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The maintenance of a healthy gut is the best health insurance you can have. Gut health is foundational to human health because of the many essential function it performs, but also because if we look after our gut we necessarily do all the things that will achieve health in a broader sense. This is why it is step 1 of my strategy for optimal health.
The gut consists of a long tube from your nose and sinuses to your colon which is about 9 metres long. It is our means of extracting nutrients from the foods we consume, and the lower (or large) intestine is home to about 100 trillion bacteria. That is 10 times the average number of cells in our body. In a healthy individual, this massive population of microbes is stable and diverse, enjoying a symbiotic relationship with us, their host. This means that they eat what we eat and our nourished by our food. In turn, they perform many functions which help us, including breaking down some foods so more nutrients are available to us to absorb. In many cases they actually make available otherwise inaccessible nutrients. They also play a key role in the immune system. The gut constitutes 80% of our immune system so a healthy gut means a strong immune system. Recent scientific research is shedding more and more light on the role of the gut microbes in brain health and its effect on mood. So we can see that a healthy gut is essential to our well-being.
Right living focuses on avoiding disease by strengthening the immune system rather than treating symptoms of avoidable diseases. This is why achieving and maintaining a healthy gut is the starting point. It is an approach that actively builds health and lays the ground for making the best use of the correct diet, which is step 2. These two points inter-relate as we see below.
The term microbiota is the name given to the entire population of microbes within the gut, and the term microbiome is the name given to the sum of all their DNA. There are different types of bacteria that live in our gut, but not all of them are good for us. Pathogenic is the name given to those that harm us. In a healthy individual, the populations of both beneficial and pathogenic bacteria will be stable and the beneficial bacteria will dominate. A broad diversity of the microbiota is required for a healthy gut. The greatest influence on the profile of the bacterial population comes from the food we eat. Some foods are preferred by the good bacteria and others are preferred by the pathogenic bacteria. Some things we eat kill them all indiscriminately, just as some of the products we use in the home environment do as well.
Probiotics and prebiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host. They are an exogenous (from outside the body) source of beneficial bacteria. Probiotics are what we use to populate or repopulate the gut. Fermented vegetables are an excellent probiotic.
Prebiotics are a non-digestible food ingredient that promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines. They are fibres in plant foods, which is why a diet with adequate fibre from organic fresh vegetables is important.
There is little point in taking probiotics without adjusting one’s diet to include the necessary food for them, which are the prebiotics. We have to address the need for both in a well designed or well formulated healthy diet.
1. For a healthy gut you must change your diet
Modern eating habits are bad news for gut health. The foods people typically eat either kill all bacteria indiscriminately or feed the pathogenic bacteria but not the beneficial ones. Pathogenic bacteria prefer sugar, but the healthy guys you want in there, the beneficial bacteria, prefer fibrous vegetables. The typical modern western diet is very high in sugar and therefore compromises the beneficial bacteria. So to reverse this one must reduce sugar consumption.
Consciously nourishing ourselves with a focus on gut health is central to optimising our physical well-being. As well as reducing sugar consumption in all its forms, it requires a shift away from processed ‘foods’ and towards more healthy fats, grass-fed meats and organically grown nuts, seeds and vegetables. In short, you must eat real food. This helps to avoid ingesting foods that will harm your profile of gut bacteria such as food additives and glyphosate residue. At the same time eat foods that inoculate your gut with beneficial bacteria such as fermented foods, and eat plenty of fibre for them to eat.
Once we have chosen the right foods, the next important step is to chew thoroughly. Making sure that food is physically broken down as much as possible, preferably into a liquid, is essential to maximise the nutritional value obtained from it. There is no point in eating the best food but not being able to make full use of it. If anything passes right through undigested, it has cost your body effort and offered no gain.
2. Avoid eating wheat
Wheat is also problematic for a healthy gut. Even if you are not Celiac the chances are you are gluten sensitive. With more and more being discovered about the negative effects of gluten in the wider population it is very likely that most people are gluten sensitive. Even if you can tolerate it, the merits of eating it are questionable at best. Not only does wheat rapidly break down into sugar but the gluten and other proteins in it damage the gut lining contributing to leaky gut syndrome. This is when the gut looses its ability to prevent specific proteins and other substances from passing through into the blood stream. This can lead to allergies and auto-immune diseases as well as loading the immune system with unnecessary work. I consider the risks of eating wheat to be not worth the nutritional benefits easily obtained elsewhere.
3. Eat fermented foods
Until last century the preservation of food in fridges and freezers was not an option. It is only very recently that we have become able to simply put food in the fridge as we do. One of the health-enhancing ways that foods were preserved in the past was by fermenting them. Today we have lost this health benefit while we gained the convenience of refrigeration. Fermentation grows beneficial bacteria already present in the food (for example the bacteria on the leaves of vegetables) resulting in the release of additional nutrients along with plenty of symbiotic bacteria to inoculate the gut. The benefit is greatly enhanced if you make your own fermented foods from your own produce because then the numbers of local bacterial populations far exceed those found in commercially produced versions or probiotics.
