Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Human Microbiome: Cleaning it Up (Part 2)

In last month’s post I discussed the Human Microbiome. To recap, simply defined, the human microbiome is the total inclusion of every microorganism living in, on, and perhaps even around the human body. We cannot achieve or maintain health unless we respect and care for these “friendly critters” that live on our skin, nose and sinuses, mouth, esophagus, intestines, and genitals.

We learned that a newborn who is not born vaginally and not breastfed likely would not fully receive the host of beneficial bacteria that are passed from the birth mother through natural delivery and nursing. We also learned that our microbiome houses an ecosystem with thousands of species harmoniously living tissues of the human body. It is estimated that the combined microorganisms and microbial cells that live inside or on the body outnumber human cells by about ten to one!

Our gut microbiome weighs as much as our brains
about three poundsand many might say that it’s just as important. Our gut microbiome certainly not only interacts with but also can actually control our brains. It, combined with the gut itself, is deservedly called “the second brain”. People really do have gut instincts. Out of the approximately 100 trillion microbial cells in the human body, the human gut alone contains 40,000 bacterial species and that our microbiota (all the microbes of a particular site, in this case the human body) influences our health. For example, we discussed last month that 85% of our Serotonin and Dopamine transmitters are made in the large intestines, and that disruptions in the gut’s health have a huge impact on mental health.

The gut microbiome also influences tissue building and hormone regulation, obviously through nutritional absorption, but also by influencing how we metabolize the food we eat. Our gut’s health and bacterial composition affect nutrient and mineral absorption
especially zinc, calcium and magnesium. (Very much like prebiotics, which we’ll discuss later in this article). The gut microbiome also manufactures enzymes, amino acids, and short chain fatty acids; it influences how herbs, vitamins and medicine work in our bodies to help metabolize drugs, hormones and other molecules.
Last month we discussed how food, medications, pesticides, GMO and Bt toxin containing foods, stress and numerous other factors have a major negative impact on out gut microbiome. Let’s look at how we begin to reverse the damage.

Where to Start
Elimination Diet
Considering that we’ve all had multiple exposures to the offenders mentioned above and in Part I of this series, how do we heal and restore our gut health? One of the first steps an Integrative Physician, Functional Medicine Physician or Naturopathic Physician will ask you to take is to perform an elimination diet. This requires the elimination of foods that are known to be problematic and allergenic. Some of these foods may include gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, sugar and nuts. Once these foods have been eliminated for a period of time, reintroduce each food, one at a time. When you do, do it in a big way. Enjoy that first serving of the food you’ve been just “DYING” to reintroduce, eat a nice, large serving and see how your body reacts. If you have sensitivity to it, you may notice brain fog, overnight weight gain, abdominal bloating, gas, abdominal pain, joint pain, skin irritation, sinus/allergy-type symptoms and/or more. 

When you eat foods to which you are sensitive, your gut will not heal. Once the sensitive foods are eliminated, however, and you are eating cleaner foods (i.e. not sprayed with herbicides and laden with Bt toxin), the healing can begin. There are many references available on the web to help you do an elimination diet. They range from a four-food elimination diet to much more comprehensive diets. Choose one that you can stick with.

Optimize Your Stomach Acid and Enzymes
Insufficient stomach acid contributes to deterioration in the microbiome. Stomach acid is your first line of defense against invading germs that you consume from your fingers, foods, toothpicks, etc. every day. If you are on a drug to reduce your stomach acid for long periods of time, this will change the microbiome downstream in your small and large intestines.

So take a little acid with your meals. Lemon in your tea or water. Vinegar in water. Betaine HCl in capsules. Swedish Bitters. All will achieve the same effect. They will raise the acid in your stomach enough to protect you against dangerous germs and help you better digest your food.

Some people may need enzymes to better breakdown food. These do not break down bacteria, but they enhance digestion and reduce the chances of food sensitivities, which in turn increase inflammation in the gut. Your stool should look like a uniformly brown banana that sinks in the toilet. Anything else suggests the need to chew your food better and or take enzymes. (Oh, and stomach acid promotes the release of enzymes!)