What tells us more about your risk of developing a disease, DNA or your microbiome? The explosion of DNA testing has meant that we have developed much more knowledge about an individual’s DNA. It’s also clear that simply having a particular gene or a snip does not mean you will necessarily develop the relevant condition. Our DNA is the terrain but the environment is the trigger.
The microbiome on the other hand can tell us more about whether the environment is triggering a condition. Microbial diversity is more critical to health. Loss of diversity seems to have a more negative impact on health and an overgrowth of particular strains of bacteria can also contribute to a higher risk of developing chronic diseases.
Cholesterol is a good example. Looking at the risk factors for cholesterol levels close to 50% is derived from your underlying genetics and 50% from your microbiome. A good diet which increases microbial diversity can make all the difference to your cardiovascular risks. In fact the microbiome strongly influences many of our metabolic risks including factors such as fasting glucose, lactose intolerance and waist circumference.
The bacteria in our gut enable exert their effects by the production of key metabolites. Certain gut bacteria can control the production of these metabolites and therefore significantly influence our function. An example of this is Bifidobacterium lactis. It increases the production of short chain fatty acids in the bowels. These activate the vagal nerve and signal that we feel full. So a deficiency of Bifidobacterium lactic can mean that we don’t have that signal working quickly and therefore we are prone to overeating.
In conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoarthritis and Ankolysing Spondylitis the gut bacteria is often low in strains that produce a metabolite called butyrate. It is often the case that the microbiome has an elevated level of Prevotella Copri or another problematic strain. That is why treatment needs to be focused as much on rebalancing the microbiome to support the strains that are healthy and to crowd out the problematic strains. Prebiotic fibres such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Boulaardi) can be a useful part of treatment. The other critical factor is to ensure that you are feeding the microbiome and my blog on 6 Tips for feeding your gut bacteria right! is a useful guide.
There is still a lot of emerging research in this area so please follow my blog to see the latest updates.
Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives in Sydney. If you think your microbiome needs some attention you can make an appointment online at http://www.elementalhealth.net.au or phone on 8084 0081.
You are taking a probiotic and you think you understand what that does. Now people are talking about prebiotics and you’re not sure whether you should be taking that as well ?
A prebiotic is a food that feeds the gut bacteria whereas a probiotic is a combination of strains of various gut bacteria. Different types of prebiotics can feed different strains of bacteria so the prebiotic can be used therapeutically to promote beneficial strains at the expense of more problematic strains.
Lots of different foods are prebiotics as well as various supplements. For an appropriate list of foods look at my most recent blog Feed your Good Gut Bacteria . In terms of prebiotic supplements there are a number of interesting options to consider.
- Hydrolysed Guar Gum is a partially broken down soluble fiber which is extracted from the Indian Cluster bean.
- Galacto-oligodisaccharidases (GOS) are made from either a milk product source or from chicory roots. It is helpful if someone is also constipated and may increase bifidobacteria as well.
- Larch is the bark of a tree. It supports the production of a key fuel to support the integrity of the gut lining known as butyrate. It also has been shown to support the growth of good gut bacteria such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus which reducing the growth of E Coli and Clostridia. It is thought that the larch stimulates the immune system and therefore keeps opportunistic bugs in check.
- Lactulose is made of up of two sugars galactose and fructose and is used to treat constipation. It is not digested like other sugars and therefore when it moves through to the colon the bacteria can feed on it and it draws water into the stool making it easier to pass.
Once you know the composition of your gut flora you can really assist in building better diversity by supporting the growth of beneficial strains or by crowding out problem bacteria. Ideally using testing such as a Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis or directly through a group like Ubiome you can improve your knowledge of your gut bacteria.
If you need assistance with gut health please make an appointment with Christine Pope on 8084 0081.
At the Bioceuticals Symposium in Melbourne recently I was fortunate to hear from keynote speaker, Dr Terry Wahl’s on the program which put her Multiple Sclerosis into remission. One of the refreshing things about this presentation was the strong focus on diet first, then exercise second and then supplements. The benefit of this approach is that it isn’t just suitable for MS but also anyone suffering from an autoimmune disease and current indications are that this could be in excess of 20% of the population.
