Everyone values good health. And I’m sure you have heard the mantra about needing a healthy gut, but why is this so? What are the facts of reality that make a healthy gut so crucial? If we are serious about wanting to avoid chronic disease, to avoid hospitals in our old age and indeed to live a long and healthy life do we really need to be so concerned about the health of our Gastro Intestinal tract? Read on to find out the challenges we face and the solutions we can implement.
Why is a healthy gut important?
BREAKING NEWS: Human health has little to do with healthy human cells. Cutting edge integrative medicine is just discovering it has far more to do with the collective health and diversity of the symbiotic bacteria and other microorganisms that live inside us and on our skin. For the past 100 years human health has been studied in sterile isolation from the countless microorganisms that live with us and support our continued well being. Yes this is counter to everything we have heard all our lives about health.
At the cutting edge of medical science, paradigm shifting new discoveries have been made recently that you will not yet hear about in the ‘news’. This is partly because the new information threatens to turn many things upside down, and the Pharmaceutical industry isn’t going to like the consequences! With the advent of new technologies such as the ability to map the bacterial species profile of the human gut, there has been a massive increase in the amount of research into the gut and its role in human health over the past 15 years. Since about 2005 it has been known that specific bacteria in the gut are associated with specific diseases and even specific types of cancer, but it is only recently that an understanding of why this is so has been achieved.
Mitochondria and Redox molecules
Mitochondria are the little organelles inside almost every cell of our body. They are literally non-human, having their own DNA and ability to self-replicate, and without them we would be in serious trouble! They are the tiny energy factories that turn the broken down food we eat into about 90% of our energy requirements, and they are crucial to our health. Human lifespan is directly proportional to the numbers of mitochondria we have in our cells. For the various repair functions within a human cell to operate a communication system is required, and it consists of Redox molecules that are made by the mitochondria. These molecules use hydrogen and oxygen binding sites to carry electrons in something called the ‘electron transfer chain’ within each cell. The Redox molecules made by the mitochondria only have one binding site – they are like bees, with only one sting! Multi cellular organisms like us humans rely on these Redox molecules made by the mitochondria to literally manufacture the communication system needed for cell repair and damaged cell removal.
Bacteria and Redox molecules
Bacteria do not have mitochondria inside their single celled structure and so are not provided with a ready-made communication system, they must make their own. Each species of bacteria makes about 10 or so different such molecules, and notably with many more binding sites. This means that these Redox molecules can be used multiple times, and they are much more stable. A high diversity of bacterial species equates to an enormous number of these redox molecules, sometimes referred to as carbon snowflakes. With these little redox molecules being so important for cellular communication and thus a critical component for optimal health in the human body, we can begin to see why the bacteria in our gut are so helpful! According to Dr Zach Bush, a triple board certified American Medical Research Doctor, it is these carbon redox molecules that physically protect the tight junctions holding our gut lining together. As we loose diversity in our microbiome, we loose tight junction integrity and therefore become vulnerable to leaky gut.
Root of disease – Versus – Root of health
The purpose of the gut lining is to keep out all the undigested food particles and bacteria and viruses that have no place in the bloodstream, and to selectively let in nutrients and selectively excrete toxins. It is an incredible piece of kit that performs an amazingly crucial role. When the gut leaks all sorts of problems begin, because things get into the blood that have no business being there, and this causes the immune system a lot of trouble. Those undigested food particles become foreign invaders along with all the viruses and bacteria, and they must be dealt with by an inflammatory response that becomes systemic and chronic. This means there is a permanent level of inflammation throughout the body of someone with leaky gut. Many autoimmune diseases are rooted in leaky gut because the body looses its ability to discern what belongs inside and what belongs outside. What is self and what is not self?
Many of the leading practitioners of integrative medicine such as Dr Joseph Mercola, Dr Ron Rosedale and Dr Zach Bush are saying that it is the break down in the communication system between body cells that is the root cause of all human disease and is synonymous with inflammation. It is the Redox molecules that enable each cells to ‘know’ that it is damaged and needs repair, or that it is healthy and all is fine, or that it is cancerous and needs to self-destruct in a process called ‘apoptosis’. A stem cell can them come in to replace it and healthy re-growth is the result.
It is not medical drugs that cure disease, it is always the human body that heals itself given the right conditions. An effective communication system from a healthy and diverse microbiome turns out to be a key factor in creating those conditions.
