If I had to make a completely unfounded claim that is based purely on anecdotal evidence, I would make the argument that all things gut related is the current fascination of the scientific and medical world for the past several years. It seems that on a monthly basis a new study comes out relating to the importance of gut bacteria on personal health.
Just in September, these are some of the health connections made in studies regarding gut bacteria:
This study (or a similar one) was making the rounds earlier this year. And that’s the one that got me to thinking: while I can’t cure my MS since it has already developed, could I manage it if I brought my gut flora under control?
Personally, as an everyday person, there is no way of knowing the makeup of my gut bacteria without special tools and the supervision of medical professionals. There are some rudimentary ways of determining the health of my gut flora, but I don’t even know if I will be able to readily find the particular bacteria I need to control/maintain/cope with my MS without having to undergo some more extreme measures.
And maybe these studies will prove to be unhelpful in MS therapy, but I find the connection between gut health and overall health a compelling and reasonable conclusion considering we are talking about billions and billions of microorganisms living in our bodies. Therapies and studies are already moving to reflect the fact that these microorganisms really do have an impact on our overall health.
What is Gut Flora?
Before going any farther we should examine what is gut flora and its importance to human health. This isn’t going to be an extensive overview, just hitting some of the important highlights that you can find over at Wikipedia.
Inside our digestive tract, there is an extremely complex community of microorganisms that is the second half to a mutually beneficial relationship (we make up the first half). The flora helps absorb certain types of vitamins and minerals that would be otherwise impossible for us to break down and the flora gets a nice snack, a warm and cozy place to live and breed, and relative protection from harmful flora.
The balance and makeup of gut flora changes over time, usually due to diet and illness. When in proper balance, the mutually beneficial relationship can help the host by managing depression, weight, boosting the immune system, and maintaining overall health. When the balance of flora is disrupted, that’s where the connection between depression, etc. comes in for the host. Balance can be restored, but it takes an awareness that there is an issue, to begin with.
This isn’t to say that all depression, cancers, obesity, and other health issues stem solely from gut flora imbalance, but improper flora make up could contribute to the conditions (either impede healing or exacerbate existing issues).
Feeding the Beast
Most types of gut flora feed on what we eat and thrives on certain types of food to survive. If we don’t get enough of a particular type of food a good microbe needs, that colony can be drastically reduced or die out until restored through a form of therapy/rebalancing.
That said, certain foods can cause an overabundance of negative gut flora:
Diet is an important factor in shaping the gut ecosystem. A diet of highly processed foods, for example, has been linked to a less diverse gut community in people. [Dr. Jeffrey] Gordon’s team demonstrated the complex interaction among food, microbes and body weight by feeding their humanized mice a specially prepared unhealthy chow that was high in fat and low in fruits, vegetables and fiber (as opposed to the usual high-fiber, low-fat mouse kibble). Given this “Western diet,” the mice with obese-type microbes proceeded to grow fat even when housed with lean cagemates. The unhealthy diet somehow prevented the virtuous bacteria from moving in and flourishing. – “How Gut Bacteria Help Make Us Fat and Thin“
This isn’t the first time the Western diet was blamed for poor gut flora. NPR ran this story back in August:
In a way, the Western diet — low in fiber and high in refined sugars — is basically wiping out species of bacteria from our intestines. – “Is The Secret To A Healthier Microbiome Hidden In The Hadza Diet?“
And while I was looking for the previous NPR story, I stumbled upon this from 2011:
Patterson explains that in his Canadian practice, where he takes care of indigenous populations near the Arctic Circle, there is a marked increase in the number of diabetic patients he sees.
“The traditional Inuit culture of relentless motion and a traditional diet consisting mainly of caribou, Arctic char, whale and seal has been abandoned over this period of time for Kentucky Fried Chicken and processed food and living a life very similar to ours,” he says. “[They’re] spending a lot of time in front of a glowing screen.”
Part of the problem, says Patterson, is that it’s so much cheaper for processed food to be flown into the Arctic Circle than fresh food. – “How Western Diets Are Making The World Sick“
Evidence appears to be mounting that what Westerners consume is negatively impacting their health. It’s no secret that sugar is in a ton of foods (hidden at times) and a good chunk of the food is highly refined with a ton of preservative/additives. Having some of this stuff in moderation is absolutely fine, but when it’s meal after meal and snack after snack…moderation goes out the window.
Diets high in sugar, fat, simple carbs, etc – all feed the bad bacteria and diminish the good gut flora. So what can we do to help rebalance and make some difference in poor health?
Gut Therapy (both professionally and at home)
Gut therapy is a thing and while it’s in its early stages, it is rather promising for people with depression, weight issues, and even autism. The fact that gut therapy can help minimize the effects of autism is fantastic news, considering how many children are diagnosed each year. Hopefully, this will lead towards a more definitive means of preventing the disease.
But it isn’t always possible to do an expensive procedure.
But from the reading I’ve done, there appears to be a relatively easy (emphasis on “relative”) and cheap way to make some changes: by removing foods and drinks that diminish the good stuff (overly refined and processed foods) and increasing my intake of fermented foods (kombucha and probiotics), I will be able to restore the gut balance and possibly feel better in the process.
Sidenote: a regimen like this would also be helpful after a round of antibiotics. Those don’t care what bacteria they kill when it comes to an infection. Restoring the good stuff is always a good plan after being on antibiotics.
The diet shift I’ve decided to undertake will definitely help: I am removing all the foods that feed the bad flora for a period of time to give the good flora a chance to recoup. I will be augmenting this recovery by taking specific probiotics (I will do cycles for mood, female health, overall health, etc) and drinking plenty of kombucha. It won’t be perfect, but it should help me lose some weight, improve my mood, and hopefully increase my energy.
We’ll see how it goes. I’ll update in a month or so with how I am feeling overall: mood, energy, movements (yes – that kind), MS Symptoms, and weight.
Disclaimer I am not a medical professional and none of these statements have been review by one either. Please use common sense and your best judgment when reviewing these posts for personal information. Please contact me if you have any questions/comments.