I’m on a journey to guide women in understanding that their symptoms aren’t in their head, and more importantly, they aren’t their fault.
5 pillars of gut health
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In the U.S., it is recommended that the average person consumes 45-55 grams of protein daily, yet most people exceed 90 grams. We are not protein deficient, we are fibre deficient. The average American woman consumes 14 grams of fibre a day, and the average man, 22 grams. The Canadian government only recommends 25 grams of fibre per day for women and 38 grams per day for men. We can do much better than this. In fact, we NEED to do much better than this.
Heart disease is the number one disease of affluence in North America and it has recently been linked to an enzyme called TMAO that is directly related to specific bacteria in the gut. Consumption of soluble fibre can significantly decrease, by 60%, the activity of this enzyme, and subsequently, heart disease. The number two cause of death in North America is cancer. Fibre can increase the activity of natural killer cells—which can destroy cancer—can activate the immune system, and we already know that fibre has a direct protective effect against colon cancer.
If we were truly eating enough fibre, all of us would be having soft but formed, easy to excrete bowel movements at least two times a day (sorry not sorry for the TMI). Currently, the accepted “normal” bowel movement regime is between once every three days and three times a day. This isn’t right. We have a constipation epidemic going on in both Canada and the US, and one of the major reasons that constipation may be so prevalent is because so many of us are experiencing negative changes in our gut microbiome, which is ultimately having a negative effect on our ability to eliminate.
Fact: 60% of the weight of your stool is bacteria. Not food, but bacteria. It makes sense then, that if your microbiome is unhealthy, you won’t have sufficient weight to be able to easily and comfortably pass a bowel movement through the colon. Of course, other factors could be playing a role, but the microbiome is a major component in constipation that isn’t being discussed nearly enough.
There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibre dissolves in water and insoluble fibre does not. Simple enough, right?
Most plant foods contain a mixture of both types. For example, asparagus contains inulin, which is a known type of soluble fibre and a prebiotic (prebiotics are food for your healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome). Like other vegetables, asparagus also has insoluble fibre, which works to bulk up your stool.
Soluble fibre is highly underrated and is worth an entire blog post in itself. Why? Because soluble fibre undergoes a transformation in the gut that creates the baseline of health for all individuals. With the help of the good bacteria in your gut, soluble fibre is fermented and converted into what are called short chain fatty acids (SCFA) (ex: butyrate and acetate). These short chain fatty acids feed our good gut bacteria, prime our immune system, reduce our risk of colon cancer, lower our cholesterol, reduce leaky gut, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, and supply our microbiome with the nutrients it needs to grow the number of good bacteria in the gut. In other words, SCFA help the good guys build a team to fight the bad guys.
We can mostly only get SCFA from plant foods. Our microbiome is vegan because the good guys eat PLANTS. For example, bacteria like lactobacillus acidophilus (commonly found in probiotic supplements) eat prebiotics in the form of fibre and convert that fibre into SCFA, which can then be used as fuel to favour the growth of more good bacteria.
Fact: there are approximately 100 trillion bacteria in and on our bodies that make up our microbiome. We have evolved to have a relationship with these bacteria and at no time in history was our gut sterile—ever.
If you compare this number to the number of human cells we have in our bodies, we are only 10% human in theory. These bacteria carry 99% of our genetics, which means, again, in theory, we are only 1% human. These bacteria live predominantly in our gut, are mostly anaerobic (live without oxygen), and make up 3-7 lbs of our body weight—almost heavier than our heads! There are estimates that we host over 35,000 species of bacteria in our bodies.
These bacteria communicate directly with our brains and use proper nerve signalling. This is why it is so critical to take a look at our microbiome when it comes to health, immunity, and disease.
Today, conditions such as leaky gut, autoimmune disease, and food sensitivities are all on the rise; there is an increasing number of studies to back up the fact that many of these conditions are connected to a poor gut microbiome that most of us (in the western world) are living with due to inadequate food and lifestyle choices.
For example, let’s take a look at celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system goes on the attack when gluten is consumed. One out of every three people in North America have celiac disease, but only 1% actually manifest the disease. Why? Because three conditions must be met in order for someone to develop celiac disease:
If all these conditions are met, it is very possible to develop celiac disease.
Fatty liver, cirrhosis, IBS, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, ADD, and autism are all starting to be investigated as diseases of dysbiosis, or unfavourable changes in the gut microbiome.
Within a few days of eating animal products, you will change your gut microbiome. You will start to develop bacteria in the gut that are not only good at processing fat, but also at breaking down bile and bile salts. Why? Because animal products contain significantly higher quantities of fat and require bile (made by the liver, secreted by the gallbladder), to be broken down in the body. Our gut microbiome is adaptable to whatever foods we eat. These animal based bacteria (that are good at breaking down fat and bile), are strongly associated in scientific literature with an increased risk of developing cancer.
In an ideal world, we would all have and want bacteria that are associated with a healthy immune system. In order to do so, we need to be eating mostly plants.
We cannot separate the food we eat and the bacteria we have in the gut, which, we are beginning to understand, is tied to almost every other system in the body.
In western medicine, there is such a strong focus on killing bacteria and not enough emphasis on building up healthy bacteria to help reduce the risk of bad bacteria taking over the body (i.e. preventative nutrition).
If you take an antibiotic such as ciprofloxacin (commonly used to treat diarrhea and UTI’s) for five days, you can wipe out 35% of the bacteria in your gut (the good guys and the bad guys). It can take up to 2 years to repopulate your gut microbiome, and still, even then, your gut will never go back to the way it was before. Why? Because you have selectively chosen the 65% of cipro resistant bacteria in your gut for survival and killed off everything else, including so many of your good bacteria. These not so diverse bacteria will be the ones that play a major role in your gut health moving forward.
I highly recommend probiotics for my clients suffering from intestinal discomfort and gut health issues. (the only brand I recommend is Seed—use my code ROSLYNKENT15 for 15% off your order). However, a probiotic cannot and will not replace a healthy, whole food plant based diet high in fibre and prebiotics. It really is quite simple: fibre feeds the good guys and the good guys can significantly reduce your risk of developing some of the most prevalent (and growing) diseases of affluence as well as viruses. If you want a healthy gut, you have to feed your bacteria well.
Want to address your gut health imbalances but don’t know where to start? Start by joining my free facebook community, The Healthy Gut Solution.
– Ros xo