Digestion

What is the Microbiome and does it need probiotics?

Posted by | Balm Blog, Blog, Diet, Digestion, Food intolerance, Health, IBS, IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome | No Comments

Part 2

What do probiotics do

Many people believe that taking a probiotic simply puts back the good bacteria into the gut. However, this is not the case. In fact, many of the strains of microbes in probiotics don’t even count amongst the most popular species of commensal microbes. For example, lactobacillus and bifidobacterium are present in almost all probiotics, yet generally make up less than 2% of the microbiome.

Similarly, many believe that the higher the number of microbes, and the more strains present in a probiotic, the better. This also is not true.

Rather than ‘seeding’, or contributing directly to the colonies in your gut, probiotics are generally transient species which exert appreciable benefits during their journey. In fact, good probiotics today are generally made up of only 1-3 strains of bacteria. These well chosen species can be likened to superheros who come into a community, restore order to the environment and allowing the residents to continue to perform their important tasks in harmony.

How can I influence the microbiome

There is much you can do to influence the make up of your microbiome and shift it towards being as diverse as possible, since greater diversity has been shown to confer the most health benefits.

  1. One easy way is to simply increase the diversity of plant foods that you consume. i.e. the greater the diversity of your diet, the greater the diversity of your microbiome. It has been shown that people who consume more than 30 different types of plants and vegetables each week have a much more diverse microbiome than those who consume 10 or fewer types of plants weekly.
  2. Alcohol can directly influence your microbiome and produce changes that can trigger gastrointestinal inflammation. Ideally consume only 1 standard drink per day and keep 2 days per week alcohol free.
  3. Fibre is extremely important as your microbes rely on fibre to feed them. A low fibre diet reduces the diversity of your microbiome.   Including as many microbiome friendly foods as possible every day will make your community of microbes very happy and contribute to your overall health in many ways. Examples of microbiome friendly foods include:
  • Inulin and fructooligosaccharides: garlic, leek, onion, asparagus, banana, barley, honey, tomato, rye and Jerusalem artichoke
  • Resistant starch: potato (roasted or steamed and cooled), cashew nuts, rolled oats, white beans, lentils, banana
  • Fibre: flax seeds, vegetables, fruit, whole grains
  • Polyphenols: berries, peach, plum, tea, resveratrol, cocoa
  • Other prebiotic foods: kiwi, beetroot, fennel, green peas, snow peas, cabbage, chickpeas, red kidney beans, pistachio nuts, peaches, watermelon, grapefruit, pomegranate, dates, figs.
  1. Stress releases hormones that sensitise your body to inflammation, including gut inflammation. This compromises the conditions needed by your commensal microbes to flourish, and causes a loss of diversity.
  2. Exercise, among the many other health benefits we already know, also contributes to promoting microbiome diversity.
  3. Finally, antibiotic use can lead directly to the loss of core commensal bacteria, allowing pathogenic bacteria to flourish, sometimes resulting in diarrhoea. If you do need to take a course of antibiotics for what ever reason, ensure you get a good probiotic to assist in discouraging those pathogenic species and assist the commensals to regain control. Give me a call and I can provide you with the right probiotic to use along side your antibiotic (but separated by at least 2 hours) to ensure it has the least impact on your all important microbiome.

What is the Microbiome and does it need probiotics?

Posted by | Balm Blog, Blog, Detoxification, Diet, Digestion, Food allergy, Food intolerance, Health, IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Naturopathy, Weight Gain, Weight Loss | No Comments

Part 1

We’ve all heard about our gut bacteria and been told we need to have a balance of more good bacteria to bad, but is it really that simple?

What is the microbiome and where does it come from?

Our microbiome is the collection of living microbes that live in our large intestines and are essential for health. A healthy microbiome can synthesise important vitamins that the body can’t get in any other way, helps strengthen and regulate your immune system and is important for healthy bowel habits and waste elimination. These microbes are originally colonized from our mother own microbiome during pregnancy and birth. If your mothers microbiome was unhealthy at this time then this puts your ongoing health at a disadvantage from day 1.

