimately expressed as disease.”
The field of epigenetics studies the impact of our diet and lifestyle on our genes. What you eat, where you live, who you interact with, when you sleep, how you exercise, even aging – all of these can eventually cause chemical modifications around the genes that will turn those genes on or off over time. Healthier lifestyles can actually turn off genes that can lead to cancer and other deadly diseases.
It is not just us adults that need to be eating healthier. Researchers have found a connection between what you eat as a child and diseases and conditions you may develop as an adult. It is up to us to be good role models for our children.
“One of the most powerful tools in preventing and treating our modern plagues might be the food we eat, since that’s what determines which bacteria grow in our gut garden.” It comes down to this question - do you want your gut garden to be full of weeds and invasive species that grow unchecked and take over, or do you want your garden to be full of flowers and many different types of healthy plants?
It’s time to re-wild ourselves and work on growing a good gut garden. Who’s with me?