By Lisa Glydon, homeopath.
It is an exciting time to be a holistic health practitioner as information that the community has known about for a long time now is starting to hit the mainstream. For example, you can read about gut microbes in nearly every health and fitness magazine and they are talked about all over the TV and radio these days too.
But the idea of gut microbes and personal microbiomes is still a new and often confusing one for many people to grasp and so the aim here is to make this important aspect of day-to-day health more understandable.
The truth about bacteria
Orthodox medicine appears to take the view that bacteria, in all its forms, is harmful. As long ago as the mid-1800s, for example, Louis Pasteur, the famous French biologist, microbiologist and chemist, believed in the principles of ‘germ theory’. This theory posits that all disease comes from germs, viruses and/or bacteria. So in order to remain healthy, we must ‘fight’ them by killing them off within our bodies or avoid their influence by maintaining as sterile an environment around us as possible.
Using this concept as the basis, Pasteur developed vaccines to combat them – and this theory of medicine has been popular in the West ever since, leading over time to the formation of a multi-million pharmaceutical industry.
But interestingly, Pasteur admitted on his deathbed that he had been wrong about this theory all along. It was not the bacteria itself that was to be feared as it posed no threat to a healthy individual. It was only if their health was compromised that a bacterium could take hold.
This was, in fact, the view espoused by Pasteur’s bitter rival, the scientist Antoine Bechamp. He believed that it was the “terrain or soil” (an individual’s immune system and tissue quality) that was of the upmost importance. In his view, “the germ was nothing, but the terrain was everything”.
In his research, Bechamp noted that germs were everywhere, even within human beings, and that they were opportunistic in nature. Only when the tissue of the “host” (person) was “damaged or compromised” did they take hold and the symptoms of infection or disease manifested themselves.
To prevent illness, he understood the secret was not to kill off germs but to foster:
- A good diet;
- A healthy lifestyle, which included having lots of fresh air, sleep and exercise.
Sadly though, Bechamp’s theory was mostly forgotten until recently in favour of Pasteur’s ideas, which led to the rise of the vaccinations, antibiotics and anti-microbials that are so important in Western medicine. So let’s explore the concept of the ‘microbiome’ a bit further.
Our body’s natural ecology
The term ‘microbiome’ means a ‘small habitat’. It is a ‘living ecology’ that starts in the first three years of life and is fully formed by a child’s fourth birthday.
Each microbiome is unique and the health of the system is based on culture, parentage and lifestyle. As a result, it makes sense to place more emphasis than is currently the case on pre-conceptual care to help support its healthy growth.
Unfortunately however, children born by Caesarean section are disadvantaged in that they do not have the opportunity to absorb essential microbes while travelling through the birth canal, which is lined with millions of them. Breast milk also contains prebiotics, which line the large intestine in the baby’s gut and provide its microbiome with the food required to develop and grow. If a child does not have access to these sources of goodness, the possible health consequences can be severe.
Hippocrates, the ‘founder of medicine’ and the greatest physician of all time, informed us as many as 2,000 years ago that “the gut is the source of all disease”. But it seems we have been slow to respond.
Instead of protecting it, we have replaced traditional farming methods with industrial approaches based on pesticides, which have depleted our soil reserves. We ingest heavy metals and too much sugar and use a range of techniques to extend the shelf life of food, all of which are toxic to our delicate digestive membrane and lead to gut putrification.
These practices have knocked our microbiome out of balance, which has resulted in many of the modern-day diseases we experience today. Just as we see our environment suffering, so our microbiomes are suffering too.
Tribal cultures have tended to benefit from healthier microbiomes – until they are introduced to modern ways of living and eating, that is, when obesity, addiction and chronic disease often develop rapidly.
Stress is a common cause of many diseases. The Vagus, or Gastric, nerve (as it used to be called) in our gut is crucial to its health. Meaning ‘the wanderer’, it is linked to a series of neuro-gastric nerves. Starting in the gut and moving upwards towards the brain, the Vagus nerve is stimulated by cortisol, a hormone produced by stress or worry.
Stress has a huge impact on our gut and brain microbiomes. The gut, which was often referred to in the old days as the ‘second brain’, manufactures 90% of our serotonin and dopamine, the hormones that makes us feel happy, as well as gaba, which makes us feel calm. The old phrase ‘gut reaction’ speaks to this connection between gut and brain. So, by nurturing our gut microbiome, we are also effectively nurturing our mental health, something that is becoming increasingly important in today’s frantic world.
Another expression, ‘our parents are the soil to the gut’, means that we inherit our microbiomes from our parents, but it is our choice of lifestyle that then takes over. As the Vagus nerve controls our heart rate, our microbiome can be damaged from an early age simply by the way we breathe.
Put another way, as the microbiome lives in symbiosis with the human body, gut health is key to maintaining positive health and a strong immune system as well as increasing our individual contentment levels.
As a homeopath, restoring and boosting the gut microbiome is crucial to treating anyone with a dis-ease. Even a simple infection or condition ending in an ‘itis’ signals lower than optimum gut bacteria as the body tries to deal with a localised inflammation. But by using homeopathic remedies, herbs and tonics and introducing dietary and lifestyle changes, the body can heal itself and regain its balance once more, leading to good health, energy and vitality.
Top tips for creating a healthier microbiome
- Slow down in a general sense but particularly in relation to your breathing. Most of us breathe too quickly these days at roughly 12 beats per minute compared to 8-10 in the past. So use relaxing practices to calm and slow it down such as yoga, mindfulness, meditation and walks in the fresh air;
- ‘Rest and digest’ by eating in a more relaxed environment – your digestion slows when you are in a stressed state, which means you do not absorb nutrition as well;
- Chew your food rather than gulp it down;
- Ensure you get plenty of good quality sleep;
- Eat a diverse diet with lots of fruit and vegetables as they have fibre that feeds and encourages microbes. This is particularly true of prebiotic foods such as chicory, leeks, onions, raw garlic, Jerusalem artichokes and unripe bananas, which feed your microbiome;
- Treat yourself to fermented foods such as raw sauerkraut, kimchi or pure miso paste. Unpasteurised kefir also provides trillions of bacteria for the gut – although go easy to begin with, starting with one a day;
- Add organic cider vinegar, which has been linked to supporting gut bacteria, to salads, dressings or a small glass of warm water and lemon (or even honey or maple syrup);
- Remember that an apple a day really does keep the doctor away. Lightly stewed apple provides a readily available source of fibre in the form of pectin, which helps to feed the gut’s microbes;
- Increase your microbe numbers by taking a good probiotic supplement. But ask your health practitioner for advice as not all products on the market are necessarily recommended;
- Discuss with your health practitioner how to boost your digestive enzymes. They can help you break down foods if you have ‘gut issues’. Low levels, on the other hand, can contribute towards bloating, gas, constipation and the like;
- Use healthy oils such as avocado and coconut, organic butter or ghee as they all support the gut. Use cold-pressed oils for drizzling but not cooking as they do not perform well under high temperatures;
- Indulge in oily fish, which are a good source of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats – although most of us do not eat enough of them.
Lisa Glydon has been a qualified homeopathic practitioner since 2007, but she also uses herbs, supplements and Bach/Bush Essences to boost the body’s systems and help remove emotional blockages. She initially trained as a State Registered Nurse in London, specialising in oncology and palliative care, but now treats clients of all ages and with all kinds of conditions. Lisa also runs workshops and provides talks to school children and adult groups about all aspects of health care.
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