Our gut holds around 2kg or 38 trillion microbes. In fact, the amount of genetic material in your microbiome may be many hundreds of times greater than the genetic material that makes up your own genes. This effectively means that your gut bugs have a greater influence on your health than your own genes.

Mostly the collection of different species of microbes work well together and are collectively referred to as your commensal microbiome. Various diet and lifestyle choices can create an environment in our gut where pathogenic or ‘opportunistic’ microbes get the chance to grow and prosper. These microbes are inflammatory and disease causing and are usually kept under control by our commensal species until such an opportunity arises. Antibiotic use is a good example of a situation where these nasty microbes, which are always present in low numbers, find an opportunity to thrive. This is called dysbiosis and cause all sorts of problems.

What can ‘dysbiosis’ do to you?

There is a strong pathway of communication between the brain and the gut. This explains why stress can have such a strong and immediate effect on your gut. For example, have you ever experienced needing to run for the bathroom when confronted with an acutely stressful situation? But the communication works the other way too. Your gut bugs can strongly influence mood and brain function and can even make you crave certain foods (especially fat and sugar when the pathogenic species are thriving).

This ‘dysbiosis’ of the gut mircobiome can lead to health issues such as digestive complaints, toxicity from inefficient waste removal and this can lead to foggy brain, skin disorders, fatigue, poor sleep and muscle and joint inflammation. You can develop nutrient deficiencies because your commensal bacteria aren’t able to synthesise important vitamins. Much of your immune system also presides in your gut and having dysbiosis can make you more susceptible to allergies, colds and flu, food intolerances and even autoimmune conditions.

What makes a healthy microbiome?

Researchers have spent a lot of time trying to work out which microbiome composition is the most healthy. They found there isn’t one! They tested the microbiomes of a number of healthy, indigenous communities but discovered that their species of gut bugs were all quite different. The thing they did find was that the most healthy people had the most diverse microbiomes. That is, the greater the number of different types of species present in your gut, the better your health. In fact, low bacterial diversity has now been linked with obesity, insulin resistance, inflammation, autism and bowel disease.

 

Check in again in early December for part 2 of the microbiome and find out exactly how probiotics work (it’s not just about replacing the good bugs) and what you can do to directly influence your microbiome diversity.

Image courtesy of Scimat Scimat at Getty Images

Eliminating intolerant foods – good idea or not?

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Food elimination can sometimes change the quality of your life for the better, once you’ve worked out what food it is you need to avoid. But is this a good idea long term and is it necessary to avoid this food then for the rest of your life? The good news is no! Most people don’t have to do this forever.

People eliminate certain foods for many reasons. There are of course particular cultural, ethical and personal beliefs behind many dietary eliminations. People also cut certain foods because they believe they have an intolerance. They may have experienced symptoms such as stomach upsets, rashes or insomnia. Sometimes people are truly allergic, in which case, consuming that food can be dangerous or even life threatening.

In actual fact, the only people who really need to completely avoid a particular food are those who do have a true anaphylactic allergy. However, only 2-5% of food reactivity is actually due to a true allergic reaction. The rest are generally intolerances that have developed over time.

Digestive processes

Food intolerances can develop for a number of reasons. For example, a reduction in stomach acid and digestive enzyme levels as we age can make it more difficult for us to properly digest a food. This means it is still relatively undigested when it reaches the bowel, leading to bloating, diarrhea, cramps and other irritable bowel like symptoms as the bad bacteria in the gut have a field day. Reflux medications often make this situation much worse.

Gut lining health (leaky gut)

When the integrity of the lining of the digestive tract is compromised it can lead to a situation termed leaky gut. This often happens post a viral sickness, food poisoning, stress or having consumed antibiotics or something that has irritated the gut (like NSAID anti-inflammatory drugs). Having leaky gut allows toxins, bacteria and whole proteins to enter the blood stream, confusing the immune system. The immune system sees these things as non-self and goes in for the attack, allowing allergic, hyperactive and autoimmune types of conditions to be expressed.

