Friday, 6 June 2014

The Origins of Your Gut Flora

The Origins of Your Gut Flora
Claire Aslangul - Friday, June 06, 2014

Gut health is one of the most researched areas of nutritional health being explored today. The old adage was, “You are what you eat” but,  we are learning it is more like “You are what you absorb.” At the heart of absorption is our gut and micro biome.

Our gut has been described as our “second brain”, it has as many neurons as your brain does, it releases hormones that alter our behaviour and has been associated with immunity and psychological health. Without a healthy bowel our entire system becomes sick, stressed and can even give us the propensity to be dramatically under weight or overweight regardless of diet.  We become chronically inflamed, depressed and susceptible to everything going around.

Once we used to think that babies grew in completely sterile environments and became colonised with the bacteria that would inhabit the mouth, nose, gut, skin and genitals at birth.  Under normal circumstances a baby would be exposed to a myriad of bacteria, viruses and fungus as they move through the vagina and past the perineum while facing mums anus. This was then enhanced by skin to skin contact and breastfeeding which both have complicated feedback systems to support the immune system and gut flora. But what is coming to light is that by this stage babies have already been exposed to the make up of mum’s micro biome before birth.

Before you were born you had probably the most fascinating yet least understood organ, a placenta.  While you were in your warm, watery internal environment your placenta did all the work for your lungs, stomach, small intestine, skin and your bowel. It fed you, it removed your waste, it gave you oxygen and removed excess carbon dioxide. It also communicated between you and your mum hormonally and we have now discovered it began the process of turning you from a single organism to an entire ecosystem. It set the scene for that ecosystem to be like that of virgin forest or one more likely to be found around the dumpster behind your local takeaway joint.  This was completely dependent on what mums ecosystem looked like and what choices she made just prior to and during pregnancy.

During pregnancy small amounts of mum’s flora enter the blood stream and collect in concentration in the babies placenta. By the time baby reaches term, about 10% of the placenta is made up of these bacteria, viruses and funguses. They float around in the amniotic fluid and live on bubs skin, in bubs mouth, nose and GI tract. This sets bub up for life on the outside and shapes not only their gut and immune system, but even their psychology and hormonal system.

Antibiotics are often prescribed to pregnant women for various reasons, some highly valid and others are more dubious. But this is under the false premise that babies grow in a completely sterile environment and therefore are completely unaffected by them. This latest research is now questioning the safety of prophylactic or non-vital antibiotic use during gestation as it has the ability to completely mess with the babies micro biome, setting them up for ill-health.

What can you do when you are growing a person?

There are a number of things that will influence the health of your babies gut and therefore their future health. It is always best to start before you fall pregnant to get your own gut health into an optimal state. Firstly because it will give your system enough time to have healthy strains of bacteria to be the dominant flora, secondly if you are overwhelmed by fatigue and nausea doing anything differently can seem way too hard. Set the habits first then do what you can in the early stages of pregnancy. Here are my 4 tips to growing a healthy ecosystem.

1.  Have a look in your mouth.  

            Your oral health has an incredible effect on your overall health, the periodontal spaces between your teeth and gums are an easy entrance way for pathogenic bacteria to enter your blood stream. This not only will affect your baby, but causes chronic inflammation throughout your body and has been associated with preeclampsia and choleostasis. Have a check-up and clean with your dentist, learn to floss daily/use an aquapick/oil pulling or use a probiotic mouthwash.

2.  Add some fermented foods to your diet. 

            We all know about yoghurt, but there are a number of probiotic fermented foods that can keep your gut in tip top shape. These include sauerkraut, kimchi, milk or water kefir, real sourdough breads (not commercial), kombucha tea and unwashed sprouts and organic fruit and vegetables, traditionally made wines and beers.

3.  Limit products that kill good bacteria.

            These include antibacterial soaps, dishwashing liquids, bleach, conventional mouth wash, highly processed foods particularly take away foods and transfats.

4.  Get adjusted. 

            Having the nervous system communicating with your second brain gives it a much better chance of setting the environment to encourage optimal gut flora to flourish.

All of these tips can also be applied to you if you were born with a less than optimal micro biome.  It is much easier to grow a healthy child than repair an unhealthy adult. The earlier we can start on making that ecosystem, the easier it is.

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