Gut health is huge! It shapes our entire immune system and has a direct impact in our ability to fight a whole host of diseases, including auto-immune disease, heart disease, cancer, skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, asthma, allergies, ADHD, autism and even depression. They all have the need for good gut health as a common ground for helping to manage and cure them, but why? Well it is now widely accepted that the gut has a special link to the brain (the gut brain axis) and when the gut is unhealthy, it can have huge effects on the production of stress hormones produced in the body, therefore directly affecting our mood, behaviour and overall health as the gut bacteria (gut microbiome) “educates” the immune system from before we were even born.
In the womb, a baby is exposed to the mother’s placental biome (bacteria in her placenta) but no other external microorganisms. This means when a baby is born, they are born with a very weak immune system. This is strengthened in several ways. First of all via a vaginal delivery. When a baby passes through the birth canal, the mother’s biome is smeared over the baby’s face and the baby ingests her biome and so “seeds” their own biome – this is crucial for a well-developed immune system. If a child is born via c-section this process doesn’t take place and so the baby doesn’t get that seeding of the biome. When the baby is placed on the mother and father’s skin, they again ingest some of the skin biome of their parent (and this concept continues for all the time there is skin-to-skin contact with another person in our life-time).
Next is breastfeeding and the reasons why it is so important to a child’s immune health. Research has shown that exclusively breast feeding a baby for a minimum of 6 months gives the gut microbiome the very best chance of developing and becoming robust. This is because the sugars in the mother’s breast milk (oligosaccharides) are specifically for the gut bacteria (microbiome) and not in-fact for the baby directly. Ideally breast feeding would continue for the first 2 years of life as this is when the biome is solidified and robust.
Things such as having antibiotics can dramatically impact the gut microbiome as they essentially indiscriminately kill large amounts of bacteria in the body, including the good ones. Therefore, helping to re-populate your biome (bacteria in the body) is essential after antibiotics. This can be done through eating foods rich in prebiotics (which are “food” for the good gut bacteria) and probiotics (which are new additional bacteria for the gut) and these can then be supplemented by purchasing a high quality probiotic if more help is needed (you’re looking for one with multiple different strains of bacteria and for several billion live cultures per capsule). It’s worth seeing a naturopath, functional nutritionist/nutritionist or another gut health specialist to help guide you on this journey as it can be very confusing and tricky to get right.
Other things to help your gut microbiome is to expose it to wide variety of different microorganisms and bacteria. How you may ask? Well the easiest way is to get out in nature – get muddy! The microbes in the soil are rich and diverse so getting on your skin or even digesting some say via unwashed veg, can be amazing for the gut. The other easy way is to get rid of the anti-bacterial products in your home. Research from Kyushu University in Japan, showed that mice bought up in a completely sterile environment and had never been introduced to microbes, produced twice the amount of stress hormone when distressed than normal mice. This suggests that the overly sterile environment that many children are now raised in, is in-fact causing their guts huge damage.
Things that are good for the whole-body biome (bacteria) and immune system are:
– Get out in nature and get muddy
– Eat a diverse diet, full of colour
– Eat organic meat and vegetables where possible
– Reduce all chemicals in your home – cleaning and beauty products
– Don’t over wash your skin or hair – try not to wash a baby too often as it washes away vital skin bacteria
– Eat pre and probiotic foods
– Eat whole foods
– Exercise regularly as it creates low levels of positive stress in the body, making immune system more robust
– Rest and meditation – allows the gut a chance to rest and recover
– Fasting has been shown to have huge beneficial effects on the gut and reduces the risk of developing things such as heart disease and cancer dramatically
– Prioritise sleep – be consistent with sleep and wake times
Sources: The Human Longevity Project – multiple studies by leading microbiologist (for more information please contact Nicky Herringshaw)
The Clever Gut Diet – Dr Micheal Mosley
The Fast 800 – Dr Micheal Mosley https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1664925/