Microbiome balance

When the colony of microbes in your gut are unbalanced (usually due to poor diet, stress or illness) this too can lead to the development of symptoms from eating foods you once had no issue with.

FODMAPs

FODMAPs are certain classes of natural foods that are often found to be the culprits of irritable bowel symptoms. People who suffer from FODMAPs issues usually find that eliminating the foods in the category they have an issue with clears up their IBS symptoms. However, the FODMAPs diet was never meant to be long term. Usually a FODMAPs issue arises due to one of the above changes in the digestive tract. The idea is to temporarily remove the food, allowing the digestive system to heal and recover. After a period of 1-3 months, slow reintroduction of the food should occur without issue.

Food diversity is so important

Eliminating a food permanently is not getting to the underlying reason of why that food is causing issues. Limiting foods long term has been shown to reduce quality of life and in some cases may even worsen health. This is mostly because good health is correlated with a good diversity of the microbes in your gut (your microbiome). The more diverse the variety of natural foods you eat, the more diverse your microbiome and the better your general health.

The good news

The idea is to eliminate the offending food or foods for a period of time while working on healing the gut lining, righting digestive insufficiencies and adding diversity and harmony to the gut microbiome using certain nutrients, herbs and probiotic strains. Once the healing is complete, the foods can be added back in one at a time to ensure they are now tolerated. If you have irritable bowel issues or food intolerances you would like addressed, se me for a tailored treatment plan.

Detoxification – is it necessary?

Posted by | Balm Blog, Detox, Detoxification, Diet, Digestion, Fat, Health, hormones, IBS, IBS, Naturopathy, Weight Gain, Weight Loss | No Comments

Our bodies are busily detoxifying all the time, so is it really necessary to do a detox? The answer is yes due to the dramatic changes we’ve seen over the last 100 years. Historically our detoxification processes were generally completely adequate for our needs. These days, the speed at which toxins enter our body has increased dramatically while our bodies ability to deal with these toxins is generally compromised by our modern day diet and lifestyle.

Imagine a bucket being filled with water from a tap while water escapes through a hole in the bottom of the bucket. If the tap is turned up and the hole is slightly blocked the bucket will soon fill.

Now imagine the bucket is your body and the tap represents toxins entering your body (via the mouth, your skin and your lungs). The hole in the bucket represents your body’s detoxification processes. Just as the bucket fills, your body soon becomes overwhelmed with a build up of toxins. This can be expressed as fatigue, headaches, body aches and pains, poor immunity, digestive issues, mood disorders and hormone balance issues.

A good detox program aims to not only unblock the hole in the bucket, but to also turn down the tap.

Just some of the benefits of a good periodic detox include:

  • It can reset your appetite, decreasing sugar cravings and assist weight loss
  • Happy, healthier, glowing skin
  • Lots more energy
  • Better sleep
  • Better moods
  • Less colds and flues
  • Better concentration and motivation
  • Better digestive processes (less bloating, discomfort, nausea

Balm offers a number of detoxification programs and packages, including the program offered through Metagencis.

Click the links below to check out the various detox packages available from Balm.

2 Visit Personalized Detoxification Program

4 Week Detox Kits

FODMAPs – A simple solution for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Posted by | Balm Blog, Blog, Diet, Digestion, Health, IBS, IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Naturopathy, Sugar | No Comments

Last blog I spoke about small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) as one of the main causes of IBS. I briefly mentioned that one of the main treatments which brings relief to 90% of IBS sufferers is to follow a low FODMAP diet. So what is a FODMAP?

It’s a bit of a mouthful but FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and ployols. Essentially, it is an indigestible sugar that ferments in the gut and provides fast food for bowel bacteria, allowing them to produce excessive amounts of gas.

Two of the biggest culprits within these categories are fructose (a monosaccharide mostly in fruits) and lactose (a disaccharide mostly found in diary food). Two foods which seem to be the most problematic for people with FODMAP issues are (unfortunately) onion and garlic and these should always be eliminated when attempting a low FODMAP diet.

