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By Jad Patrick

Unless you have been hiding in a cave for the last 5 years it would be hard to
have not heard of the boom in research linking the bacteria in our gut, the
human microbiome, to our health.
Conditions as varied as autism, diabetes, autoimmunity, weight gain and even
cancer have shown links to changes in the balance of bacteria that live in our
gut.
What many people may not realise is that in the guts of people in
Industrialised societies (such as modern Australia) we are seeing a MASS
EXTINCTION of bacteria as big as the loss of diversity seen with the
extinction of the dinosaurs.
What this means for human health is still hotly debated but what we do know
is that contemporary hunter gatherers have 50% more diversity in bacteria in
their guts compared to westerners, and we know that diversity seems to be
linked to better health and reduced risk of chronic illness.
There are two reasons for this. (1) The increased use of antibiotics and
excessive hygiene practices of modern life, and (2) the massively reduced
fiber content of modern diets.

So can we just pop a probiotic and fix the loss of this diversity?

Unfortunately the short answer is no. The human gut is home to thousands of different bacteria, most of which are unable to live outside the human body and cannot be obtained in a probiotic supplement.

Additionally so far no probiotic supplement has been shown to remain living in the human gut after supplementation has stopped for a period of time. That is, once you stop taking the probiotic, the bacteria in the probiotic capsule start to disappear from the human gut again.

So are probiotics a waste of time?

Not so fast. Whilst a probiotic supplement won’t fix a completely impoverished gut microbiome, depending on the supplement you use probiotics can still help with a variety of different health conditions. However it is important to pick the right type of probiotic for the right health problem, AND to ensure you use specific strains backed by scientific evidence.
For example Lactobacillus Rhamnosus is a commonly used probiotic species however different strains within that species can have different effects. For example Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG has been found to help prevent childhood eczema and allergies whereas Lactobacillus Rhamnosus LB102 has been researched for its effects on metabolism in obese mice. Make sure you speak to your Merge health professional about a strain that is right for you and your health.

What can people do then to help their good bacteria and increase their bacterial diversity?

As mentioned above there are 2 factors reducing good bacteria and bacterial diversity in modern guts – overuse of antibiotics and excessive hygiene, and lack of fiber.

So the first step is to stop using unnecessary antibiotics, and opt for alternatives that are less harmful to the gut. Sometimes antibiotics are necessary and even lifesaving but overwhelmingly the evidence shows they are over prescribed, and often prescribed for conditions in which they have no specific benefit e.g. viral illnesses such as colds and flu.

Our team of experts at Merge can help you decide whether an antibiotic is essential and provide you with other safe and effective options that will be healthier for you in the long term.

The second part of improving our gut bacterial health is to EAT MORE FIBER.

How much fiber do I need and does the type of fiber matter?

The average Australian is consuming less than 20 grams of fibre per day, 30% less than the recommended 30 grams per day. Of this 45% is mostly coming from cereals and bread. The key to increasing diversity in the gut is to provide a diversity of different foods for the many different bacteria that live down there. The bacteria feed off fibres in the diet so increasing the diversity and amount of fibre you eat can have a dramatic effect on the types and amounts of bacteria that can thrive in the gut. Our modern diets that focus mostly on cereals, breads and grains is limiting the amount of food for our healthy gut bacteria. It’s time we diversified out diets!

What should I eat to help healthy bacteria survive in my gut?

There are 3 main types of fibre or foods that the good bacteria love to eat in our gut – soluble fibre, resistant starch and polyphenols. Eating a variety of these compounds boosts good bacteria and improves immune function in the gut, reduces inflammation, improves nutrient and mineral absorption, reduces risk of gut infections e.g. parasites and reduces risk of chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

Sources of these include:

Soluble fiber: pear, apple, artichoke, asparagus, avocado, stone fruits, prunes, beans*, lentils*, peas, legumes*, edamame*, tempeh*, chickpeas*, buckwheat, quinoa, onion, garlic, leek, dandelion root tea, chicory, endive, green bananas, psyllium husk, slippery elm powder, flaxseeds/linseeds, chia seeds, broccoli and jerusalem artichoke.

Resistant starch: green bananas, plantains, chickpeas, teff, green banana flour, buckwheat and cooked then cooled starchy foods such as brown rice and potato.

Polyphenols: think brightly coloured foods – blueberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, black tahini, black/red quinoa, black/red rice, purple carrots, purple sweet potato, red dragonfruit, purple cabbage, purple/black grapes, olives, artichokes, and other foods such as cacao, green tea (especially Matcha), almonds, pecans, flax/linseeds, red wine and extra virgin olive oil.

** legumes and grains contain lectins that may be problematic for some people, especially in the initial phases of getting their gut health back to normal. Speak to your health practitioner about whether this is a problem for you!

Get tested!

The best thing about modern naturopathic medicine is that we now have access to some incredible tests that can look at the composition and diversity of bacteria that live in our gut. Using these tests we can tailor recommendations specifically to your needs based on findings from these tests. This allows us to be very specific in improving your gut health!

What’s possible from all this?

Increasing knowledge of the gut microbiome means we can be better informed to prevent the development of chronic health problems. Current testing means we can also get very specific in how we treat gut problems based on what we see on the analysis of the bacteria that live in our gut. Additionally, we can re-test to see what has changed after introducing a treatment, and then fine-tune the treatment to get maximum results. This means more specific treatment for your unique microbiome, faster treatment results and therefore faster improvements in health, energy, immunity and gut health.

You might be interested in “Nutrient packed snacks to boost your energy