Have you had your appendix removed? Ever wondered what you’re missing? We’ve always been told that it serves no known purpose and is removed routinely at the first hint of inflammation.
However, research is suggesting the appendix has been dismissed unfairly and has a couple of important functions.
Firstly, it has an important part to play in our immunity. It contains immune cells important for producing antibodies and for surveillance and destruction of mutated cells and invaders. It also contains cells important for regulating the immune system, helping to prevent it overreacting in certain situations.
Secondly, it acts as a reservoir of good bacteria for the bowel. It works kind of like a safe house keeping a reservoir supply of bacteria safe during infection, diarrhoea and antibiotic use. Things which usually wipe out and disrupt the normal microflora balance in the gut. This reservoir of bacteria can then be released into the bowel to quickly recolonise the microflora after these sorts of insults.
Removal of the appendix has been linked with an increased risk of developing the following:
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Ischaemic heart disease
Mental health disorders
So, if you have had your appendix removed, it is important that you give your gut ongoing support to maintain a healthy microbiome. This is especially important both just after your appendectomy operation, and during any antibiotic therapy. I can help direct you to the best quality products containing the particular strains of probiotics specific for you and your unique situation
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
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
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
Late last year I did a 2 part blog titled
“What is the Microbiome and does it need probiotics?” Read
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.
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.
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.
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
Other prebiotic foods: kiwi, beetroot, fennel, green peas, snow peas, cabbage, chickpeas, red kidney beans, pistachio nuts, peaches, watermelon, grapefruit, pomegranate, dates, figs.
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.
Exercise, among the many other health benefits we already know, also contributes to promoting microbiome diversity.
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.
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
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.