So here I go again – talking about the gut, which as most of you have already guessed is a favourite topic of mine!
And with good reason – the more we find out about our gut health, and the delicate balance of flora (bacteria) in our gut, the more we are realising that this exceptional organ is taking centre stage in all sorts of areas of our wellbeing. From depression to diabetes, allergies, eczema and even how easily we catch colds & flus, our gut is involved in so many disorders that are oh-so-common in today’s world.
While I could go on all day about this topic, today I want to talk about gut symptoms – the often downright distressing discomfort that comes with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, diarrhea, bloating, excess gas, and food intolerance. These symptoms are responsible for a high number of visits to doctor’s offices, as well as affecting relationships, careers, and self-esteem. Digestive discomfort causes a lot of misery, however to date there hasn’t been a lot of answers to be found from a modern medical approach. This is where natural medicine may be of benefit – by addressing one of the major contributing factors and driving causes behind digestive conditions, that of the gut bacterial balance.
Meet Your Microbiome
Your collection of gut bacteria is completely unique to you – not unlike a fingerprint, we all have an individual collection of gut bacteria that live in our digestive tracts, doing their stuff. These little unpaid workers are called our ‘microbiome’, and they are the topic of a lot of keen interest in the scientific community. Modern research has identified over one thousand species of bacteria that can live in our gut – some which are beneficial to our bodies, some that we think are neutral, and some that are pathogenic (harmful). And some of them we just don’t know what they do yet!
What we do know is that it appears to be healthier to have a large, diverse population of different kinds of species of bacteria, and minimal harmful types. But this can be easier said than done.
Keeping The Balance
Like a see-saw, our microbiome can easily become unbalanced. Certain medications (such as antacids for reflux, and antibotics), stress, ‘stomach bugs’/food poisoning episodes, high alcohol intake and lack of fresh food in the diet can tip our gut bacteria into an unhealthy state. These kinds of lifestyle influences tend to favour the growth of unhealthy types of bacteria, and minimize the growth of the ‘good’ bacteria that help to keep us healthy and vibrant. This is a state known as ‘dysbiosis’. Studies have revealed that dysbiosis can play a significant part in IBS and other gut symptoms, which is often overlooked by orthodox investigations.
Not only can you have ‘too much of a bad thing’ with your gut bacterial populations, they can also start to misbehave in other ways. In some cases, your gut flora can end up growing in the wrong place! Normally found predominantly towards the end of the digestive tract, when conditions are favourable your gut bacteria can start growing further ‘north’, and go a little crazy in your small intestine. This is called ‘Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, or SIBO for short. Experiencing bloating within an hour of eating a meal tends to be a hallmark of this condition, as these bacteria have a bit of a party when you eat something, and release gas as a by-product.
Addressing gut health and re-establishing a healthy microbiome is at the core of natural health, and it can be the best place to start when addressing any kinds of gut issues. There are many effective natural treatments and nutritional strategies that can be used to reduce symptoms and start on your way to feeling better.
After all, it was Hippocrates (470–360BC, the ‘father of medicine’) who stated that ‘all disease begins in the gut’. It turns out father knows best after all!