Changing your diet to support gut health is not all about giving up things. There really are some great new flavours to discover in the form of fermented foods which potentially deliver trillions of beneficial bacteria right where they are needed, into the gut. They are a great way to constantly replenish the populations of beneficial bacteria. There are all sorts of fermented foods that can be easily made at home from basic pickles to Kimchi (Korean fermented veggies), Natto (Japanese fermented veggies), Miso or Tempeh (fermented Soybean products). My favourite foods which specifically enhance gut health are these…
- Kombucha – a delicious fermented green tea
- Kefir – a fermented raw milk similar to yoghurt
- Fermented vegetables – Sauerkraut taken to the next level
- Miso – Japanese fermented Soy beans
The photo shows my home produced kefir, fermented veggies and kombucha from left to right.
Kefir is a fabulous fermented food. Using kefir grains or a starter culture it can be made with raw milk or water. It is similar to yoghurt but very much better for you. Very often the intolerances people experience with Casein or Lactose in conventional dairy products is not a problem with raw fermented dairy.
Fermented vegetables are a mainstay of my gut health diet. They are very easy to make at home by simply chopping up vegetables and placing them in a celery juice brine in fermenting jars for 7 days. By adding in a starter culture created by Dr Joseph Mercola you can massively increase the Vitamin K2 content as well. This vitamin is often deficient in most diets and can be found in Gouda and Brie cheeses – particularly raw Brie de Mieux from France. Pregnant mothers should consider this a far superior way of getting Vitamin K2 than your doctors recommendation of a synthetic K3 injection – with all the dangerous health implications that entails.
Kombucha is also easy to make at home. The most important ingredient is pure water with no chlorine or antibiotic residues – so tap water is not a good option. Organic sugar is added to the tea as food for a Symbiotic Community Of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY). The bacteria and yeast ferment the sugars into acids lowering the Ph and thus preventing undesirable bacteria taking hold. After a week or two (depending on a few factors) you have a delicious drink. Kombucha is a great alcohol drink replacement. The slightly tangy flavour is way more palatable than plain water and it’s very good for you.
Miso is a japanese fermented mixture of soy beans and various grains. It is like a paste and can be used like a stock cube. A spoonful with hot water makes a great cup of soup. It can be used in sald dressings as well. This is not one to make at home. It varies in strength from White Miso that is fermented for about 2 months, through Red Miso which is a little stronger and fermented for up to 6 months, to the brown Miso which is fermented for up to 3 years! I buy mine from Amazon and this clearspring organic brown rice Miso is fantastic.
Bone broth though not a fermented food is well worth adding into your diet too. It is made by simply boiling up the bones of your Sunday roast with a little organic raw apple cider vinegar. Add in a carrot, a few celery sticks and an onion and simmer for 24 hours in the case of joint bones, or 12 hours for a chicken. Sprinkle some chopped parsley into the brew 10 minutes before it is done and bingo! This delicious brew is a nutritional powerhouse and very good for healing and sealing leaky gut.
4. Avoid processed foods
Additives such as flavour enhancers, sweeteners, stabilising agents, emulsifiers, preservatives and colourings are harmful to all bacteria in the gut. Processed food contains lots of these chemicals and they are all there for the convenience of the food manufacturers – not you. It is worth becoming particular about the ingredients list on any food you buy with a bar code on it. Avoid things like fizzy drinks; crisps; chocolates and sweets; cakes; pastries; processed meats; marmite and other forms of MSG such as vegetable stock cubes.
The are many reasons to avoid processed foods, their assault on the gut is just one of them. Anyone serious about enjoying a long-term future free from any kind of chronic disease simply must phase out eating processed food.
5. Eat plenty of fibre
The best way to ensure you getting enough fibre is to eat plenty of organic vegetables. Vegetables harvested above ground, as opposed to root vegetables like swede, potatoes and parsnips, tend to be lower in sugar. This may be of importance if one is looking at reducing carbohydrate intake to get into nutritional ketosis. More on that later. Green leafed vegetables are a great source of fibre and are stacked with nutrients and live enzymes assisting digestion. Preferably eat them raw so as to preserve all their nutritional content. Fresh herbs such as coriander and parsley are great to aid detoxification.
Another way to increase our daily fibre intake is to supplement with Organic Psyllium husk. It’s a great way to increase your daily intake of soluble and insoluble fibre. I mix a spoonful with my kefir and it helps smooth the consistency and gives the kefir body.
6. Use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary
A course of antibiotics will wipe out huge amounts of bacteria in the gut. The use of antibiotics has become routine. Here in the UK prescriptions for them are handed out readily for virtually any complaint in many Doctor’s surgeries. If you choose to take them, it is a good idea to take a course of probiotic supplements afterwards to repopulate your gut. In many cases, it is worth considering if you really need them.
I experienced many ear infections in years before taking control of my health. Some years ago my doctor prescribed for me 3 successive courses of antibiotics over a one month period. I subsequently learned that such an infection will likely be dealt with by the immune system in about a month. Similarly, it has been said that a cold treated with medication will usually last about a week, whereas if left untreated it will last about a week. In the case of my ear infection, it was clear to me that the Doctor was just throwing mud at the wall and hoping that some would stick. In other words, it was a guesswork approach to healing that I have come to thoroughly reject. Once genuine health is achieved they are rarely necessary as the body is fully capable of fighting off infection if our lifestyle choices are not thwarting and undermining its efforts!
