Your Microbiome, Immune System, and Mental Health
By Cesar Collado
Whether you suffer from chronic sinusitis or mold sickness, controlling the inflammatory response in your body should be a priority. Inflammation is the root of all disease, so keeping it at bay keeps you healthy. Mold hygiene like regularly cleaning your home, clothes, and nose will also go a long way to maintaining your health with the physical removal and mitigation of an environmental inflammagen. Last week’s article on Microbalance homeopathic remedies, Sinus Defense and CellTropin described the benefits of targeted immune system supplements that help the body withstand infection and its propensity for inflammation. However, there remains another critical element to wellness: gut health.
The Importance of the Gastrointestinal System
Your gastrointestinal system plays a critical role in your immune system homeostasis. That is, it is responsible for maintaining a relatively stable equilibrium of many independent physiological processes that keep you well. In fact, 70% of your immune system resides in your gut in the form of gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT); and, 80-90% of the neurotransmitter, serotonin (affects mood, social behavior, sleep, appetite, memory, and even libido) is produced in the gut. Finally, your gut microbiome is a complex community of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. It is composed of good and bad bacteria that work to support the immune system, serotonin production, and eliminating toxins.
When there is an imbalance of the gut microbiome, numerous symptoms can arise. These symptoms are often difficult for a physician to differentiate from other chronic and acute illnesses. These include:
- GI issues, such as diarrhea, constipation, nausea, gas, bloating, acid reflux, and heartburn. Symptoms may occur after big meals or after eating certain foods.
- Food cravings, especially processed foods and sugar.
- Weight fluctuations, both loss or gains. Too many of certain microbes can block absorption of vitamins and minerals causing weight loss and malnutrition. Other microbes cause gut inflammation and slowed digestion of certain foods causing” weight gain.
- Anxiety and depression: Because most of your serotonin is produced in the gut, lower production can result in mood changes or depressive symptoms.
- Not sleeping well: Eating habits and lower serotonin levels can have a big impact on sleep causing insomnia or difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep. GI issues can also disrupt sleep patterns.
- Skin irritation: Inflammation can be characterized by skin rashes, itchiness, Rosacea, psoriasis, or eczema, a chronic condition.
- Autoimmune disease: Imbalances of the microbiome can lead to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative colitis, and even Multiple Sclerosis.
Managing Gut Health
While there are an almost infinite number of books available on diet and nutrition, gut health is actually very complex. There are numerous probiotics and nutritional supplements available to buy. Unfortunately, supplementing the body without sufficient diagnostic information can be harmful. It is recommended that careful research or a doctor’s counsel be taken prior to taking supplements. Not all physicians emphasize gut health. Because of time constraints, medical reimbursement and the obvious issue of patient adherence to specific diets, physicians often look for pharmaceutical alternatives versus lifestyle changes they have little control of. However, there are a few natural solutions that can help your gut’s microbiome, and, in turn, aid you to achieving wellness you may not have experienced in a long time.
There are numerous foods that promote gut health. One can begin by switching from processed foods (breads, pastas, cookies, crackers, etc.) for healthier alternatives (plants, fruits, seeds, nuts, organic meats). Eat fermented foods (such as dairy or nondairy yogurt if lactose intolerant, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut) that naturally contain probiotics (healthy bacteria). Consume foods containing prebiotic fiber (which actually feeds the good bacteria) such as pistachios, bananas, garlic, onion, ancient grains such as quinoa, millet, or chia. Equally as important, avoid unnecessary usage of antibiotics (they kill good bacteria). When taking antibiotics, adjust your diet to include probiotic foods, 200 billion units of probiotic twice a day and an anti-yeast product oil of oregano and talk with your doctor about including a high-potency probiotic and other supplements in your regimen and about your GI concerns.
