HEALTH NEWSLETTER #23
EVOLUTIONARY THINKING, EATING AND EXERCISING
2nd April 2017
Spring is finally here, my favourite time of the year, so let's not waste time and get straight into it.
Reading time: 7 mins
live dirty, Eat clean,
We are not alone...
...no, not up there, in here:
Do you appreciate the world of microbes living inside you?
Perhaps not and understandably so, since we’d need one of these to see them:
Or one of these:
As a Brit I’ve heard a thing or two about colonisation, but we’re not the only colonial force around here. Homo sapiens are colonised by trillions of microbes (no I didn’t count them!) making us more microbe than human. When we’re healthy we live alongside each other in harmony. When we’re unhealthy, you can be sure the bad gut microbes are out of control!
Scientists are beginning to appreciate the incredible influence that microbes have on how we look, feel, think and behave. In this newsletter you’ll learn how microbes affect our health, the dangers of repeated antibiotic use and how to improve gut health.
If I’m not mistaken, this is another evolutionary mismatch! Our environment has changed but our DNA is no different to thousands of years ago. So it’s up to us to educate ourselves, then take action to match up our environment with our biology.
The above quote was taken from The Microbiome Solution written by Dr Robynne Chutkan, an integrative gastroenterologist, microbiome expert and bestselling author. The book is a fascinating exploration of human health and disease as influenced by this massive community of tiny microbes.
Why is this topic so important? Take a look at the list below to find out how microbes influence our health, happiness and ability to thrive as human beings:
- Microbes help us assimilate more nutrients from our food
- Microbes make some B and K vitamins for us
- Microbes ferment dietary fibre and turn them into short chain fatty acids
- Microbes protect us from disease
- Microbes influence the release of hormones
- Microbes release toxins that affect mood, personality and mental health
- Microbes can cause us to crave processed foods
- Microbes are affected by stress
- Microbes produce substances our bodies cannot make
- Microbes can cause inflammation
- Microbes can cause autoimmune disease
According to Dr Robynne Chutkan our fate is inextricably tied to the activity of our gut microbes. Since our microbes are either working for us or against us, it’s an aspect of health worth taking seriously.
I bet you can’t guess what all of the following have in common:
- Autoimmune conditions
- Poor immune health
- Skin conditions
- Acid reflux
- Mental health disorders
- Weight gain and obesity
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Asthma and chronic sinus infections
Yep, you guessed it, an unhealthy microbiome or what is known in the business as gut dysbiosis. Gut dysbiosis describes the presence of more harmful microbes than beneficial microbes.
Around 2400 years ago Hippocrates, the founding father of modern medicine, said:
Perhaps he should have said ‘all disease begins in the microbiome’?
So where did it all go wrong?
Since swapping our natural environment for towns and cities we have significantly reduced our interaction with nature. Since then the diversity of microbes living inside our bodies has fallen. When we swapped wild organic foods for commercially raised animals and produce our microbiome suffered. When we created a war on microbes backed by an army of antibacterial sprays and antibiotics our microbiome has been crippled.
Most of us, have grown up with the belief that the cleaner we are, the better. Destroy germs and we’re safe. Sanitise everything, wash your hands all the time and on and on goes the doctrine. Where did this paranoia come from? Was it the Dettol adverts that demonised bacteria and targeted new mothers with a campaign of fear? Probably...
The inconvenient truth about antibiotics
Since doctors started handing out antibiotics like Smarties we’ve given life to host of superbugs that are incredibly difficult to kill. Unfortunately, we aren’t discovering new antibiotics. Microbes are billions of years old and are much more intelligent than we give them credit. They are extremely adaptive, making them hard to eliminate, they’re always one step ahead of us. Learn more here.
Overuse of antibiotics and our lack of exposure to nature have created a weaker society. Our immune systems have become compromised and the prevalence allergies and autoimmune conditions shows no sign of slowing.
Modern day hunter-gatherers do not suffer from asthma or Crohn's disease. These are the plagues of modern civilisations. Developing countries also have much lower rates of autoimmune disease. But as developing countries become more industrialised we start to see autoimmune disease increase dramatically. Ironically, as the level of ‘sanitation’ improves so do the rates autoimmune disease.