Dr Wahl’s was diagnosed with MS in 2000 and used conventional therapies to manage the symptoms. She deteriorated to the extent that she was in a tilt wheelchair and needing to resign from her position at the hospital. Motivated by the downward spiral and with a background in clinical research she started looking for options in the medical literature and looked more broadly at other degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and Huntingdon’s disease. The drug therapies being tested were decades away so her research then led her to vitamins and supplements. What she found was a number of nutrients that slowed the pace of her MS but did not resolve the underlying condition. After discovering Functional Medicine in 2007 she decided to redesign her diet to try and incorporate those nutrients from food. This had such a significant impact that she went from a wheelchair to walking in one year.
The basis of her program is significant dietary change, basically flooding the body with nutrients. This is done by removing gluten, dairy and sugar and replacing it with a lot of nutrient dense vegetables and phytochemical rich fruit as well as small amounts of good quality protein and fats. The program encourages the use of butter which has been demonised for so long although ideally only the butter of grass fed cows so its rich in nutrients. It also includes small amount of organ meats, ideally organic, for their nutrient density. So pate is back on the menu but you can’t eat it with bread!
Key components of the diet are as follows;
- Up to 9 cups a day of vegetables and fruit of which ideally 3 cups are green leafy vegetables and 3 cups are sulphur containing vegetables and the remaining are brightly coloured vegetables and fruit.
- Small quantities of good quality protein ideally grass fed or organic.
- Fermented foods in small quantities initially to assist in feeding beneficial gut bacteria.
- Seaweed to provide adequate amounts of the essential mineral iodine
- Organ meats such as liver or heart once or twice a week, these should ideally be organic but particularly important to have organic liver as many toxins can be stored in the liver.
- Good quality fats such as olive oil and grass fed butter.
For more information on the specifics of this diet her book is invaluable and she also has many resources on her website including meal plans.
In addition to the dietary changes, adequate sun exposure for Vitamin D as well as regular exercise are critical. Typically exercise is often difficult for MS patients however she recommends working with a suitably qualified exercise therapist to ensure that activity is appropriate and builds up gradually. The advantage is that regular exercise increases the number of mitochondria which assist in building energy, so this is helpful with the fatigue associated with MS and other auto-immune conditions.
Christine Pope is a Naturopath based at Elemental Health at St Ives and can be contacted for appointments on 8084 0081. Christine works with clients to optimise the diet and support them with supplements and herbal medicine.
Research shows that on average probiotics last 13 to 17 days in the gastrointestinal tract which means that, whilst it is a good strategy in the short term to crowd out problematic bacteria, the reality is that diet is the best way to improve your gut flora.
So what do you need to do to feed your gut bacteria right?
- At least 6 serves of veggies and 2-3 pieces of fruit daily! Why? The resistant starch as well as pectins found in these foods provides a good source of food for gut bacteria so you need to make sure that your diet includes sufficient to feed them well.
- Take probioitic strains that you may be low in – many people use a Comprehensive Digestive Stool analysis (CDSA) to see if they are low in specific strains.
- Know your yoghurts – Whilst most claim that they contain beneficial strains only Vaalia and Activa have been tested and have verifiable claims. Vaalia yoghurt contains three beneficial strains which seems to generate good results at approximately half a cup a day. Most people who are lactose intolerant can cope with approximately half a cup.
- Spirulina, green tea and almonds have been shown to increase the levels of Lactobacilli – green tea also may increase fat burning and almonds are a good source of essential fatty acids.
- Bifidobacteria can be assisted by eating raw carrots and brown rice – which also provide a source of good fibre for the gut.
- Fermented Foods like sauerkraut, kim-chi and cabbage are another proven method to improve gut health and flora as well as added benefits such as – reducing pesticide residue, helping metabolise hormones and reducing anti-nutrients while increasing the concentration of key nutrients such as niacin by up to 175%!
You might find more useful information in a recent blog on Prebiotics versus probiotics.
Christine Pope is a nutritionist and homeopath based at Elemental Health at St Ives. Her focus in clinical practice is on improving gut health as it is critical to improving overall wellbeing.