There is an old adage among holistic doctors that says health begins and ends in the gut. Unfortunately, most of our mainstream colleagues have been a little slow to catch on. When most doctors talk about gut bacteria or probiotics, they focus on how they affect digestion and even your bowel movements.
But we’re learning fast that there’s a whole lot more at stake than an upset tummy. Research is proving that maintaining a healthy balance of gut bugs can help you beat everything from diabetes to depression. In fact, gut bacteria may even hold the key to beating one of the deadliest cancers around.
Bad bacteria linked to colon cancer
A recent study, published in the journal Genome Medicine, found that keeping enough healthy bacteria in your gut may be a powerful secret to preventing colon cancer.
Researchers analysed the gut bugs in colon cancer patients and found they were far different than those of their cancer-free peers. Those volunteers with cancer had many more bacteria in their stool, including pathogenic – or potentially disease-causing – bugs than the healthy volunteers.
But even more telling was the fact that one of the bacteria the researchers found in greater quantity, Providencia, has been proven to damage the lining of the intestine.
It appears that infections caused by bad gut bugs like Providencia slowly damage the lining of the colon over the years. This damage eventually causes the healthy cells to turn into cancerous ones.
This groundbreaking theory not only provides us with a much greater understanding of how and why colon cancer occurs, it also provides us with a potential path to conquering this formidable foe once and for all. Some simple short- and long-term changes to our diet and supplement regimen could be all it takes to get the upper hand over these bad bacteria.
I’ll have more on those changes in just a moment, but first let’s take a closer look at what else we know about the connection between belly bugs and our overall health.
Could bacteria in your belly make you fat?
This cause-and-effect connection between gut microbes and cancer isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem at first glance. In the last decade we’ve seen a seismic shift in the way we view gut bacteria. Although we’re really 4 Nutrition & Healing November 2015
just beginning to understand the connection between our gut flora and disease, studies from the last several years have already linked the bacteria in our guts to inflammation, diabetes, mood, obesity and more.
In fact, two recent studies found that our gut flora may be at least partially responsible for whether we’re overweight or normal weight.The studies found that obesity is tied to a form of bacteria in the gut called Firmicutes. Obese patients had about 20 per cent more of the Firmicutes bacteria on board. While another bacterium, Bacteroidetes, was clearly associated with normal weight, with the obese patients having a shocking 90 per cent less of the bugs.
However, when the obese patients lost weight the bacterial balance in their intestines shifted. Suddenly the thinned-down patients had less of the fat-producing Firmicutes in their guts and far more of the Bacteroidetes bacteria. Even more incredibly, when the obesity-linked Firmicutes species was implanted into ‘skinny’ mice they actually gained twice as much fat as a control group of mice. It turns out the Firmicutes bacteria are apparently far more efficient at extracting calories out of food and depositing them in fat.
Belly bug balance linked to diabetes risk
In another study out of China in 2012 researchers revealed the link between the balance of bacteria in the gut and diabetes. Scientists looked at more than 60,000 markers associated with type-2 diabetes and found that people with the disease had an overabundance of bad bacteria and a lack of the helpful bugs in their guts. And of course antibiotics, which use a scatter approach that kills off both good and bad gut bacteria, are associated with insulin resistance and diabetes. In fact, one recent study found that the more often you take the drugs the higher your risk of the disease rises. Downing an antibiotic just five times within 15 years can cause your diabetes risk to skyrocket by 50 per cent compared to someone who took the drug just a single time or never.
Probiotics blow away anxiety
UCLA researchers have even found a link between gut bugs and how we think and feel. Within just four weeks of taking a probiotic supplement there were measurable changes in the brains of women who took them.
The areas of their brain that effect cognition and emotion and sensory stimuli were all affected, according to the study published in the journal Gastroenterology. In the real world that means that the probiotics could help improve mood, reduce anxiety and perhaps even relieve depression. In fact the women in the study were subjected to tests designed to make them feel uncomfortable and those who received the probiotics were measurably less anxious than their peers.
Putting probiotics into action
So how do you keep yourself healthy and maintain your balance of gut bugs? Here are some simple things you can try:
- Start with a quality probiotic supplement from a maker you trust. Look for one that contains several different strains of bacteria.
- Limit the amount of sugar and processed foods you eat. They provide fuel for bad gut bugs. I recommend the Paleo diet which focuses on the meats, vegetables, nuts and other natural foods that our ancestors would have eaten.
- Next, beef up the number of fermented foods in your diet which will naturally help raise your good gut bug levels. Some good ones to try are non-sugar sweetened yoghurts and kefir. In general, you should limit the amount of dairy you eat, but dairy that’s been fermented long enough to eat up the majority of lactose in it, in moderation, is fine.
You can also try homemade ‘pickled’ fruits and vegetables such as sauerkraut, dilled cucumbers and gingered carrots (there are lots or recipes online, search for ‘homemade fermented foods’).
- Work with a holistic doctor to test your gut flora and to get advice on achieving an optional gut bug balance.
Stick to this simple plan and before you know it your gut will be the picture of perfect health – and so will the rest of you.
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Vol. 9, Issue 11, November 2015