When our gut stops working properly, problems show up all over our body. Our immune system malfunctions, our metabolism goes haywire (making us fat), our skin erupts and our delicate brain chemistry gets messed up.
This kind of ‘gut failure’ isn’t yet a recognised term in the medical establishment, where doctors tend to see each part of the body as separate and isolated from the rest.
But scientific studies show these effects are very real. Indeed, they are happening to millions to of people as we speak. But why?
A cluster of factors has come together over the last century to create a perfect storm of gut damage. When one or two of these factors come into play, our bodies can often cope and adapt. However when they combine together, as they do for many of us, they can wreak havoc on our bodies.
If we’re going to fix our gut we need to know what happened to break it in the first place. Armed with that knowledge we can make the best choices moving forward, so that we can get well and stay well.
What Does Broken Gut Look Like?
I go into this in my post: How Do I Know If My Gut Is Unhealthy?
To recap, problems can show up all over our body as a result of our gut malfunctioning, and in particular these five big areas:
- DIGESTIVE SYSTEM – we can get bloating, gas, chronic constipation or diarrhea, acid reflux and food intolerances, or at the more severe end of the scale, Crohn’s disease or colitis.
- IMMUNE SYSTEM – we can develop chronic tiredness, recurrent infections, allergies and autoimmune conditions (where our immune system attacks our own body).
- METABOLISM – we may find it impossible to lose weight despite doing exercise and counting calories. Any weight we lose often comes right back again and we end up yo-yo dieting. We can develop Type 2 diabetes and obesity.
- SKIN – we can get acne, chronic rashes, eczema or psoriasis, and often nothing seems to make it better
- BRAIN – we can develop brain fog, anxiety, and depression. It can also show up as ADHD or autism, and in later life as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
So in other words, once our gut is broken, it can become impossible to enjoy food, our immune system misfires, we’re fat, spotty, depressed and on our way to dementia. Grim!
Dysbiosis: Balance Destroyed
All these health problems are signs that our gut isn’t working properly, that it’s lost its natural balance.
When I use the word ‘balance’ I don’t mean it in some airy-fairy, new-age kinda way. Scientists and doctors use the word ‘dysbiosis’ – which means a loss of normal balance – to describe a gut that isn’t working as it should.
In particular this loss of balance relates to not having enough friendly bacteria down there. We used to think that bacteria in our gut were just along for the ride. We’d tolerate them as long as they didn’t cause any mischief, in which case we’d nuke them with antibiotics.
But it turns out these bacteria are much more friendly and helpful than we could ever have imagined. Each of those four systems in the body mentioned above rely on these bacteria to function properly.
In our digestive system they break down food and produce nutrients. For our immune system they teach us to identify friend from foe.
For our metabolism they determine how many calories we extract from food, which in turn can make us fat. For our brain they manufacture neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
Our microbiome is a complex ecosystem, like a rainforest or a coral reef. When healthy and balanced it is strong and resilient. When something disrupts the balance, the ecosystem becomes vulnerable and can collapse completely.
Anything that harms our microbiome, harms us.
So back to the big question, what’s been harming our microbiome so badly?
It’s no coincidence that conditions like obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease appeared for the first time or skyrocketed when the ‘Western Diet’ appeared around the early 20th century.
The only difficulty is that no one can agree on what part of the Western Diet – which is often described as high fat, high salt, high sugar – is to blame.
It’s really incredibly simple: the more processed a food is, the worse it is for our gut.
Our friendly bacteria are kinda fussy: they like actual food, not a bunch of chemicals thrown together in a food processing plant.
For more details check out: 7 Huge Reasons To Avoid Processed Food
Since the 1960’s official health advice in US has been to eat a low-fat diet. Unfortunately this advice was misguided.
Studies now convincingly show that high-fat diets are healthier than low-fat ones. For more details check out: Exploding The Low-Fat Myth Once And For All
This has lead to two huge unintended consequences: there’s been a massive increase in consumption of unhealthy vegetable oils from crops like canola and soy (more on this below). Secondly we’re now consuming well over half of our calories from carbohydrates, many of them heavily refined.
These refined carbs are particularly bad for our microbiome:
- white flour and anything containing it such as pasta, bread, donuts, cookies, baked goods etc
- processed sugar from sugar cane, which contains no nutrients whatsoever and serves no purpose except to tickle our tastebuds.
These carbs feed the WRONG bacteria in our gut. They feed the bad guys. They also drive up our blood sugar and contribute to the diabetes and obesity epidemic.
Polyunsaturated vegetable oils are sold as a healthy alternative to saturated fats like butter or coconut oil.
However these oils are highly processed and bad news for our microbiome. They oxidise at low temperatures and release toxic by-products. They’re also way too high in omega-6 fatty acids, leaving us short of all-important omega-3’s.
Too Many Antibiotics
Antibiotics sure are useful in saving lives, but they happen to be disastrous for our microbiome.
In the long run that means they’re disastrous for us too. Check out The Shocking Ways Antibiotics Can Destroy Your Health
Each time we take antibiotics we kill a portion of friendly microbes, which can take weeks, months or years to recover. In the process we weaken our immune system. Before long we’re in a cycle of lowered resistance followed by yet more antibiotics.
Jeez, What Else?
Here are some other factors that massively affect our microbiome:
Changes in childbirth and breastfeeding:
- Cesarean deliveries: babies miss the opportunity to be ‘seeded’ with their mother’s friendly microbes (I’m not passing judgment, my own son was born by cesarean).
- Bottle instead of breastfeeding: human breastmilk contains a valuable payload of:
- probiotics: friendly bacteria
- prebiotics: food for the friendly bacteria
Every day of our lives we’re bathing in an invisible soup of man-made chemicals which are like weedkiller to our friendly microbes. Most of these chemicals are deemed to be safe in small amounts but in reality have no truly safe level, such as the heavy metals lead or mercury. Sometimes we’re exposed to even worse levels of chemicals in our workplace.
In the case of some chemicals few scientific studies have been carried out or they are still controversial, but they are nevertheless strongly suspected to damage our friendly gut bugs, including:
- chlorine and fluoride in tap water. These can be avoided to some extent by using a water filter.
- residues of pesticides and herbicides used in industrial farming, such as the herbicide glyphosate, also known as Roundup (manufactured by Monsanto). Bear in mind that the companies involved have strong commercial incentives to play down any negative health effects.
Kickstart Your Recovery
Mix these factors together – then sprinkle on a generous topping of alcohol, pharmaceutical drugs and stress – and you have a recipe for the dreaded dysbiosis.
The medical mainstream says that gut-related health problems like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Autoimmune conditions have ‘no cure’.
But that’s only true if we won’t shift your view away from the mainstream dogma.
To start repairing your microbiome so that you can transform your health check out: Clean Eating: More Than Just An Elitist Fad
and also 5 Steps to Successful Detox
Taking care of our microbiome will:
- heal leaky gut, a condition that’s sets off chronic inflammation around the body
- keep us slim
- clear up our autoimmune conditions
- help to keep our mood positive and stable, and our grey matter in tip-top condition all the way into old age
- stop us succumbing to the endless list of Non-Communicable Diseases that are the modern plagues.