The Impact of Today’s Toxic Foods on the GI System
Virtually any substance can be toxic at unsafe levels. Toxins aren’t necessarily just chemicals and pesticides that must be avoided. When asked about gut health, a naturopathic doctor and dietician simply responded to my bay emphasizing the dramatic impact we can have on our health by “reducing or eliminating eating toxic foods in our diet.” While disease is most often caused by a number of variables and aspects of our lifestyles, there are four very common foods that are especially inflammatory to the gut and detrimental to overall health:
Wheat, corn, rice, barley, oats, and other grains are the “staple” crops of the modern diet. Diets rich in simple carbohydrates feed fungi and yeast in the gut. Too much yeast creates an imbalance in the gut and promotes fungal growth throughout the body.
All of these grains come from plants that have evolved over millenniums to produce toxins that protect themselves to survive in nature. These toxins can damage the lining of the gut, bind to essential minerals, and inhibit digestion and absorption of other essential nutrients, including protein.
The protein gluten (present in wheat) is toxic to many. Celiac Disease is characterized as severe gluten intolerance. Unfortunately, it is believed that 1 in 3 Americans have a gluten intolerance. Only 1 in 8 people are actually diagnosed. Further, prominent gut symptoms may not be present. Intolerance can be manifested in many other seemingly unrelated symptoms including neurological symptoms, like brain fog. In short, gluten damages the intestine and makes it leaky. Leaky gut is one of the major predisposing factors for conditions like obesity, diabetes and autoimmune disease. It is worth investigating with your physician or experimenting with your diet to see if you are gluten intolerant.
Finally, mycotoxins (active metabolites from fungi) can be found in many of our staple grains. Rain and handling conditions contribute to this common contamination that can make its way to common processed grains or flours.
Industrial Seed Oils
Industrial seed oils (corn, soybean, safflower, canola, sunflower, etc.) have been a part of the human diet for only about a century. During the past century, industrial seed oils have significantly increased in consumption and have also been promoted as “heart-healthy” alternatives to saturated fat. Prior to the increase in seed oil consumption, diets were comprised of a greater balance of Omega-3 long chain fatty acids (EPA & DHA) versus Omega-6 seed oils. Today, estimates of the ratio range from an average of 10:1 to 20:1, with a ratio as high as 25:1 in some individuals.
Elevated Omega-6 intakes are associated with an increase in all inflammatory diseases. This includes autoimmune diseases amongst others. There is also a very high relation between cardiovascular disease, mortality, and elevated Omega 6 intake.
Table sugar (sucrose) is composed of two sugars: glucose and fructose. Glucose is an important nutrient in our bodies and is healthy while being absorbed quickly in our bloodstream (in moderate amounts). Fructose, primarily found in fruits and vegetables, can also be healthy in moderate amounts. The real “bad actor” in modern diets is the large amounts of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in processed food and drinks. Fructose is metabolized in the liver where it is converted to fat. Calories from excess consumption of fructose are also associated with abdominal fat, which in turn, is associated with insulin sensitivity, impaired glucose tolerance, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, obesity, and several other metabolic diseases.
A recent USDA report found that the average American eats 152 pounds of sugar. This includes approximately 64 pounds of HFCS.
Soy is often thought of as a healthy food. Fermented and unprocessed soy in condiment form is is associated with the “healthy” Asian diet; however, fermentation neutralizes the toxic elements of soy, and the “Asian diet” condiment usage amounts to relatively small quantities. Soy processed from soy bean oil is a toxin in both large and small amounts. The average American unknowingly consumes up to 20% of their calories from soy food ingredients in processed foods.
Soy has numerous chemical properties that result in a long list of toxicities. These include reduced absorption of important minerals, increased requirements of certain vitamins, inhibited digestion, disrupted pancreatic and other endocrine functions including fertility, and formation of carcinogenic substances in the body.
Focusing on gut health as a primary goal for your diet and nutrition can be very impactful on overall wellness. While one may not want to completely avoid some of these toxic elements in our diets (some foods make us happy!), shifting calories to healthier alternatives can have a significant impact on healing from inflammatory diseases, aiding immune system function and efficiency, and contributing to health, longevity, and happiness.
Cesar Collado is a former pharmaceutical executive, venture capitalist, and seasoned strategy consultant in the biotechnology and technology fields. He currently works as an advisor to start-ups at Flashpoint@Georgia Tech and advisies several companies that provide all aspects of indoor air quality and treatment for environmental illness.