The important thing is the amount of bacterial gas produced, and the way our bowel does or does not cope with it. This is what produces the common symptoms of IBS, namely abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea or constipation. Generally your system can cope with a little of your problematic food, or a little of a few foods from within your problematic FODMAP category. However, once a certain threshold of the FODMAP sugars is reached, that is when symptoms are triggered. This is why it can be so difficult to work out which foods are problematic for you because sometimes you can eat them with no problems and other times you can’t.

The great news is that once you work out which foods or FODMAP categories are a problem for you, cutting them out of your diet temporarily seems to greatly alleviate, if not completely resolve the symptoms for around 90% of IBS sufferers. The even better news is that after only 1-3 weeks most people can begin to reintroduce their problem foods and usually find that after having given their system that short break, they no longer experience the same issues from eating that food.

Monash University has developed an app you can purchase for around $10 which contains information, recipes and a traffic light system for hundreds of foods, products and condiments. It lets you know which category any particular food falls into so you can soon work out if you have an issue with just one of the FODMAP categories or several. It has the ability to create shopping lists, personal notes on particular foods, and has a 7 day trial you can follow to assess your body’s response to a low FODMAP diet.

Balm Naturopathy can assist you with working out which foods may be causing you a problem. Or, if you believe you have already tried eliminating FODMAP foods and are still experiencing symptoms, Balm can help explore alternative causes and devise a treatment plan to address those causes and bring you welcome relief.

Image by Carlos Porto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What causes IBS?

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More than 1 in 10 people will suffer from some form of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) at some point in their life. The main symptoms can include bloating, gas, a sense of urgency, excessive stomach noises and abdominal pain or discomfort. It is often accompanied by either diarrhoea or constipation, or can alternate between the two. Doctors generally state that they do not know the cause and will diagnose IBS when all other conditions have been ruled out. There is also not a lot on offer medically besides antacids, pain killers and laxatives. However, Naturopaths have been successfully treating IBS for many years and have much to offer in terms of addressing the initial cause as well as symptomatic relief.

So what can cause IBS? It is now accepted that 60-80% of IBS is due to “Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth”, also known as SIBO. SIBO occurs when bacteria which should only be present in the lower, large intestine (or bowel), migrate up the digestive tract into the small intestine where they do not belong. Some of the main signs that SIBO is present include:

  • Bloating and gas shortly after eating, rather than a couple of hours later.
    This is because the food encounters intestinal bacteria as soon as it begins to leave the stomach and before it has been completely digested.
  • Symptoms improve after antibiotics.
    This is because antibiotics kill off bacteria, including those in our gut, good and bad. As this lowers the number of microbes in the small intestine, symptoms improve.
  • SIBO is usually worse for fibre and prebiotic foods.
    This is because fibre is food for gut bacteria allowing them to thrive. This activity produces gas and by products not meant for the small intestine.

So what causes bacteria to migrate up into the small intestine? One of the main triggers is a case of food poisoning. This impacts gut immunity (where most of our immune defences are located). It can also slow the efficiency with which our digestive system moves food along in the one direction. This is called the migrating motor complex and can become temporarily impaired during a bout of food poisoning, allowing bacteria to travel backwards up the digestive tract. Other things can also affect this one directional flow of food including surgery, stress, abdominal adhesions, other chronic diseases such as ulcerative colitis, general gastroenteritis and a diet high in poor sources of carbohydrates. Pharmaceuticals can also contribute and it is estimated that 50% of people who commonly use antibiotics, the contraceptive pill and antacid drugs such as Nexium develop some degree of SIBO.

There is an easy way to test if you have SIBO. It is a simple breath test that can be done at home. It measures the levels of hydrogen and methane gas in your breath as these are the by products of the bad bacteria in the small intestine. Your naturopath can arrange this test for you and design a treatment plan to eradicate the bacteria and relieve your IBS symptoms.

As a side note, one of the main things which can have a major impact for around 90% of IBS sufferers, is to avoid FODMAP foods. Exactly what these are and why this helps will be the subject of the next blog!

Image by jk1991 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net