I was lucky enough to have a wonderful question from one of my readers.
She wanted to know:
Hey Olivia!! I am curious, lately I have been super tired. Sleeping 15 hours or more. Now, I was on antibiotics for 10 days because I had impetigo and strep throat, could that be the reason? What can I do to get my energy back up?
This is actually a topic very dear to my heart because of my intense antibiotic regime to treat my helicobacter pylori that could have resulted in a stomach ulcer. I won’t go into full details but I have written about it before and you can read that post here and here.
Once I had finished my antibiotic treatment, I felt even sicker than before. In hindsight, my poor gut bacteria would have been wiped out but this was 2008, and the link between gut bacteria and health hadn’t come into mainstream media yet.
Did you know that 80% of your immune system comes from your intestines?
Within your intestines, mainly the large, there are roughly 100 trillion bacteria. These bacteria make up your gut flora or microbiome, which are an essential part of the immune system.
When we eat, we ingest bacteria. This is perfectly normal. It could be on our food, on our hands, from our kitchen bench. Bacteria is everywhere! But not all of it is good for us. Some pathogens also get ingested, and if they make it into the blood stream, we can get quite sick. This is where the gut flora come in.
How does our gut flora help with our immune system, and overall wellbeing?
Gut flora help with activating the defence mechanisms of the lining of the intestines. They also affect the pH of your insides, so it is harder to pathogens to survive.
Different beneficial bacteria produce antimicrobial compounds to fight off certain infectious bacteria. For example: One bacteria in the gut flora fights off E. Coli and Salmonella.
Your gut flora also helps to control inflammation. This is complicated but basically, the bacteria in your intestines helps stop your immune system from overreacting, which can help with autoimmune diseases.
Gut bacteria is also very important for maintaining our weight. It was found that mice which had fecel matter transplanted from a human that ate poorly (high fat/high sugar diet) were more likely to become overweight or obese within two weeks, compared to mice who had fecel matter transplanted from a human who ate a healthy diet (high fibre/low fat).
Gut microbes communicate with the nervous system using some of the same neurochemicals that relay messages in the brain. This can be found to increase or inhibit the amount of chemicals in the brain, like serotonin. This is why it is believed that the microbiome and mental health are closely related. This article is great if you want to learn more.
Having healthy gut flora can also limit your risk of chronic disease. In studies done with mice, it was found that the mice without gut flora were more at risk of rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.
What can you do to encourage healthy gut flora?
Eating probiotic rich foods
Probiotic foods are your fermented foods. These include yogurt, sauerkraut, pickled veggies, kombucha, kefir, miso, tempeh, and kimchi. Eating a variety of these foods in your diet will help to boost your probiotic levels but also introduce new strains into your microbiome.
Supplementing with bone broth/gelatin/collagen to heal the lining of the gut and strengthen the junctions of the cells.
The human intestine is only one cell thick. One layer of cells is protecting you from all the bacteria of the outside world! When our gut health is suffering, the connections between this cell wall can be compromised and gaps can form. This condition is called “leaky gut syndrome”, and has been found to cause issues as now larger molecules are passing into the bloodstream.
These molecules can be gluten, pathogens and undigested pieces of food. Because our body doesn’t normally have to deal with this molecules, it issues an immune response. If it has to deal with this for a long time, it will cause a lot of inflammation and stress within the body, leading to autoimmune diseases and increased sickness.
In order to heal the thin lining, a couple of things can help. These include making your own stock (also known as bone broth) from leftover bones, and supplementing your diet with collagen and/or gelatin. The collagen contains two amino acids, proline and glycine, which are essential for repairing the gut lining.
L-Glutamine, an amino acid which is needed for helping the gastrointestinal tract to replenish it’s cells, is also a supplement that can be used to help heal the junctions within the cell walls. The good news is, the human gut lining is completely renewed every 2 months so although you may have been dealing with gut issues for a long time, it can take a relatively short time to heal it under certain circumstances.
Eating a varied diet, rich in fruit and vegetables (AKA fibre)
Fibre is the home for your microbiome. It chills out in the bulk within your large intestine, helping to digest foods and communicating with the brain to let it know what is happening. If you have a diet that is low in fibre, apart from getting constipated, it is also limited the space where your gut bacteria can live.
One of the easiest way to increase your fibre intake is to eat a varied diet with at least 5 servings of veggies per day. I am pretty passionate about getting your veggies anyway, as found here, here and here, but if you are looking for an extra excuse to eat them, then here is your reason. Also, by having a varied selection of fruit and vegetables in your diet, you are also giving home to different bacteria within the gut. Pretty cool, eh?
Learn to manage your stress levels.
Stress is terrible for your body. As humans, we still don’t know the difference between the stress of getting chased by a tiger in the wild and having to deal with a tonne of paperwork.
Because of that, stress seriously affects our digestive system. If we were getting chased by a tiger, one of the first things that happens is we “dump”everything that is in our digestive system, hence why we might pee ourselves or vomit in extreme circumstance. We are purging the body, getting it into a state of alert so that we can divert the blood flow away from our digestive system and send it into the muscles so that we can run like hell. That was all well and good in the cave man ages, but in the modern day, this is an issue because a prolonged period of stress has been found to physically change the composition of the gut, as well as a range of digestive problems.
Studies in mice have found that subjects with a greater variety of bacteria in the gut have been able to deal with stressful situations better and they are currently in the process of conducting human trials to see if supplementing probiotics to people with mental illness will help with the symptoms. If you want to know a bit more about managing your stress, I wrote an article about it, that you can access here.
Want to learn more?
In researching this article, I happened to stumble across this gem of information. This is an interview done with someone who had her own gut health issues and ended up studying the gut flora and falling in love with it. She explains the mind gut connection is such a simple way, but makes you understand how important the role the gut bacteria is for the overall health of your body. The interview is funny and informing and if you have time, I really encourage you to have a listen. To listen to the interview, click below.
And finally, here is a Facebook live video that I did a couple of weeks ago, that encompasses a lot of this topic.
This is my first time embedding it to my website, so hopefully it works because I don’t know if it works without a Facebook account. Let me know if it doesn’t….
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