Be Strong, Small Warriors
I woke up early this morning thinking about the gut and all its complexity. Maybe I was still sleepy, because the Pat Benatar song came piping into my head as I thought about the “good” bacteria fighting the “bad” bacteria. “We are strong! Your gut is a battlefield!”
So what happens if the bad bacteria in your gut win? And why might they win? What makes up bad bacteria and good bacteria?
If we knew all of the answers, I am guessing that we would no longer need hospitals or healthcare very often. We do know that the balance of the bacteria, also known as your biome or ecosystem, is a complex interplay between the food you feed them, life stressors, exposures, and many other contributions.
If you live a life that is true to your needs, the good versus evil bacteria prevails, at least in terms of your digestive tract! But I doubt we will ever precisely know for each person what is best for them because our guts are so unique, and thankfully so. Luckily, research is exploding in this area, and even have the ability to measure all of the bacterial DNA for an individual.
The good and bad bacteria in your gut make up your ecosystem, and well, make you, YOU.
Some experts say we are merely hosts for microorganisms because there is likely 100-fold more DNA in our body that is bacteria than our own DNA. I prefer to think of the human species as a diverse being with a symbiotic ecology instead; this seems a more pleasant condition!
We know now that these bacteria and their effects on our health are far-reaching because they send chemical signals to the brain, the cardiovascular system, and most notoriously, the immune system.
Keeping the Good Bacteria “Strong”
We are all different, but unfortunately this strength that Pat Benatar talks about, at least in our guts (in my analogy) as consumers here in the United States, is likely going away. Repeated research studies show that the bacteria of our digestive tract are becoming LESS diverse and LESS in numbers.
Parallel to all of this, we see great increases in all chronic diseases, including diabetes, obesity, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and many other degenerative disorders.
And we know from some clinical studies, that when you change the ecology for the better, you change health outcomes for the individual.
For example, some doctors are treating digestive disorders with fecal implantation of bacteria from healthy individuals to treat digestive disorders. And it seems to be working very well. Other practitioners are using targeted probiotics, or good bacteria supplementation, with success as well. There is no reason to think that the same benefit won’t happen for other diseases as well.
Watch Out For the Pitfalls of Modernism
But why is our battlefield getting weak, with less in diversity and number?
The answer is likely complex, but we know for sure that the Standard American Diet or SAD diet is a big culprit, largely devoid of healthy plant compounds and fibers that it needs.
It is also full of inflammatory components and low in ecological content. That’s right, ecological content.
For example, when you eat raw, fresh vegetables from the garden, they have this ecology going on. So do fermented foods.
However, the SAD diet has everything sealed up in shiny, pretty, aseptic plastic wrap or boxes! More on that in another blog.
We are exposed to thousands of new toxins every year, which certainly change our balance of good versus bad ecology. If you think these are all thoroughly tested, you might want to check out this link. http://www.chemicalindustryarchives.org/factfiction/testing.asp
Searching the Pillbox for Clues
We have medicines that rob our ecosystem. They do so by changing the chemistry of the gut, alter fermentation, or just plain wipe out the bacteria, as is the case with antibiotics.
Remember, this is not a damning statement of medicines. We need them, and sometimes, they keep us from dying. But they shouldn’t be overused, and should be judiciously given out by healthcare providers.
As promised, I am going to mention, again, proton pump inhibitors or PPI’s.
Simply put, PPIs change the chemistry of the digestive tract, making the environment inhospitable to healthy bacteria. This is shown repeatedly in the most recent research. PPI’s can do this in a very short time; as little as 1 month.
What we don’t know is whether or not someone’s ecology returns to “normal” after stopping medication use. I would bet that if they eat an anti-inflammatory diet that is rich in fermented foods, they could restore the balance.
But I’m not going to wait another 30 years for the research to pile in because scientists know that an anti-inflammatory diet and functional health approaches are safe, healthy, and proven to simmer down some of the most difficult-to treat conditions.
I have faith that we can help heal and restore a strong battlefield if we act in a proactive way to restore and rebuild our digestive tracts.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body and is shared for educational purposes only. Consult your doctor or healthcare provider before making changes to your supplement regimen or lifestyle.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 20 years, has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. Has researched supplements and plants as medicine throughout her career. Loves helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.