Food intolerance Archives - Balm Natural Health

3 foods to eat before Christmas

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Can it really be time to start thinking about Christmas already? How did that happen?

Do you sometimes worry about how the excesses of food and alcohol at Christmas time will affect your health and digestion? Do you sometimes deny yourself that extra serving of Christmas pudding or the extra dollop of gravy or brandy custard because you know your gut will punish you for it later? Well what if I told you it has more to do with what you eat in the lead up to Christmas rather than what you eat on the day!

Our own personal internal farm yard

It all comes down to the state of your microbiome, or the colony of bacteria that reside in our large intestine.  You can think of it as your own personal internal farm yard. There are many different species of microbes or animals in this gut colony. Some are beneficial to us and get along well with everyone else in the colony. These could be the chickens, sheep and cows. Some are star players and keep law and order amongst the rest of the inhabitants. These could be the working dogs or the prize bulls. Others can cause damage and disruption. These could be rabbits, rats and ticks. The cleaner the environment we keep for our farmyard, and the better the quality of food we feed the inhabitants, the healthier they will be and the more the ones we want in the farm yard can grow, flourish and reproduce.

Most of the genetic material in your body is not your own

Because these microbes that live inside our intestines are living beings, they each have their own genetic material and produce their own wastes and metabolites directly into our digestive system. Did you know that we have such a large number of microbes living in our gut that the amount of genetic material they contain is hundreds of times greater than the amount of genetic material in our own cells. This means that your microbiome can have a greater influence on your health than your own genes! 

The picture below shows just some of the ways this colony of gut bugs can influence the way our body functions. The metabolites they produce can directly affect our immune system, heart health, nervous system function and bone health, not to mention digestive health. The more we feed our personal colony the right foods, the happier they will be and the more the types of species we need in our gut will flourish. So the better we feed our gut bugs during the lead up to Christmas, the better the health of our farmyard on Christmas day and the more resilience we will have to enjoy ourselves on the day.  

What to eat before Christmas?

There are a number of foods which have been shown to enhance our microbiome. (If you would like a copy of the full list, just send me a message.)

However, simply concentrating on the following 3 foods during the next couple of months will benefit you on Christmas day.

  1. Natural rolled oats
  2. Blueberries
  3. Colourful vegetables.

These foods will provide what your farmyard needs to make it happy, harmonious and function well. Namely fibre, resistant starch, polyphenols, fructo-oligosaccharides and inulin. These things provide nourishing food for the gut bugs and the right environment in which they can thrive.

Late last year I did a 2 part blog titled “What is the Microbiome and does it need probiotics?” Read it here.

Part 1 –  http://www.balmnaturalhealth.com.au/what-is-the-microbiome-and-does-it-need-probiotics/

Part 2 – http://www.balmnaturalhealth.com.au/what-is-the-microbiome-and-does-it-need-probiotics-2/

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.