Friday, November 6, 2015

Gut Flora, What Do We Really Need to Know?

By now we all know that the genome studies identified 90% of the DNA that makes up our bodies is not ours and actually belongs to bacteria, viruses, fungus, and unknowns. This has lead to an amazing amount of research on the microbes in and on our body over the last several years. 

When I was a fledgling Naturopathic student learning about gut microbes back in the late 80's no one paid any attention to them but us. We were ridiculed in fact by main-stream medicine. Over the years, many people started using live cultured yogurt and other fermented products. You knew it had went mainstream when a lot of companies jumped on the band-wagon and started selling pretend yogurt with no live cultures. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of those. (If you want to see if you are buying live yogurt, simply try to make your own yogurt with it as a culture starter and see if it grows.) Anyway, yogurt was just a beginning as there has been a whole fermented food movement going on for many years. Finally, research and main-stream medicine has caught up with the rest of us hard-core food fermenters. They are finding out that supporting good digestive flora supports general health and protects you from disease.

The really funny thing is that just a couple of generations ago, everyone fermented food. It was just what you did. My Dad remembers when he was a kid, they fermented both vegetables and meat in his household. He said the meat did not taste so great, but it got them through some hard winters. He remembers loving the home made sauerkraut. We traded fermented food in for canned food and we really made a mistake when we did that. We lost the food nutrients to high temperatures and lost all the good gut flora.

Research is proving that having a large amount of gut flora and a great variety of  "good" gut flora helps not only keep the "bad" gut flora at bay, but it also keeps you healthy in general. Gut flora are being researched for everything from depression to healthy skin. 

Let  me make this whole avalanche of research easy for you. We can skip  reading all of it and simply support our digestion by eating live fermented foods/drinks every day. Eat and drink a variety of them. This could be yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, cheese, kvass, kombucha, kefir, or many other types of fermented foods and drink. You can make them yourselves easily or find them at a health food store. If you buy them, just make sure it has LIVE BUGS in it. Make sure it is not sterilized in any way or the microbes will be dead. If you do this, you will be supporting not just great digestive capacity but also your entire body that depends on your digestion for its nourishment. Additionally, when your gut microbes are happy and healthy, for some reason the microbes in the rest of your body play nicer with everyone and you feel better overall.  

By the way, you can feed them to your animals too. I have fed goats, chickens, dogs and cats live cultured foods. My dog eats live cultured food once or twice each day.

Now one more thing you can do besides supplying "good" flora to your gut, is to support the flora already there. This can be done by increasing your intake of prebiotics which are basically different types of fiber. Water soluble fiber is best. You can spend a lot of money at the store on things like inulin and pectin in capsules or simply make sure you are getting pectin in the form of fruit such as an apple with the skin on. (Not all fruit has a lot of pectin in it.) Rather than buying the gut prebiotic inulin that is in most prebiotics, just dig up a dandelion root, jerusalem artichoke root or burdock and eat the root. Some other examples of water soluble fiber are flax seeds, funugreek seeds, marshmallow root, and psyllium seed (use seed, not husk). Don't over do it. A little is enough and make sure you drink plenty of water with that water soluble fiber. They will act to soften your bowel movements if you drink them with water. However, if you don't get enough water with it, you can get the opposite effect and end up with constipation.

A lot less people would be going to see their doctor if they simply ate fermented food with all their meals and tossed out their packaged, prepared foods.

Now I have to admit, I am still going to read the gut flora research as I am fascinated by it, but in reality it is just mental masturbation. I am really not going to learn to do anything differently than our ancestors have done through-out antiquity. I may share some of the really interesting research with you just for fun.

If you have any questions about supporting gut flora or comments, let me know.