Recently, a panel of AST experts joined forces to discuss the important topic of immunity. I had the pleasure of sharing the connections between the brain and the gut and below are just a few of my takeaways.
The human immune system is made up (in part) by the 4.4lbs of organisms (100 trillion of them!) which make up the human microflora, or microbiome and cells of the lining of the gut. The health and stability of the microbiome is what you are establishing and feeding when you take your daily probiotic. Think of it like a garden to be cultivated. They are bacteria, parasites, fungi, virus living within us and helping to regulate the system. They even contribute to our DNA, our genetic makeup and our ability to adapt to any environment. Poor diet, stress, chronic disease and antibiotic therapy will diminish or eliminate the bugs of our gut. You must re-seed the garden after antibiotics and it must be inoculated with a high quality probiotic supplement ongoing. I am often asked why it is important to eat organic - remember this, the pesticides, fungicides, etc that are sprayed on our produce are not fruit and vegetable selective! They will kill off your microbiome too.
The health of these systems, the microbiome, your organ reserves and health and your voluntary inputs (nutrition, stress management, exercise, etc.) make up the terrain that dictates how healthy you are. Terrain is the term used to describe the inner environment of a human being. The health of the terrain explains why some get sick and some do not.
What can you do to help the health of your gut?
Let’s look at stress. When you are experiencing stress, your defences diminish because the brain is sending resources to the stress response system. We are living through one of the most intensely stressful times in our history, so if you are feeling stress, you aren’t alone. Stress is our current way of life, it isn’t going away anytime soon, you cannot control it. But what you can control is your response to something stressful. Are there calming thoughts you can have when something stressful comes up? Can you pause to meditate or incorporate meditation into your daily routine?
Take a closer look at all of the different things that you are consuming daily. News? Negative people? Toxic relationships or stinking thinking? Are you a complainer? Do you engage in drama? All of these things encourage you to have both negative thinking and a survival response. When you are surviving, your blood flow shunts from the extremities to the core organs resulting in your immune system taking a back seat to critical functions.
Here are three things you can start doing today to help with gut health and thus, immunity too:
Here's a quick way to check your breathing. (One hand on your chest, one on the belly and eyes closed. Take three deep breaths. Which hand moves more?). Chest breathing happens when we are sympathetic dominant or in survival mode. When you breath shallowly, your brain gets the signal that you aren’t safe, which deepens the survival mode, it can last for years! So, soften belly while you breath, exhale longer than you inhale.
Get your gut right by eating the foods which heal rather than inflame the lining of your intestines. Identify food allergies and eliminate them from your diet. Eat probiotic and prebiotic foods, and ensure you supplement daily.
Have a gratitude habit. Start to recognize where and what and whom you can be thankful for. Gratitude lowers inflammation, boosts immunity and makes you better looking too!
Healthy mind = healthy brain = healthy gut = healthy immunity = health.
*This blog is not intended to officially establish a physician-patient relationship, to replace the services of a trained physician, naturopathic doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor or otherwise to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Last month we talked about the importance of regular bowel movements and that being constipated or having diarrhea can be a sign that your digestion is off. So lets’ dive in a little further.
Digestion is the process of turning large pieces of food into its component nutrients by mechanical, chemical and microbial digestion. Although each part of digestion is important, we are going to focus specifically on microbial digestion.
Your gut hosts 100 trillion micro organisms which are made up of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, algae, and fungi and we could not exist without them. These microorganisms make up 70% of our immune system and are in constant communication with the brain either directly or through other mechanisms that alter the brain. Your gut has its own nervous system, known in the literature as the enteric nervous system but is generally referred to it as the second brain. We’ve all heard the common expressions “go with your gut” or “I have a gut feeling” and the data is showing there are three major routes on how our gut “talks” to the brain:
The vagus nerve takes what information we put into our gut and distributes it to the brain and visa versa. This vagus nerve has many neutrons or sensors that then distribute that information out to other parts of the body. People, what happens in the vagus does not stay in the vagus on this one!
Microbes make neurotransmitters and hormones that can signal the brain through our nerve networks. For example, did you know that certain bacteria in our gut produce 90-95% of our peripheral serotonin (the happy hormone). Serotonin is responsible for our emotional well being, GI motility, and is a precursor to the production of melatonin that helps us sleep. As such, our thoughts, perception and stress can literally alter the composition of our microbiome.
Influencing the immune system, which interfaces directly with the nervous system throughout our entire body. In this situation, think of your microbes as a security system, are they actively surveilling or are they asleep at the wheel.
To put it all into simple terms, how we “tend to our garden” literally determines how our entire body responds. Balance between the immune system, the hormonal system, and the nervous system begins in, and is critically dependent on a healthy gut. So with all this in mind, what are some simple steps you can do?
Counteract that stress response. The flight or flight stress response is a natural survival mechanism but if it is never turned off, body processes such as digestion, mental well-being, and the storage and expenditure of energy in the body become affected This is one reason for fatigue, depression, and suppressed immunity.
Start looking at the foods you eat as information for your microbes, as they have a major effect, good or bad, on how they flourish. Is that information positive (bright coloured) or negative (bland colour)? Our gut bacteria need complex, fermentable starches to feed on. Hello, fruits and vegetables.
Probiotics are live micro-organisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, provide health benefits for the host such as enhancing mineral absorption, strengthening the immune system and protecting the intestinal wall lining. Food items such as whole milk yogurt, Kefir, raw unpasteurized sauerkraut, true kombucha tea (not sugar drinks) and beet kvass are good options. Adding a multi-strain probiotic to one’s regimen may also improve the diversity of one's gut flora.
Prebiotics are indigestible plant fibres that selectively stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in our gut. Their job is to feed the probiotics. Food items such as onions, bananas, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, miso, legumes and raw natural honey are good food sources.
Expose yourself to a variety of environments including animal/pet exposure, gardens (what a great way to connect and teach your children about food or just to relax), travel if possible to expose yourself to different new gut friends, introduce a different vegetable at each grocery shop. The ways are endless!
Don’t be a clean freak! There is a term called the hygiene hypothesis, which states that a lack of early childhood exposure to bacteria or germs does not give the immune system a chance to develop. Use caution when using antibiotic soaps, antibacterial cleaners, and hand sanitizers. Look for more organic cleaners where possible, your gut bugs will thank you.
Unless necessary, lay off the use of antibiotics as they do not discern between good or bad bugs, they just wipe out the entire colony. With that being said, antibiotics have a time and a place, so please consult your physician.
As we have seen, our microbiota can alter quickly in response to our diet or environment. As such, it is important that we look at how we cultivate it as a life-long way of living and eating and not some short-term fad.
If you are interested in learning more or improving your microbiome from a nutritional perspective book a consultation with Kira Greasley today. Kira works atAST Willow Park and is currently taking new patients.