When I was a child growing up in the seventies and eighties I knew nothing about gut health, good and bad bacteria, pre and probiotics or lacto-fermentation. I also didn't hear people talk about leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome and coeliac disease. And food allergies were something that children claimed they had so they could get out of eating broccoli "I'm allergic to it mum really!"
In contrast, my sons at age 3 and 6 ask if they can have acidophilus powder (a powdered probiotic supplement) and lacto-fermented vegetables are often on our plates. Times have changed. Or are they coming full circle? Let me explain.
If we consider how far as a society we have moved away from a natural diet, with processed and convenience foods becoming staples it is little wonder that for many people their digestive system is overworked and their gut health compromised.
What causes poor gut health? One of the most common causes of an imbalance in the good and bad bacteria in the gut is through taking antibiotic medication. While antibiotics are in certain instances life saving drugs, they are also (in my humble opinion) overprescribed. Overuse of antibiotics can set up a vicious cycle of weakening gut health and immunity, leading to recurrent infections and more antibiotics. When my children are sick I often take them to our local GP for a diagnosis and then depending on the severity of the ailment I might choose to treat them with homeopathy under the guidance of a qualified homeopath and with chiropractic care, rather than giving them antibiotics. In the instances that I have given them antibiotics I have followed up with an acidophilus supplement to help replenish their gut.
Other causes of poor gut health include:
* a diet low in fibre
* a highly processed diet
* undiagnosed or treated food intolerances
* tendency to rush when eating (rather than chewing well) means food is poorly digested before it reaches the gut and food particles can feed bad bacteria
Recent research shows that the gut health of babies can be compromised by being delivered by caesarean section and by not being breastfed. Let me just point out that it is not my intention in any way to make mothers feel like they have deprived their child of good gut health at birth! I acknowledge that caesarean delivery can be a life saving procedure for both mothers and babies, and that for some women breastfeeding just does not work out despite the fact that they really want it to. I believe though that there is too much medical intervention in pregnancy and birth that leads to a high percentage of babies being born by caesarean and there is little information given about related health issues such as this.
What are the symptoms of poor gut health? An imbalance in good and bad bacteria in your gut can result in mild to severe symptoms and illness that affect not only your physical body but your emotional well-being too. The gut is known as the second brain, about 80% of our body's serotonin (the hormone that makes you happy) is found in the gut if this is out of balance depression can be the result. Others include:
Leaky gut syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome
To name a few!
So, how do we restore and maintain good gut health? This is where we come full circle and look to our ancestors. In her book Nourishing Traditions Sally Fallon dedicates a chapter to the traditional fruit and vegetable preservation method known as lacto-fermentation. This fermentation process imparts the fruit and vegetables with lactobacilli (good bacteria) making the food easier to digest and "promotes the growth of health flora throughout the intestine"(p.89)
For an easy fermentation vegetable recipe take a look at Meg's post over on My Wholefood Romance.
For a fabulously detailed series of posts on gut health and lacto-fermentation read Vanessa's posts here and this one includes a recipe for cultured mayonnaise - yes please!
And then of course there are probiotic (good bacteria) supplements you can buy from the refrigerator at health foodstores and now even in many pharmacies. The reason that probiotics are refrigerated is because they contain live bacteria that die if they are not kept cool.
I am skeptical about the new probiotics coming on to the market that do not require refrigeration. I found this interesting review of non refrigerated probiotic supplements sold in America, many were tested and found not to contain the strains of bacteria they claimed to.
Here is an interesting list of myths associated with taking probiotic supplements.
I suggest that you ask your health practitioner to recommend a probiotic supplement that is suitable for your particular need as there are many brands and many strains all with varying strengths and benefits.
Are probiotic supplements suitable for kids?
There are probiotic supplements on the market branded especially for children. Both my sons had oral thrush as babies and it was suggested to me by my chiropractor that I make a paste of acidophilus powder and water and put it on my nipples at feeding time, this cleared the thrush. The other times I have given them acidophilus is when they have had antibiotics which thankfully has been about 3 times between them. If you think that your child would benefit from taking a supplement do seek advice from a natural health professional.
Where are you at with this topic? Do you take a supplement? Or do you eat fermented foods? Have you made changes to your diet that improved your gut health? I'd love to hear your story.
Further reading: Kris Carr's detailed post 'How to improve your gut health' spells out what gut health is, why it is important and how to get it.
Disclaimer: I write here from personal experience and research. I am not a doctor or scientist. To all readers, please consult your doctor or natural health practitioner if you have any concerns at all about your health, or if you would like to go down a new path to improve your health and wellness seek experienced support.