Microbiome or genome – what tells you more?

shutterstock_609019046What 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.

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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.

 

 

How to ensure your child gets the best gut flora.

Beautiful pregnant woman relaxing on grass
Most people think that a baby gets its gut flora during delivery and that C section means they don’t acquire the same beneficial flora. Actually a baby can develop gut flora up to about age four and there are a number of factors that can affect it.

First up it seems that the uterus is not sterile and there is already some gut flora distributed in utero. So if you already have a child with allergies, or you have them, make sure during your pregnancy that you supplement with a good range of probiotics or consume fermented foods regularly but at a minimum for at least two months prior to the delivery.

Spoon Of Yogurt With Blueberries On Top

Breast feeding also passes useful flora to the baby and you don’t really need to breastfeed for that long to see a significant benefit. Solely breast feeding to 4 months was shown by a large scale South Australia study to reduce allergies by at least 25%. I know its often challenging breast feeding and if you have difficulties its really worth speaking with either the nurses at the Early Childhood Centres or the Nursing Mother’s Association, both sources of invaluable support.

If you end up having intervention like a C section or you can’t breastfeed , it may be useful to add a specific probiotic for children, as well.

Minimising antibiotic use during the first few years is also an important way to ensure a stable and resilient gut flora. Homeopathic medicines can make a great alternative treatment for children during the early stages of illness. I often use a combination called ABC mix for parents to assist with fevers and ear infections. ABC mix is three homeopathic medicines known as Aconite, Belladonna and Chamomila and can be a good combination to use with mild fevers or ear pain.

Christine Pope is a homeopath and nutritionist based at St Ives at Elemental Health. She is also Head of Nutrition at Nature Care College at St Leonards. She runs regular workshops on health related topics at her practice and her next workshop is on “Managing Stress” on July 15 with Coach, Cheryl Alderman .