Did you know your gut health affects your entire body? The bacteria in your gut not only work to break down your food, providing your body with nutrients, they also work to defend off bad bacteria and viruses. Studies have found that if you have too much of a certain kind of bad bacteria in your gut microbiome, you're more likely to have conditions such as*:
Looking after your gut health as much as possible is crucial, particularly if you are living with a chronic condition. We caught up with Functional Medicine Practitioner, Alex Manos to discuss the importance of gut health.
Alex: Gut health is being associated with an ever increasing list of conditions ranging from the obvious - bloating or diarrhea - through to depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune diseases and autism.
Why? The gut microbiome:
The gut is fundamental to our health but it is important to appreciate it is also connected and dependent on other bodily systems such as our nervous system, immune system and hormonal system. The body is one big interconnected web.
Alex: Symptoms and conditions can be gut-specific such as bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, reflux, belching, irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease.
But extra-intestinal symptoms/conditions (those outside the gut) can include: brain fog, skin based conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia or autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Alex: Gut health is influenced by most, if not all, aspects of living - how we breathe, think (as it influences our emotional wellbeing and stress), move, where we live, sunshine, our circadian rhythms (sleep-wake cycles) and exercise all influence gut health.
However, nutrition is certainly one of the most significant factors. Our microbiome can only flourish if it is provided with the right 'ingredients' - ideally local, in season, whole foods. However the 'perfect diet' will provide little benefit if we do not also focus on other areas of healthy living - a healthy circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle), physical activity, stress levels, our relationships and community, and our emotional well being.
Alex: Functional medicine is often referred to as root cause medicine. Meaning we are interested in the underlying imbalances (root causes) to someone's symptoms. Often functional testing will be needed to establish what those underlying imbalances are.
The two most common tests being a hydrogen breath test to assess for small intestine bacterial overgrowth, and a comprehensive stool test which can evaluate both the gut microbiome, but also the mycobiome (e.g yeasts/candida), parasites, and the functional capacity of the gut (i.e is someone producing adequate levels of digestive enzymes or/and do they have elevated levels of fat/sugar/protein in the stool indicating poor digestion).
Some research suggests that up to 84% of people diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome may have small intestine bacterial overgrowth as their root cause. From a natural perspective this bacterial overgrowth can often be eradicated with the use of herbal antimicrobials, probiotics, and prebiotics.
Parasites, or a yeast/bacterial overgrowth in the large intestine may also contribute to the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome.
Hopefully this provides a quick insight into why it is so important to understand the underlying imbalances causing each individual's health issues, as only then can a more personalised approach to healing be created. We can't treat everyone with the same diagnosis the same way, as it is possible they have different causes.
Alex: Oohhh it's impossible to pick one, as you can now likely see. Ideally, it needs to be based around the individual and what we feel are the most important factors causing symptoms. However, managing stress is perhaps one of the most important and most frequent conversations I have with our customers, and stress can prevent even the comprehensive of health programs from working.
Alex: When coming from a functional medicine perspective, it is important we support the individual, not the disease. So advice is rarely given based on the diagnosis, but based on the individual and their current (and past) life circumstances. This is why this approach can be so effective at helping people regain their health and vitality.
So my advice would be to seek out an experienced practitioner who can support you.
Alex: The gut is connected to the mind via 'the gut-brain axis'. The gut-brain axis is made of four bidirectional pathways - the nervous system, the hormonal system, the immune system, and the metabolic system. These four pathways make up the gut-brain axis. The structure and function of the gut, and the microbiome, all influence these four pathways which then influence our cognition, emotions, and behaviour. Two examples to bring this to life would be (1) leaky gut causing depression and (2) a bacterial infection causing anxiety.
In a leaky gut, someone may develop chronic low grade systemic inflammation due to their immune system responding to fragments of bacteria that have 'leaked' across a leaky gut lining into the bloodstream. Depression has been strongly linked to chronic inflammation.
A bacterial infection can contribute to inflammation that in someone else may lead to generalised anxiety - this is something I have personally experienced.
Notice how in both cases inflammation was what caused the two conditions, but due to different imbalances. This is why personalisation is so important.
We agree with Alex that personalisation is key and seeking out help from an expert should be a vital part of treating any symptoms or conditions you may be experiencing.
However, we also agree with a 360° approach to health and recommend the following lifestyle changes to support your gut health:
If you are living with a chronic condition such as those mentioned in this article, medical cannabis can help. If you are interested in finding out more or becoming a patient here at Cantourage Clinic, we’d be delighted to discuss this with you. Head over to our website to get in touch today. Be sure to sign up to our newsletter to receive occasional news and advice.
Alex Manos BSc MSc NASM IFMCP is one of the few Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioners in the UK. He has a master’s degree in Personalised Nutrition, for which he completed his dissertation on cortisol resistance in chronic fatigue syndrome. Alex also has a first-class degree in Nutritional Therapy and has completed Dr Siebecker’s certification in SIBO treatment. Away from his one-to-one work with clients, Alex lectures at various institutions and has been a clinical supervisor and mentor in the health and fitness industry.
Cantourage Clinic offer specialist consultations for the following conditions.