When the word “soil” is mentioned, for most people, it conjures up an image of the rich, dark substance in which plants grow. But there is another “soil” environment equally important for good health and wellness; this is the internal gut “milieu,” or microbiome. The microbiome is the habitat in our gut, which, when healthy and functioning effectively, ensures we have optimal digestion and efficient assimilation of nutrients and are well-nourished.
In the past 10 years, more and more research is revealing that the gut biome is responsible not just for great intestinal health but the way our brains work and function. Therefore, good gut health also equates to good mental health and well-being.
Studies have shown that chronic fatigue, depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease can all be affected by the condition and health of our gut. Researchers have even found evidence that Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease may actually start in the gut before spreading to the brain.
A 2002 study found that Lewy Bodies, protein clumps that are typically found in the brains of those suffering with Parkinson’s disease, have also been found in the gut. Similarly, the plaque found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s has also been found in the gut biome.
When we take an interest in holistic health, our eyes are often opened to the fact that all the bodily systems are connected, and, unlike allopathic medicine, which tends to treat afflictions in isolation, holistic therapies tend to look at the body as a whole, interconnected organism. When one bodily system is suffering from dis-ease, it is likely that other systems are also involved and affected; and therefore any treatment given, will also affect the other bodily networks.
When we look at the connection between gut and brain health, we can see that the gut has a nervous system all of its very own, known as the Enteric Nervous System (ENS). The ENS is connected to the brain by the vagus nerve, which runs from the base of the brain to the digestive system. There is constant communication between the ENS and gut “brain” and the cranial brain. The ENS and gut “brain,” like our regular nervous system, also contains neurons, neurotransmitters, ganglia and proteins. The ENS has the same number of nerve cells as the spinal cord and thus is equally important in neural communication in the body.
The relationship between a healthy gut and healthy brain very much endorses the fruit-based raw vegan diet. As research continues to look at the connections between gut and brain health, I believe that, more and more, the raw fruit diet will be validated as being a diet that can help create optimal health for humans.
The issues that occur in the gut, which can then go on to affect the brain and other bodily systems, are very much related to the types of microorganisms that reside in our intestines.
There are three main types of gut bacteria:
1. The “good” guys, or helpful gut bacteria, also known as symbiotic bacteria. These bacteria help create a well-functioning intestinal environment, where food is easily digested and assimilated. These bacteria also produce vitamins, digestive enzymes and hormones, and, in addition, provide support for the brain and assist with the function of other organs. These bacteria have evolved to have a symbiotic relationship with humans. They are associated with fresh raw fruits and vegetables, and, therefore, when our diet consists of these foods, these symbiotic bacteria will proliferate in our guts.
2. The “bad” guys, or unhelpful microbes, are also known as parasitic bacteria. These organisms can damage the intestinal lining, contribute to leaky gut, induce inflammation of the gut, create gas and bloating, create allergies to foods and can negatively affect the assimilation of foods. These bacteria have not evolved with humans; they are not associated with our natural diet; they are opportunistic and feed on substances that are detrimental to our health such as refined and cooked sugars, proteins and fats.
If our diet consists mostly of junk, processed, refined and cooked foods, the bacteria that dominate will be the parasitic bacteria. These bacteria produce toxic byproducts such as lipopolysaccharides (LPS). Not only can these byproducts cause us to crave junk foods to feed the bacteria but can also seriously damage the intestinal environment.
3. The “neutral” bacteria, or commensal organisms, are not particularly helpful but are not detrimental to health either.
Therefore, when the “good” bacteria predominate in our guts, not only will we experience great intestinal health and optimal assimilation of both micro- and macronutrients from the food we eat, but we will also experience good mental health, effective brain function, clarity of thoughts and great energy levels.
So what can we do to encourage the “good” guys in our gut! Primarily, the best way to ensure a healthy gut is to consume a healthful, plant-based diet composed of unprocessed and raw organic produce.
But other factors also affect the gut biome. Anything that is anti-bacterial or kills “germs” can also kill the symbiotic bacteria in your gut. For example, anti-bacterial mouthwashes and antibiotics will both destroy “good” as well as “bad” bacteria.
If a course of antibiotics has been taken, then the gut flora may take time to build up again. Although I do not usually recommend supplements because I believe, in most cases, our diet is the best supplier of what we need, I believe that a good vegan probiotic can be helpful in aiding the gut to rebalance its microbiome after antibiotics have been taken.
Also, anything that is used as a preservative can kill bacteria. The very nature of a substance acting as a “preservative” means that the substance will kill bacteria and stop their growth to prevent a food from spoiling. Therefore, vinegars, salt, sulphur dioxide (E220), potassium sorbate (E202) and any other preservatives can negatively affect “good” gut bacteria. In addition, garlic and raw onion can also affect the gut biome. Whilst garlic may destroy the harmful pathogens present in a carnivorous diet, in a frugivorous diet, it may not be necessary and may even be too strong for the very different microbiome that exists in a fruit-eater’s gut.
We can also opt for nonsprayed and organic produce. Chemicals in our food can also disrupt the gut flora balance whilst organic fruits and vegetables encourage the growth of symbiotic bacteria.
One reason why people whose diet consists of highly processed and refined products crave these foods is due to the parasitic gut bacteria, creating a chemical craving for refined foods. The bacteria depend on these foods to survive, so it is in their best interest to ensure more junk and processed provisions are eaten. So if you find yourself craving processed foods, which you would rather not be eating, be mindful that you are involved in a biochemical war between your gut bacteria and your desire to eat healthfully! Your best ammunition in this situation is to eat plenty of fresh plant foods and to create a gut environment that is no longer conducive to the parasitic intestinal bacteria.
Stress also greatly affects the digestive system and the ENS. Therefore, by having strategies in place in our lives to help us deal effectively with stress, will greatly benefit our digestive tract.
Fasting or mono diets of juicy fruit can help reset and rebalance the gut microbiome. Each time after I have been on a mono orange-juice diet, my digestive system runs extremely effectively, and I feel like I have had a cleaning and rejuvenation of my gut. After researching the gut microbiome and diet, I can appreciate why an orange-juice diet can make the gut feel like it has just been spring cleaned and serviced!
In just 24 hours, your gut population can change dramatically according to what you eat, what you do and your stress levels.
If you change your diet to include fresh produce and reduce refined products, you may experience a temporary detoxification, as the “bad” bacteria die off and release endotoxins. This is an example of how a bodily state can sometimes get worse before it gets better. So you may need to be mindful and rest and be gentle to yourself during this time.
I very much believe that good health really does begin in the gut. As our guts heal and rebalance and the intestinal soil we create and build up in them is healthy, then other areas of our bodies will also heal and benefit from the changes. In addition, because vital nutrients and other substances are created in our digestive tracts, when our guts heal, we can then be in a position to create and assimilate Vitamin K, Vitamin B12, biotin, digestive enzymes and hormones, all of which can be produced by bacterial action in a healthy gut.
In addition to influencing the body’s nutrient level, the gut plays a vital role in our nervous system. The ENS secretes more than 30 different neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine, glutamate and nitric oxide. Many of these neurotransmitters are vital for the correct functioning of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. For example, 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is created in the intestines by gut flora and nervous system tissue. The intestines also produce the same quantity of dopamine as is manufactured in the brain.
To conclude, what we eat really does determine the state of health of our digestive system and the nature of the microbes that reside there. We can create a healthful environment of symbiotic and helpful bacteria that not only will improve our digestion and assimilation but help create great health in every other part of our body and mind. By choosing fresh organic produce, we can help ensure that we experience the vibrant health and well-being that is our birthright.
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