John von Arnim ON THE BEST METHODS FOR TUNING UP YOUR BODY’S ‘SUPRA ORGAN’.
Cheap jokes about being bunged up, farting and “the squirts” are stockin-trade for stand-up comics, but gut problems are no laughing matter. Over half of the Australian population suffers from digestive problems in an average year and in February the Federal government earmarked $4 million in funding for the nation’s first dedicated micro-gut health research centre in Sydney. Barely a month later, gastroenterologists from all over the world gathered in Paris to discuss the gut’s real role as a “Supra Organ”, governing everything from our sex lives to allergies, serious diseases and even clearer skin.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, knew more than 2,000 years ago that all diseases started in the gut. But over the past 10 years a torrent of scientific research has pinpointed the digestive system as ‘ground zero’ for the body’s most vital functions, including the production of 80 per cent of the feel-good hormone serotonin. One long-held belief has finally been scientifically proven – gut feel. The gastrointestinal tract is the nervous system’s second biggest network of closely connected neurons and has a direct link to the head known as the brain-gut axis. That’s why you get butterflies in the stomach and feel nauseous when you’re anxious.
THE GUT CRISIS
Over 100 trillion bacterial cells – 99 per cent of your body’s DNA – live in the gastrointestinal tract which begins at the mouth and ends at the anus. If it were spread out flat, it would be the size of a tennis court. One third of this gut microbiota is common to everyone, but two thirds are as specific as a fingerprint to each individual. Over 70 per cent of the body’s immune cells live in the gut and diet, medicines, age, stress and more can all disrupt internal balance. ‘Irregular transit’, to use the correct medical term for diarrhoea and constipation, may be short-term side-effects but one in five Australians suffers from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).
What has caused the gut crisis? Too much processed and junk food, constant stress, the overprescription of antibiotics and excessive alcohol consumption. As a society, we’ve also become OCD about cleanliness. The war on microbes and bacteria was launched in the late 19th Century via pasteurisation and sterilisation and continues today through an avalanche of anti-bacterial products from hand sanitisers to clothing. Improved public health is one of the reasons we live longer, but a lot of helpful bacteria became collateral damage. The widespread increase in allergies and auto-immune diseases is the result of weakened immune systems.
PRO AND PRE-BIOTICS: THE DIFFERENCE
Although eating something live sounds like something out of Alien: Covenant, probiotics have become the first line of defence in restoring gut health. Probiotic-laced foods and beverages are a US$32 billion global industry from dairy-style products to probiotic-boosted sports drinks and capsules.
There’s also an army of books available now that gut health is viewed as a magic bullet to transform your life. Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders, a young German microbiologist, has sold millions worldwide and blends humour with information overload. Improving gut health centres on repopulating gut bacteria and improving function. Cut out starchy, sugary and junk foods, and limit alcohol and caffeine intake for starters. Fibre doesn’t get the attention it deserves because it’s not sexy, but roughage is essential to keeping things moving along. Bulk up your meals with wholemeal bread, rice and pasta, and up your daily fruit and veg quota to two and five portions, respectively.
The probiotic craze has been around for so long – the Japanese Yakult brand was founded in 1935 – that a whopping 80 per cent of consumers link them with gut health benefits. It’s a different story with prebiotics and there’s a lot of confusion between the two. Probiotics are live cultures like yogurt and fermented foods such as miso, kombucha and sauerkraut. Prebiotics are a type of fibre that break down in the gut and feed the probiotic bacteria and encourage microbiota diversity. So for maximum benefits, fuel up on prebiotic-rich foods such as asparagus, onions, garlic, bananas, seeds and berries. Recent research also suggests that a bigger intake of prebiotic foods helps to build resistance to stress.
GET ACTIVE AND TUNE UP FAST
Regular exercise also helps to streamline evacuation. An Irish study contrasting non-athletes with soccer players found that the footballers had twice as much diversity in their gut microbiota and lower levels of inflammation.
The benefits of a gut hack are irresistible – weight loss, better skin and improved mental health and immune system. No one knows this better than Debbie Dickson, a Sydney-based expert in Chinese medicine and integrative wellness practitioner. The digestive system is like a garden, she says. “If it becomes overgrown with undesirable flora, nothing else can survive.”
She has developed the Regul8 range of supplements to cleanse, restore and maintain gut health. A first for the Australian market, the three-part digestive tuneup delivers 100 per cent alive probiotics.
Read more on Dickson’s work at www.regul8.com.au