Gut reaction

Life without bacteria would be impossible.— Louis Pasteur

It is hard to imagine that as the new century dawned 18 years ago the editors of Science prophesied that “human microbe research would become the new hot topic worldwide”. 

It seems gut microbiome has always been a hot topic. But it took another five years, in 2005, for the prophecy to be realised when Australian researchers Barry Marshall and Robin Warren were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery that peptic ulcer disease was primarily caused by Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium with affinity for acidic environments, such as the stomach.

In people with compromised immune systems this bacteria can cause cancer. In Australia H. pylori is classified as a class 1 carcinogen. Our top research body, the CSIRO, says Australia has one of the highest incidence rates of chronic diseases of the digestive system.

And yet we’re only just learning the link between our gut microbiome and why we get sick. In 2014 new research linked the Western diet to asthma, autism, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, emphysema and cancer. 

What this research did was reveal how a healthy diet could prove to be the best preventable medicine, even cure, because food affects the 1.5 kg of bacteria we carry deep inside our gut. 

In Canada, 2014 research revealed fixing our microbiome was as easy as eating 50g of fibre daily – “mainly in the form of resistant starch-and reduced fat and protein”. It suggested current guidelines (25g-30g) for the consumption of fibre-rich foods were too low and increasing the fibre recommendation to more than 50g was “likely to have an immediate effect on colon cancer risk”.

That’s good news given belly problems in North America account for more than 200 million doctor’s visits and billions in health care costs annually. 

But as early as 2010, Mark Hyman MD — the director of Functional Medicine in Cleveland — was already spruiking the benefits of addressing imbalances in the function and flora of the gut in his blogs.

He suggested five steps to rebalance our gut flora:

1. Eat a fibre–rich, whole foods diet—rich in beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, to feed and grow good bugs.

2. Limit sugar, processed foods, and animal fats/protein as they provide food for unhealthy bugs.

3. Avoid the use of antibiotics, acid blockers and anti-inflammatories, which change gut flora for the worse.

4. Take probiotics daily—these healthy, friendly flora can improve digestive health and reduce inflammation and allergy.

5. Consider specialised testing—such as organic acid testing, stool testing (to look at the DNA of the bacteria in your gut), and other tests to help assess gut function.

Jump to 2018 and there are myriad books, including recipes and TV medical shows on improving the microbiome, cementing the gut health revolution prophesied in 2000.

I guess we really are what we eat. And instead of popping a pill all we need do is improve our diet and double our fibre intake.

As a Health Care Ambassador for Health Storylines, it is important to be part of the movement to raise awareness of living a healthy life and being your own health advocate.

Search for this tool, or select add tool and it comes up under the Health Tracking category

It is also crucial to track symptoms. Health Storylines is useful for this, especially the Symptom Tracker tool to record and update symptoms as well as estimate severity from 1-10. It also allows you to rate the impact of all symptoms. Select done to see a graph. In addition you can add a comment, which provides handy information should you need to show it to your GP or specialist.

So, are you ready to join me in living a healthier life? You are, great. Just click on this link to get started. 

The author has used Health Storylines since being diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumours in 2016. After more than a year documenting her health via the app, she has become a Self-Care Ambassador as part of a pilot to encourage others to track their health.