Will Hartfield, Contributor
Most of your body is, well, not human. Single-cell bacteria living in and on your body – mouth, nose, skin, but especially gut – outnumber your human cells by at least three to one, totaling a whooping 100 trillion(1). These bacteria are called microbiomes and together they form your personal microbiota, which has a huge impact on your physical as well as mental health. There’s a growing body of research that proves just how beneficial these gut bacteria are.
They may inhabit different ends of your body, but your brain and your gut are engaged in a subtle yet crucial interplay, so much so that the gut is being called by some scientists “the second brain” (2). In other words, an imbalance microbiota doesn’t mean just constipation, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome, but can lead to a host of serious mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, autism. More than that, it plays a part in the development of neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Now that we know that the brain and gut are linked in an essential way, let’s get to the bottom of things.
The Brain-Gut Axis
The brain-gut axis is becoming an important subject of study for neurologists, physiologists, and other scientists. There is even a direct neural connection between the brain and the gut through the vagus nerve, a cranial nerve that interfaces with the parasympathetic control of the digestive tract. Yes, brain nerves reach all the way to your gut.
In the #1 New York Times bestseller Brain Maker (3), Dr. David Perlmutter tells the full story of microbiota, from how it develops at our birth to how it can be sickened by antibiotics, what we eat, and bad lifestyle choices. Our gut, comprising all our intestines, takes part in key physiologic functions like inflammation, immune system reactions, vitamin and neurotransmitter production, detoxification, nutrient absorption, and more. In other words, the condition of the microbiomes in our gut actually impacts our immunity, metabolism, mood, or sex drive. Not only our physical, but also our mental state depends on a large extent on the number and balance of our microbiomes.
Why Antibiotics Are Bad For Your Health And Brain
The antibiotics that pharmaceutical companies offer us as quick solutions to so many diseases, from throat infections to irritable bowel syndrome, kill many of the good microbiomes, compromising not only our gut health, but also our brains. And there’s more to it than that – foods that even the government would have us think are healthy, like wholegrains, also have a negative impact on our microbiotas. The problem is simple and quite disconcerting: antibiotics + bad diet = upheavals in our guts, leading to mental health problems and a host of other physical ailments and diseases ranging from hair loss (8) to acne to obesity. From the development of the colitis inducing Clostridium difficile (5) pathogen to Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans (6), both responsible for diarrhea, antibiotics wreak havoc in our guts.
Antibiotics are widely used to treat diseases, but an over-reliance on them is silently undermining our body’s ability to resist pathogenic organisms, causing serious long-term health issues that scientists are only now beginning to understand. More than affecting our microbiome, antibiotics can actually damage the microflora we pass on to our children (4). Studies raise alarm over the use of antibiotics during pregnancy as well as during delivery through cesarean section, which can have a significant impact on the quality of the microflora newborns start life with. While breastfeeding and adequate nutrition can help alleviate this problem, it cannot entirely solve it.
The problem with antibiotics is that we can buy them not only at the pharmacy, but also, without realizing it, in fast foods, supermarkets, grocery chains, and just about anywhere else where meat from animals raised with antibiotics is being sold in various forms and textures. How can you tell whether the hamburger or chicken breast you want to buy is antibiotic free? There’s no easy way, and the organic label isn’t always proof that the animals had never been treated with antibiotics.
Antibiotics themselves are not evil, but the way we are using them is. In a society driven by overconsumption, antibiotics themselves, like so many drugs sold by pharmacies, are being over-consumed, often as easy solutions to diseases that are to a large extent the result of unhealthy lifestyles and poor dietary choices.
An ideal world would be free of antibiotics, and perhaps one day antibiotics will be replaced by something more effective and less harmful. With the growing awareness of the dangers of antibiotics, both individuals and organizations can take action right now, limiting their usage and opposing the silent antibiotic conspiracy of medical establishments and large corporations which so freely distribute them, without a deep understanding of their long-term consequences on our health and the health of future generations.
How to Nourish the Good Bacteria In Your Gut
If you’ve taken or are taking antibiotics, it’s crucial to help your microflora recover. With the right diet, you can do this in a matter of days (7). Nourish your microflora with probiotic foods and a diet rich in vegetables that are low in carbs, yoghurt, kafir, fermentable fibers (sauerkraut, kombucha), or vegetables pickled in salt, as well as with good fats like extra-virgin oil and those found in nuts. It’s also important to do away with gluten and sugar, including things that many brands would like us think are healthy, but which are undermining our microflora, like fruit juice, gluten-rich cereals, wholegrain pasta, and processed gluten-free foods.
Also crucial is not to exterminate the good microbes that cling to your body. Sanitizing products of all kinds, from soap and home cleaning products to wet wipes that kill 99.9% of bacteria are not necessarily good for our health. We need to be exposed to microbes – it’s the simplest way to regenerate our microbiota and help it fight the really bad pathogens. Spend time outdoors, touch trees, do some gardening, pat dogs and cats, in short, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty now and then. It’s not only good for your microbiota, but it also reduces the irritants, allergens, and carcinogens that so many brands of cleaning products are silently introducing into our lives through their chemical germ-killing formulas.
The Message You Need to Take Home
Easily submitting to antibiotics when these are not absolutely necessary and overusing cleaning products – these are both dangerous ways in which we allow our minds to be controlled (through our gut) by companies who are more concerned with making money than with promoting our health. That doesn’t mean we have to be wallowing in the mud like pigs just to get the good microbes into our system. Only that next time we find ourselves in a doctor’s office or a supermarket, we should remember that our physical and mental health both depend on that humongous ecosystem of bacteria in our gut, which needs to be nourished, not exterminated.
About the Author
Will Hartfield is a contributing writer to Waking Times, and he has a has a degree in biomedical engineering.
Michael Gershon, The Second Brain: A Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine
Dr. David Perlmutter, Brain Maker
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