The Body is an Eco-System
In terms of complexity, a healthy human body is on a par with a rain forest or coral reef with the sheer numbers of species involved in the diversity. We have an average of 70-100 trillion cells in the human body, but the numbers of bacteria that live with us on our skin and in our gut outnumber us by almost 15:1 with an estimated 1.4 Quadrillion of them in number! When you add in all the tiny little non-human mitochondria within our body cells the numbers get even bigger. We have several hundred mitochondria in most cells, and more active organs of the heart, liver and brain can have between 2-3 thousand mitochondria! The amount of DNA we carry around that isn’t ours is incredible. In reality we are a walking eco-system and gut health is therefore more about eco-system health than the health of a simple tube used to digest food. This ecosystem is under our eyelids, on our skin, in our noses nose and sinuses, as well as the back of our mouth through our gut.
We have been conditioned into thinking that bacteria and germs must all be killed. However, the more we learn about our dependence on this massive community of microorganisms inside our bodies the more counter productive this approach appears to be. From an over obsession with cleanliness in the home, to C-section birth deliveries where infants are not exposed to the bacterial inoculation from the mothers birth canal, humans are further and further removed from the bacteria on which we depend for our health. Of course clean water and basic hygiene with open wounds are important, but bacteria are not the enemy.
The Gut-Brain connection
The gut is sometimes refereed to as our second brain! The physical connection of the Gut and the Brian is via the Vagus nerve. This is a neural superhighway second only to the spinal column. Embedded in the wall of the gut, is the enteric nervous system (ENS) that controls digestion to some degree. Neurons in the gut are thought to generate as much Dopamine as those in the head, and 90% of our Serotonin is produced in the gut. Mood is inextricably linked to gut health. We are all familiar with the idea of feeling sick to the stomach with worry or anxiety, as well feeling butterflies in the stomach over a new date!
The Gut and the brain are inextricably linked by the nervous system and share a very similar protective barrier system made from specific cells forming ‘tight junctions’ to limit and control the passage of particular substances across the protective membrane. The Blood Brain barrier keeps toxicity out of the brain and the gut lining is keeps toxicity out of the blood. Glyphosate found in modern herbicides is known to compromise these barrier systems.
The Gut Lining and Glyphosate
Glyphosate has been around since 1976, and now that it is ‘off patent’ most of it is made in China as the base ingredient of almost every herbicide. As well as disrupting pathways that enable plants to absorb nutrients, Glyphosate is an antibiotic – it kills bacteria. Unfortunately this substance is in virtually all food because it is a water-soluble toxin that has made its way into the macro environment after decades of widespread use. This means it’s in your food, and therefore it’s in your gut. The upshot of all this means that almost everyone has a leaky gut to some degree.
Glyphosate triggers the gut lining to produce a substance called zonulin, and zonulin acts like the key to open the lock on those ‘tight junctions’ that keep the gut wall closed. When we eat glyphosate, as we all do, a leaky gut is the inevitable result. Wheat containing Gliadin and gluten similarly challenges the integrity of the gut lining, and due to the fact that modern wheat crops are routinely sprayed with Glyphosate to kill the crop and dry the grain immediately prior to harvest. This means that the gluten and Gliadin team up with the Glyphosate to cause even more damage. Does that slice of toast still taste as good?
We have seen that ‘tight junctions’ are the connections that bind every important membrane in the body. A lack of bacterial diversity in the gut makes these tight junctions vulnerable because the bacteria make the redox molecules that constitute the communication system that is the front line of defence for the tight junctions of the gut – the firewall between you and the outside world. When that firewall goes down all membranes are prone to leaking because zonulin produced as a result of the glyphosate in your food can pass into the bloodstream and spread through your body. Every cellular membrane in the body is tight junction dependent and leaky kidney tubules means the body can’t get the toxicity out that is coming in through the leaky gut. The presence of Glyphosate in our food is a very serious health risk!
The challenge for your gut
For gut health the problem is two-fold, a diminished diversity of bacterial species, and compromised integrity of the gut lining. These two are inter-linked in that less diversity of bacteria in the gut leads to less protection of the gut lining.
The number and kinds of species of bacteria in our gut reflects the environment we live in and breathe on a daily basis. Lives dominated by commuting from clean and sterile houses by car to an office or factory and back, isolate us from exposure to beneficial bacteria. Further more, most living and working environments are toxic or overly cleansed with disinfectants, Alcohol wipes and antibacterial soaps, making matter worse.
Food is another contributing factor because the animals we eat are reared with the routine use of antibiotics, and the plants we eat are routinely sprayed with the antibiotic glyphosate. Doctors hand out prescriptions for antibiotics for seemingly every ailment. Our microbiome is under attack from all directions. Many of our lifestyle choices kill off bacteria such as our use of personal hygiene products, discouraging children from playing in the dirt, and birthing babies C-section. Everywhere we turn we are encouraged to think of bacteria as the enemy and we wage a perpetual war against them. It’s time to reverse this approach, because it is wrong, and it is destroying our health.