Could antibiotics be making us fatter and sicker?!
Antibiotics are like a carpet-bomb
They indiscriminately wipe out microbes, both good and bad. Unfortunately some of the so called bad guys are better equipped to survive these attacks. When we start eating again we start feeding them and they take over. Without the balance of good guys and bad guys we cannot maintain healthy digestion or a healthy immune system.
As I highlighted at the beginning, microbes have the power to influence our hormonal system and our brain chemistry. They make us hungry and sick by releasing toxins that create chronic inflammation. This stress makes us hungry and sets off a cascade of reactions that lead all the diseases of ageing as well as autoimmune diseases.
In the chapter “In Praise of Dirt” the Dr Robynne Chutkan stresses the importance of having interactions with germs and dirt to train our immune system. An immune system that doesn't interact with enough germs early on is like a kid with overprotective parents - ill-equipped to deal with problems when they inevitably come along.
When doctors hand out the carpet bombs they rarely advise us on how to repopulate our gut flora. Keep on reading to discover the solutions.
Animals have instinct and so do humans, but since we’ve started walking on two feet we slowly turned our backs on our instincts. When babies are born, they know nothing about the world. What is one of the first things they scream out for? Breast milk. What does breast milk contain? Probiotics and prebiotics.
A baby will instinctively backwash the nipple before sucking, giving the mother’s immune system a picture of what’s going on in the baby’s immune system. If there is a microbe that needs fighting then in the breast milk provides the solution. Not only does breast milk provide the troops (probiotic), they also feed the troops (prebiotic). Breast milk contains oligosaccharides, simple sugars, that feed the microbes in the baby's digestive system.
Complex biology systems like homo sapiens are incredibly intelligent. But surely evolution got it wrong when it installed the instincts into a baby to put everything in their mouths! No, wrong again. Evolutionary biologists suggest that this instinctive behaviour is a great way to strengthen the immune system. Sorry Dettol, looks like you got this one all wrong!
Before I go onto the fixing the gut I want to tell you what scares me the most about microbes. In The Microbiome Solution, Dr Robynne Chutkan taught me that our gut microbes have the ability to change the expression of our DNA. They can turn on genes that make us more vulnerable to diseases like cancer and heart disease and switch off genes that protect us from the same diseases.
The number one solution is to feed the good guys and starve the bad guys. Dr Robynne Chutkan suggests in her book to “eat clean and live dirty” and I wholeheartedly agree. Getting close to nature is excellent medicine for the mind, body and soul.
A highly processed diet full of fat and sugar is exactly what the bad guys want. Fibrous food is exactly what the good guys want to thrive. Commercial farming may provide us with cheap food but it does so at a cost. So go and search for local farms, farmers markets, butchers, green grocers and start asking questions.
Each week I volunteer at a farm and I’m paid in the finest vegetables and salad leaves money can buy. Some of you might want to dig up your garden and start planting your own organic vegetables (much cheaper than the supermarket). You could even plant a few fruit trees in the garden.
Below is a list of gut friendly actions:
- Eat more organic green fibrous vegetables and grains in their whole form
- Eat more pre and probiotic or fermented foods like:
- Avoid antibiotics unless absolutely necessary
- Try drinking natural spring water over chlorinated tap water
- Avoid artificial sweeteners:
- Instead use Stevia a natural plant based sweetener
- If you have a baby, breast is best
- When eating grains consume them in their whole form not processed form
- Try sourdough bread instead of bread made with commercial yeast
- Drink alcohol sparingly
- Take a probiotic supplement to replenish microbes after antibiotic use - but choose carefully
- Eat more foods rich in polyphenols:
- Cocoa and dark chocolate
- Green tea
- Nuts and seeds
We are under attack, and it’s not from microbes in our external environment. We are being attacked from within and the more sanitised we are, the weaker our immune systems become. The implications of our actions are starting to unfold and I am concerned for the future generations born into a sterile world. As Dr Robynne Chutkan puts it “live dirty, eat clean.”
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As ever, thanks for taking the time to read my work and I hope it provides you with the insight you need to become healthier and happier.
Your feedback is always welcome, so don't be shy and don't forget to forward this email onto friends and loved ones. The healthier we all are, the better the world will be, for everyone.
All the best