What’s bugging me?

Early on during my diagnosis in 2003 a close family member introduced me to the macrobiotic way of eating.  I was given a book written by a women who was severely ill with Crohn’s disease, another autoimmune disease, also affecting the digestive system.  In this book, the woman began eating a macrobiotic diet which is heavy in grains, vegetables, sea vegetables, beans, fish, and miso soup.  If you research macrobiotics you will find that there is some variation from the list I provided.  Each time the woman was seriously ill, the person guiding her on food choices continued to emphasize miso soup repeatedly.  By the end of the book, this woman explained that she had been free of all symptoms now for over 20 years since changing her diet. This gave me so much hope and I began to experiment.  Unfortunately for me, eating a diet high in grains induces symptoms of my autoimmune disease and headaches. However I was intrigued by the idea that miso soup seemed to be the key to decreasing this woman’s symptoms.    

I continued to experiment with different dietary theories over the years, such as Paleo and the SCD diets; both had shown promise with autoimmune disorders, specifically ulcerative colitis.  The one factor however consistent throughout all the dietary theories I researched was that they all included some form of fermented food such as miso (fermented soy) which include “the good bacteria”as a key to improving health.  I became fascinated with this topic of having healthy bugs in my gut! I had so many questions, What makes the bugs go away? What do I eat besides miso soup to get the healthy bugs? Is it just digestive autoimmune disorders that have an imbalance of healthy gut bacteria?  Maybe if I could replace this bacteria I would no longer be sick?

Science today is catching up to what macrobiotics and other diets have suggested; a healthy gut or thriving microbiome is really where it all begins. What science is beginning to tell us is that our gut is like our SECOND BRAIN!  Not only is research beginning to explain that an imbalance in healthy gut bacteria is implicated in all types of autoimmune disorders, several studies explain that the healthy gut bacteria actually secrete serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates our moods! As a matter of fact, there are hundreds of millions of neurons connecting the brain to the enteric nervous system ( the part of the nervous system controlling the GI system).  In addition, this entire flood of healthy bacteria also interacts dynamically with the immune system! For me I didn’t understand it all at that moment, but I had become convinced that creating a healthy balance of gut bacteria would help me with my GI disorder, headaches, mood and possibly more.  

The more I began to learn I came to believe that all those antibiotics I had taken to address my chronic sinus infections, and Advil to relieve me of my headaches were a part of the puzzle removing that healthy gut bacteria.  I also learned that diets high in sugar and processed foods could also kill healthy gut bacteria. In addition, all this damage to my gut led me to investigate whether I had food intolerances, which I had suspected could be gluten, dairy and corn, ( more about food intolerances and the gluten free craze in upcoming blogs).  I also learned that while some studies will claim artificial sweeteners such as Splenda are “safe”, many studies have shown that these sweeteners actually latch onto the healthy gut bacteria and remove them from the body.  There are several other ways that good bacteria balance is affected in the body such as this bacteria not being transferred vaginally during birth, as well as the hygiene theory that, we are too clean. Feel free to further research this fascinating topic. Lastly and most importantly I learned that STRESS can change the microbiome.  I now have this crazy vision as I begin to get stressed or angry that there is this enemy combative in my gut killing all the good bacteria contributing to my health issues! More about stress relieving techniques in the future.

In any event, I’m sure you can see I’m a bit of a science nerd when it comes to learning about the microbiome in our gut.  I predict one day we will be able to have our gut bacteria anylzed just like a urinalysis or routine blood test to let us know exactly what bacteria we are depleated of.  Right now it is, pardon the expression a “crap shoot” to figure out exactly what bacteria we have in our own guts.  I am hopeful that better understanding the gut, brain, immune system connection can transform medicine as we currently know it.  

Today, I do my best to include a variety of fermented foods in my diet daily.  Some examples include pickles and sauerkraut which can be made at home or bought in the store. The pickle and sauerkraut jar must state that there are live active cultures as pasteurized versions have killed the good bacteria.  If you can tolerate dairy, examples include Kefir milk, yogurt and cultured butter. Another example is kombucha, which is fermented tea and comes in a variety of flavors. One of my favorite ways to increase the healthy gut variety is to get a Dog! Aside from being a great stress reliever, people who own pets such as dogs have been shown to have a greater variety of bacteria in their guts.  While this is far from a complete list, here are some ways you can begin changing your gut health.  Of course always discuss dietary changes or concerns with your physician.  

Now Go Love You,

Jill 😊 

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