In this interview I speak to Kate Forbes, a naturopathic lifestyle coach. Our topic is all about our gut microbiome and how important the microbiome is to our health and vitality.
How important is the digestive tract?
- What happens between the beginning and end of the digestive tract is fundamental to our health.
- For every human gene in our bodies, we have 150 bacterial genes. Even our cells are outnumbered by 10 to 1. And we are symbiotically alive because of bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa and viruses.
- We are hosts for these trillions of microbes; they govern our senses, our tastes, our thoughts and minds. They want their hosts to stay alive, so they will always work to bring about a balance. But that balance is based on the conditions of their environment.
- We have evolved to where we have because these microorganisms exist.
How does the microbiome develop?
- The first inoculation is at birth – natural childbirth and coming down the birth canal.
- As the baby crawls and stands, the fight or flight vagal response develops. The mother’s caring and feeding is important here. It gives the child its first circuitry. Also, you want that child getting its hands dirty, eating mud and not being brought up in an overly sterile environment – and not eating too much processed food.
- We want to get as wide a variety of microbes as possible. This is crucial, as is every virus that comes along. These viruses turn on our immunity and the ability to identify foreign microbes that come into our bodies.
- We want to have this diversity so that we can have a full spectrum of bacteria in our guts.
What are these microbes doing in our body and what is their function?
- The help the cells obtain their nutrients.
- They are involved in digestion.
- They involved in chemical processes.
- They signal the cells to absorb nutrition, release hormones, and influence genetic expression.
- They help to create the epigenetic environment where our genes are either able to express or silence themselves. This includes, for example, the methylation pathway.
What environment do these microbes need in order to function optimally?
- Microbes adapt to their environment. The conditions there will dictate which microbes are active in your system.
- If you’re sterilizing everything, eating incorrectly, etc. this may reduce the diversity and strains of microbes in your system.
- When these microbes go out of balance, we start presenting symptoms of disease.
- If we want to express health and vitality, we must change our epigenetic environment (which is what turns our genes on and off). We can do this by changing our diet, by drinking quality water and through our microbes We can do this quite quickly, but it will take longer if there is disease.
What harms the gut bacteria and how do we know they are being harmed?
- Balance is kept though oxygenation, proper nutrition, proper fluids, exercise etc.
- Changing this balance through diet, stress, antibiotics, too much sterilizing etc. will cause problems. Bloating, indigestion, heartburn, headaches, a funny taste in the mouth, and skin problems (eczema, acne, psoriasis) are all indications that there’s an imbalance in the digestive tract. Depression and anxiety can also be markers of an imbalance.
- To correct, we need to bring gut bacteria back into balance. We need to correct the microbes with diet and a detoxification phase. Detox can make the symptoms worse before they get better.
If the microbes are out of balance, what are the first things to do?
- Reset the gut.
- Korean natural farming techniques use rice. All the old cultures used some form of food to feed their microbiomes. This was usually things like rice, corn (not GMO corn), amaranth, quinoa etc. These are the types of foods that feed the lactobacillus.
- The season, the conditions and the geography we live in will dictate what microbes we carry in our systems. We need to make sure we balance that. If you are on keto and you absolutely cannot handle any form of rice or grain, then the next best thing is your green leafy vegetables along with as many organic and aerated (as live as possible) vegetables. In other words, you want to get your vegetables from a farm that’s got really good soil. And you cannot just be eating meat (which should be organic whenever possible, and not too much processed or cured meat). A lot of people on keto are eating predominantly bacon and processed meat and thinking that’s okay. That’s a whole other explosion for the microbes in the gut. So, for anyone on keto, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of when the gut is out of balance. If these symptoms appear, then it’s important to do a gut reset.
- During a gut reset, we use foods such as short-grain rice that have no additives or preservatives etc. This is actually food for the microbiome.
- Rice and milk, for example, can be seen as prebiotics that feed the gut microbes. If you have the microbes and gene expression for it, then milk is a wonderful culture.
- The probiotic is the life (i.e. the microbe) and the prebiotic is the environment in which it lives or thrives. If it does not have this environment in which to live, it will remain dormant.
- Off-the-shelf probiotics can be a single strain or multiple strains (usually around 14). Studies have shown that there are more than 1000 stains, and we all have our own composition of strains.
- Therefore, a single-strain probiotic is not diverse enough. And if it was made in a lab, not in its prebiotic nutrition, then essentially it will be dormant. Another issue is that it should not make it through the hydrochloric acid in your stomach. If it does make it through, that means your stomach is not acid enough. It may also mean that those bacteria may colonize too high up in the intestine.
- In essence what we want to do is activate the colon (our septic tank). We want to eat the prebiotics so that we get plenty of composting material for the bacteria to digest. And we want to activate as many strains of bacteria in the colon as possible.
How important is diversity and how do we maintain that diversity?
- Lack of diversity is probably the biggest problem we have with our immune systems and our health right now.
- With all the sterilizing that’s happening, we’ve probably caused certain bacteria to go extinct in our bodies.
- We want to be continuously inoculating our systems with bacteria, as we continuously compromise the bacteria.
- We can do this by eating fermented foods, treating the gut as a garden, and eating “live” organic foods.
- People who have sterilized their guts have compromised their immune systems as well as their vitality and energy levels.
What is the impact of antibiotics and other medications on gut health?
- It depends on how out of balance the microbiome was before taking the antibiotic.
- Antibiotics affect all of the species of bacteria in the gut. They should only be taken when you have a bacterial overgrowth that needs to be brought back under control.
- If you are on a course of antibiotics, then what will be important is to bring back as many species into the body as possible. That means eating food grown in good soil and food that’s as alive as possible – not food that’s been transported across the country or has been processed.
- Another way to get diversity back is to go into the garden and get your hands dirty – or to play with your children or your animals. This is because we share bacteria.
Can you talk to us a little more about fermenting foods?
- Each person has their own unique microbial colonies, but members of the same culture will have similar probiotics in their systems and similar ways of cultivating that bacteria. Sour pap, kimchi, saki, sauerkraut, beers, ciders, cheeses and yogurts are examples of fermented foods in cultures across the world. These ferments are made from different microbes at different pH levels and in different nutritional environments.
- Eating a variety of ferments is important as well. This gives us the diversity that our guts need to be healthy. This can give us a broad spectrum of microbes, just based on the type of nutrition the different foods are made from.
- If you look at some of the older cultures, you’ll see how ferments played a role in the health of that community.
- A word of caution is that some ferments will be wonderful for some people but not for others due to problems with their detoxification pathways. Ferments don’t work for everybody. If you try them and they don’t agree with you, it’s important not to push past the problems. Some people cannot handle greens. If something makes you feel sick or gives you a headache, you might be having a detox reaction. Microdose and test it first. If you feel bloated or unwell afterwards, you need to check that out.
- Also read the labels on any fermented food you buy in a supermarket. If they’re imported, they’ve been pasteurized. This means all the bacteria are dead. That’s not a ferment!
- The best approach is to grow your own sprouts and microgreens and make your own kefir and other fermented foods.
What would you tell people to stay away from in terms of gut health?
- Stay away from white sugar and read the labels on processed foods; most have hidden sugars in their ingredients.
- Sugars that you get in fruits and vegetables provide a necessary form of energy. But white sugar, processed white bread, too many yeasts, a sedentary lifestyle and the wrong meat all result in disease.
- Therefore, it’s important to eat as naturally as you can. Your food should be as full of oxygen as possible, which means as fresh as possible, and preferably organically grown. The result is good vibrant health.