|Author: Fiona Dennis is a functional nutrition student studying with the Functional Nutrition Academy, working her way towards becoming a health coach to support and guide others in their journey to understanding and implementing good gut health practices. Fiona has spent the last two years, researching, learning and implementing processes to support and heal her own gut and autoimmune health, and is passionate about taking her experience and sharing her knowledge with others struggling put together the pieces of their health puzzle.|
We are now starting to look to probiotics as alternatives to antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications. When we get a headache or have back pain we often reach for the paracetamol or ibuprofen, which only mask the symptom. What if nurturing our gut health and supporting our mitochondria with the help of probiotics could be just as effective in reducing or eliminating pain and other unexplained ailments?
I’ve lived with gut issues for over close to 30 years. I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis (UC) at the age of sixteen. UC isan inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in which the lining of the large intestine (bowel or colon) and the rectum become inflamed. As a teenager I had no idea about gut health, nor did my parents, and like most of us accepted that medication was the only option to solving my problem, so I could get on with my life. Fortunately, for many years this was the case, but a couple of years ago that all changed, and the medications that I relied on to keep me well, were no longer doing their job. I found myself in a chronically fatigued hole that I couldn’t get out of filled with food intolerances, reflux, systemic and neurological symptoms and an ongoing wave on anxiety and depression.
Through my gut healing journey, I’ve learned that the food that I eat makes a huge difference to my health, brain function and energy levels. Eating a mostly plant-based diet with a small portion of protein and some probiotic filled ferments, has been a game changer for my health. I’ve also learned that the environmental toxins around me and in my home contribute to my toxic load causing many neurological and systemic responses. Once you delve in, it’s frightening to discover the number of chemicals, fragrances and endocrine disrupting toxins that we put on our bodies and use in our lives, every day.
Another very important trigger that is often overlooked for disrupting the gut is stress. It’s been a big one for me and for many people all over the world. Do you ever feel worried about a presentation you’re about to give and feel like you need to run to the toilet? We’ve all been there, but have we ever stopped to ask why? When we are nervous or worried, we feel it in our gut. Anxiety and depression are on the rise and seem to be more prevalent than ever before. The effect of stress on our gastrointestinal tract is huge. It effects our blood flow, motility (how often we use the bathroom), secretion and visceral sensitivity (pain within our organs). It also changes our microbiota and causes the lining of our gut to become more permeable (i.e. leaky gut). Symptoms like pain in our abdomen, diarrhoea or heartburn and indigestion can occur because of stress. Our central nervous system and the gut are closely connected. Our brain connects with the gut through many pathways including the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the hypothalamic pituitary-adrenals (HPA) and other networks which we call the ‘gut-brain axis’. More and more often, the gut is being referred to as the second brain.
One of the life-changing pieces of information that came to hand as I began my research was discovering that we are more bacteria than we are human cells. The microbes (which are made up of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microscopic organisms) in our body outnumber our cells 10:1, which means bacteria makes up about 95% of the cells in our body. We have upward of 500 species of bacteria living in the gastrointestinal microbiota alone, and with the number of bacteria within our gut being approximately 10 times greater than all of our human body cells, we can see why we should be placing greater emphases on taking care of the bacteria living in our colon and understanding the massive role it plays in keeping us healthy.
Research is uncovering that dysbiosis (when the bacteria in your gut are out of balance) could have a detrimental effect on our health and in turn may be a pre-curser for many different diseases. As mentioned above, food, chemicals, stress and environmental toxins may all be contributing to our poor gut health. We are losing important ancestral bacterial strains in our gut due to artificial exposers, sparking greater interest in how we can heal and repopulate our gut with the help of probiotics to prevent, fight disease and repair gut imbalances.
From my own experience, and with what we are slowly discovering, probiotics can have a very positive impact on the immune system, although it’s not completely clear how their actions do this.
Studies are indicating that using probiotics in a therapeutic manner may promote a gut defence barrier to help normalise intestinal absorbency and stabilise the gut by improving the barrier of the intestine. What we are seeing is that probiotics can be used as a tool to lessen inflammation in the intestine, promote normal gut function and counteract hypersensitive or allergic reactions.
So, how do we know which probiotics are right for us? For years I bought a variety of probiotics from pharmacies and health food shops not really knowing which bacterial strains were best or considering what these strains even did. I ate a lot of yoghurt and drank products like Yakult believing that I was doing the right thing for my body. It wasn’t until recently that I learned that certain strains may do more harm than good if your gut microflora is out of whack. For example, histamine is a chemical that is released into the body when you are having an allergic response or reaction. Histamine reactions can give you symptoms like a tight throat, itchy skin, a rash or a runny nose. It’s not just the environment that can trigger histamine responses either. Some of our everyday foods also contain histamine like tomatoes, dried fruit, avocados, strawberries, pineapple and even last night’s leftovers that you’re saving for lunch. We can also absorb histamines from these histamine-fuelled foods and they can be produced by bacteria in our gut. Through my own research on how to heal my gut, and reduce food intolerances, I’ve learned that some probiotic strains like Lactobacilli are histamine producingso it was important for me to avoid them to help reduce symptoms and look for support in probiotics that contained histamine reducing strains instead like lactobacillus rhamnosus andBifidobacterium longum. Other strains likeSaccharomyces boulardii (S. boulardii), a live yeast, have shown to improve the gut permeability of people with Crohn’s Disease reducing the risk of translocating bacteria. S. boulardii is also showing a promising outcome for people with Clostridium Difficicile Infection (CDI) which is an infection spread bybacterial spores found inside feces. This infection can be life threatening if left untreated, but S. boulardii is showing to be a promising therapy to help treat and prevent CDI.
If you have a clear picture of what is going on in your gut, then you have the tools that you need to address any issues. By introducing probiotics to help repopulate the good bacteria in our gut along with a nutrient rich whole food diet, we can alter our microbiome’s behaviour. We can make dramatic changes in our gut in just 3-4 days, just by feeding our body what it needs. So much can go on in our gastrointestinal tract, from bacterial overgrowths to worms and even parasites. All of these can tip the scales of our gut stability. Comprehensive testing is widely available to help uncover just what is going on in there. Companies like Bioscreen and Microba can provide a whole picture to what is living, missing and thriving in your gut. Don’t try to guess what might be going on in your gut, get tested! Knowledge is power and identifying what your microbiome needs will allow you to ensure that you are able to clear out any pathogens, so you can repair, nourish and thrive.
In a perfect world we would get all our nutrients from our food, but so much of our food is chemically laden and processed, that it’s almost impossible to eat a balanced diet and protect our bodies from food intolerance, allergies, gut issues and even disease. Research is showing that there are promising results and benefits to using probiotics to support our health and if we understand what our bodies need, we can utilise them to help supplement our diets, sustain a healthy gut microbiome and achieve optimal health.
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Paneer Bhurji is a popular preparation loved with Indians around the world. It's a simple and spicy dish that tastes good.