Sunday, 28 May 2017

Gut Bacteria Influences Health and Well-Being

Gut bacteria photo from the article on the link between
anxiety and gut bacteria (linked left)
There were several posts that came up on my Facebook feed this morning about gut health and various illnesses. One linked bipolar “disease” to an unusual and deficient gut biome while another one explored the link between the gut biome and Alzheimer’s. Neither of these diseases were common 100 years ago. And here's a slightly older story on the link between gut bacteria and anxiety.

So what is happening in our digestive tract now that wasn’t happening in the past?  It’s fairly obvious that we have a lot of processed foods in our diets that our grandparents and great grandparents never ate. Food additives—artificial colours, artificial flavours, flavour enhancers, preservatives, mouth-feel/texture ingredients—are often identified by numbers on food packets, or disguised as something else. “Flavour” sounds less alarming than “artificial flavour,” “brown rice syrup” sounds healthier than “sugar”, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein sounds fairly benign but it contains MSG (monosodium glutamate), a “nasty”.  Those are fairly obvious things.

Then we have packaging. Everything these days seems to come in plastic bags or wraps: snacks, breakfast cereals, pet foods, fresh meat, fresh vegetables. We have plastic-lined cans, plastic lined boxes, plastic milk containers and plastic juice containers. Buying a cooked chicken at the supermarket deli? Bet it comes wrapped in hot plastic. Yes, we even cook in plastic, from microwaving in plastic containers to frying meat in Teflon pans and baking muffins in pink silicone “tins”. Besides being a disaster for our landfills and rubbish dumps, there is growing concern about the impact of the leaching of harmful molecules from plastic food wraps, containers and cookware into our food and bodies. The jury is still out, but long-term accumulation of toxins from plastic in the body seems likely.

Meanwhile our commercial food crops are grown with a bevy of toxic chemicals: weed-killers and pest-killers are scattered and sprayed over crops, sometimes shortly before harvest. For example, some farmers actively spray their wheat and potato crops with glyphosate (RoundUp) before harvest to make harvesting easier and more profitable. They call it “desiccation;” which sounds less ominous than poisoning--the power of vocabulary. The plants take up these poisons systemically and retain it, and it doesn’t wash off. Even the chemical fertilizers used to encourage growth in tired soils are toxic.

Think meat and dairy products are better options? That all depends upon what the animals have been eating. GMO corn and soy are common ingredients in animal feed (probably including what you’re feeding your dog or cat), and even “grass fed” beef and sheep are sometimes grazed on sprayed pastures. Food animals are also treated with antibiotics, chemical wormers and drenches, and some may be given growth hormones.

Our water, too, is contaminated with chemicals. Chlorine (which kills bacteria, including the bacteria in your gut) and fluoride are the two most talked about chemical additives in our tap water. Chlorine kills not only the bad bacteria, like e coli, that may be lurking in our water, but also the good bacteria in our digestive tracts.

And the pills we take to fix our various ailments also alter our gut bacteria. Antibiotics are notorious, of course (killing bacteria is their job), but most drugs alter the gut biome.

Our whole economic system is geared around making a profit, not around enhancing human health, and the chemical companies reign. While most foods and products we buy are not toxic in a single-serving sense, years of accumulated toxic load on our systems may affect all of our organs, and even single servings may have temporary or longer-term effects on gut flora and fauna. And we need all those eager little gut bacteria to stay healthy and digest our food. 

There are, of course, a few things you can do right now to make a difference. Buy organic food products as much as you can or grown your own food. Avoid “junk” food and highly processed foods. Do your own cooking. Don’t cook in plastic, and limit the amount of plastic used in contact with foodstuffs. Use filtered water if you can. Don't take drugs you don’t really need. Avoid, or at least limit, your own chemical contamination.

Ultimately, though, the system needs to change if we want to live in a world where making healthy, natural choices isn’t dependent upon personal awareness, education, and financial situation. Awareness is growing. And that’s a good start.

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