The presence of glyphosate in our food seals our fate by compromising the gut lining and allowing undigested food particles along with bacteria, fungi and viruses to enter the bloodstream. Gluten and gliadin in wheat are already considered problematic for the gut lining integrity, but given that modern wheat is widely sprayed with glyphosate as a drying agent, any non organic wheat products constitute a serious health risk for your gut!
Requirements for a healthy gut
- Diversity of the microbiome. A healthy human gut should contain upward of 30,000 different species of bacteria. Unfortunately the average person probably carries 5-10,000. Diversity equates to health.
- The integrity of the endothelial membrane must be in tact. It is one cell in thickness and it extends from your sinuses to your colon and it must remain in an unbroken continuum. If you could unwrap this membrane it would be as big as two tennis courts, and each cell is connected to its neighbours by these tight junctions that work like velcro. The gut wall must not be leaky.
How do I know when my gut is healthy?
You may well be wondering what are the signs of a healthy gut? How can we tell if things are improving? Here are a few.
- How our immune system is functioning is a marker of gut health. The bulk of our immune system is right behind the gut lining where most antibodies are produced. If our immune system is doing its job well, this points to a healthy gut. Factors such as how ill we get and whether or not we catch every cold or virus that is going around, etc. Your body’s general level of inflammation is another indicator, although this is not particularly easy to determine.
- The stool is comprised of roughly 50% dead bacteria. As the community lives and hopefully thrives, the dead ones pass out with our undigested fibre. If your stool is copious in volume this is generally a good sign. If you eat a lot of insoluble fibre this also adds to the bulk. These two factors shed light on why it is considered healthy to have a minimum of 1 or 2 bowel movements a day. If you go once every 3 days, things are less than optimal.
- An absence of bloating and other conditions that indicate an unhealthy gut such as IBS and diverticulosis. The ‘Bristol Stool Chart’ is a useful means to monitor your stools. The healthiest consistency is in the middle of the spectrum of illustrated possibilities.
- A good mood (certainly a lack of depression) and a healthy sexual appetite or active sex drive are both indicators of well being and gut health. Healthy sexual function can of course be expressed through creative productivity and expression in many forms as well as sexual activity.
- Sleeping well is another indicator of a healthy gut.
Health Gut – Healthy Mind – Health Body
How to achieve a healthy Gut
As grim as it may all sound, things are emphatically not hopeless, We must be the instruments of change and we can set the agenda and be the change we want to see. In a nutshell we must change the way we live.
We can stop delegating or outsourcing our food production indiscriminately and use our consumer power to express our choices in the market place. This is a powerful and underestimated tool. We can buy organic food and we can grow some of our own food. You don’t need to worry about what everyone else does or doesn’t do. Being concerned for our own health should be sufficient motivation. Let’s keep the conversation alive and spread the word about the dangers of Glyphosate and how it undermines our health.
We can embrace an outdoor life, get back to the land, and expose ourselves to all those bacteria. Simply pulling a weed in the vegetable plot and breathing in all the subsequently airborne micro-organisms is a great step in the right direction. According to Dr Zach Bush once again, it is the air we breathe from our immediate environment that continuously repopulates our microbiome with airborne bacteria entering the gut through the nose and sinuses. He claims this has a greater impact in terms of exposure to a diversity of bacterial species than the food we eat.
We can educate ourselves so that we do not pursue the wrong goals such as a spotlessly clean house devoid of any bacteria, or feed ourselves gut health destroying processed food. We can learn how important it is to pet the dog or the cat and breathe in, to visit many diverse outdoor environments, to walk barefoot in the garden and breathe in the smells of nature. By consciously revisiting our values in the light of our education, we can reject the convenience lifestyle in favour of the healthy outdoor land based lifestyle that is more in touch with the land.
We can dare to live differently. We can allow our children to play in the dirt, wear muddy clothes and run through the woods. We can insist on natural home births as the essential start to a life where the new-born infant inherits a healthy and broad microbiome from the natural world instead of a hospital.
Commercially produced probiotic supplements are only a solution after a massive depletion from a course of antibiotics. They should not be taken long term. They contain very few species of bacteria, and notably ones taken from the gut of cows. These are of dubious benefit to the human gut, which is significantly different in many respects. Consuming fermented foods is good, but make sure they are wild fermented or home made and not from a factory. This is the only way to get a real diversity of species into the fermentation process.
Fortunately there is a product on the market that has been shown to support tight junction integrity and effectively reverse leaky gut. It is called RESTORE and has been created by Dr Zach Bush in Virginia, USA. Check out his website at www.restore4life.com. I am really excited about this product and I sell it on my website for people in the UK at www.good4thegut.com. RESTORE has been scientifically shown to support tight-junction integrity in the gut wall, and it increases the inter-cellular communication system that our health so crucially needs. RESTORE is the fertiliser for your gut bacteria and the essential partner of a healthy diet.
As always, I encourage you to join the conversation and leave a comment below