After a course of antibiotics which wipe out bacteria, you need to take probiotics to replenish the decimated population of beneficial bacteria in your gut.
7. Avoiding drinking tap water
The tap water England is not fit for human consumption as drinking water. It contains Chlorine, Fluoride, antibiotic residues, Glyphosate residues, oestrogen mimicking compounds and lots more unhealthy substances. It should not be routinely consumed by anyone seeking health. Tap water should be filtered. Bottled water is an option, but plastic bottles should be avoided. Toxic chemicals can leach from the plastic into the water if the plastic is warmed or squashed out of shape. Glass is far better since it is inert and simply contains the water without passing substances into it. For smallholders and other land owners digging a well or borehole is worth consideration. Even if it is an expensive purchase, as part of a long-term plan it makes very good sense.
The main issue for most people should be to install a suitable filtration system. Watch this space for more information.
8. Other lifestyle strategies for a healthy gut
- Exposure to dirt and soil under fingernails while working outdoors, can help to attune your microbiota to the local environment and has been shown by to benefit health.
- Over cleanliness in the home is counter-productive to the diversity of your gut microbiota. Using toxic cleaning agents and killing all known germs simply reduces exposure to beneficial microbes. and reduces its diversity. The kinds of microbes you encounter this way are precisely what the immune system should be dealing with, as opposed to foreign substances from vaccines and proteins which have slipped through a leaky gut.
- Similarly, washing up with a dish washing machine kills beneficial bacteria on plates and utensils that would survive hand washing temperatures. Instead of being ingested at the next meal to the benefit of the gut, these helpful microbes are killed in the dishwasher.
- For prospective parents, it must be understood that a vaginal birth (as opposed to a c-section delivery) is how the infant’s gut is initially inoculated with a profile of bacteria from the mother’s birth canal. This is the beginning of the individuals own microbiota. It is modified by bacteria from breast feeding and other microbes in the environment. This is one of many reasons that it is preferable to give birth naturally at home as well as to breast feed the infant.
- It’s a good idea to encourage young children to play in the dirt. It is certainly not something to be avoided on health grounds! Even eating soil small amounts, as children sometimes do, can assist in populating the gut with beneficial microbes in the local environment.
- Consider a regular colonic irrigation treatment. Three times a year is what I aim for. It is a great way to improve detoxification and maintain gut health. Repopulating the gut afterwards with probiotics and fermented foods is recommended.
- Lastly consider using the product Restore by Restore4life.com it is a fantastic way to repair damage to the tight junctions in the gut. See the last of the 3 videos below.
9. Consider a probiotic supplement
Lastly, if you are not eating fermented foods it’s a great idea to use a probiotic supplement. They are a good way of populating the gut with some of the bacteria you want to encourage. A single serving of fermented veggies can have many hundreds of times more beneficial bacteria in it than a probiotic supplement capsule, but a probiotic supplement is a step in the right direction.
One supplement I would recommend to counter the effects of Glyphosate and the damage done to the thin gut wall membrane is Restore. This is available on Amazon and uses Redox molecules in a very exciting new technology with huge implications for human health. For those avid personal health researchers I recommend looking into this new product and the technology of Redox molecules in general.
10. Healthy Gut Summary
In conclusion, a healthy gut is the foundation of a healthy body. Being mindful of our gut health must be a central part of the new culture of health awareness. It compliments a change of diet away from high carbohydrate consumption and therefore sugar. If the reduction of carbs is made by wheat avoidance so much the better. Since wheat is very often complicit in damaging the gut lining and increasing the likelihood of allergies and auto-immune diseases.
- Reduce your sugar consumption [potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and spaghetti as well as the obvious stuff]. Make up lost calories with healthy fats such as avocados, eggs, olives, raw butter, raw full-fat cheeses, pastured organic red meats, etc.
- Eliminate wheat and other grains.
- Bring fermented foods into your diet.
- Stop eating processed food.
- Eat sufficient fibre
- Only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary – and then repopulate your gut.
- Avoid drinking tap water.
- Don’t be obsessively clean – get your fingers in the dirt.
- Mothers should consider vaginal birth is over C-section.
- Consider taking a probiotic supplement.
Here is a great video for those interested to know more detail about the gut and the importance of the gut microbes. Professor Simon Carding provides a wealth of information, check it out.
Here is another from Ruairi Robertson
Check out the product Restore and the technology behind it here…
I hope this information helps you on your way to a healthy gut.
Join the conversation and leave a comment below.
Wicked stuff natural way forward hi
A lovely simplified informative blog. My stubborn 17 year old has Ulcerative Colitis and I am forever nagging him about keeping his gut healthy. I have sent him this info so fingers crossed it gets through to him.
Thank you from a school friend of Corinne.
Nigel Howitt says
Thank you Zoey, i shall investigate Ulcerative Colitis
A very interesting read. I have learnt more than a few things!
Nigel Howitt says
Thank you Sandy