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How we are naturally altering the balance of our gut microbiome?

I often say that the last 25-years have sped up. Evolution seems to have its foot firmly on the accelerator pedal. When I think back to my own life 25-years ago and the Internet wasn’t even invented. Growing up as a child, I remember playing outside in my street where there were few cars. I’d climb trees, play manhunt with my friends on the heath and play games like curbsy.

Now, we live in a very different world and it seems so soon. There are few safe places for children to play outside their houses, because the roads are populated with cars; side roads have become main roads, and many green spaces and heathland have been replaced with houses and businesses. This change in our environment has forced a change in our behaviours; the ever-increasing lack of access to outdoor space and the digital revolution means that many of us are now glued to screens that can entertain us; social media, videos, TV, games and more. And this evolution has seen young children lose the ability to develop their fine motor skills and are now struggling to write properly, as well as generations gaining kilos of weight and developing chronic illnesses that are debilitating people’s lives forcing them to take pharmaceutical drugs to help ease the symptoms of their conditions. In developed countries our entire existence has changed, and with the dooming threat of superbugs that could potentially wipe out countless number of lives, we need to start being responsible and think about our health, and the health of those close to us, and the very simple answer to that is to go back to your roots.

Ever since I started on my microbe journey, I had no idea where it would lead me. I never really thought I’d have an interest in fungi or bacteria but the more and more I learn about the importance of microbes in our existence the more and more I come to the same conclusion, that microbes play a crucial role in our existence on the planet and how we experience our existence. Our species has been on planet earth for approximately 200,000 years [1]. This means that the human body, our soul lives within, has evolved over time from its surroundings; land, water, air. The microbes are responsible for changing our planet through the change of chemical compounds processes such as, photosynthesis and fermentation.

Did you know that Earth first got its oxygen from a bacteria? This bacteria is called cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, and the process of photosynthesis started when this bacteria began to multiply at rapid proportions, and no-one knows why. [2]

Understanding how oxygen was first created on Earth helps us to understand the importance of microbes and bacteria to the health of the human body. Oxygen is our life, without it there is none.

I therefore divert back to the opening of my blog, we now live our lives surrounded by buildings; concrete structures, with little access to plants and trees that are constantly producing oxygen in order for us to be able to breathe. Not to mention, breathing in oxygen means we are breathing in all the microbes we are surrounded by too. If we are outside in nature, then we will fill ourselves with all the natural world we have evolved from, but if we reside indoors then we are breathing in what we are living in; chemicals from household products, mould spores (if in a damp home), other people’s microbes (if they have come from a hospital, then they are carrying microbes from those they have come into contact with, or items they have touched.) This is a classic example of how acute (short term infections and viruses) illnesses are transferred such as the cold virus. Could it be as simple as having a good range of microbes in your gut, then you are more likely to fight off the cold but for anyone who doesn’t have the diversity of the gut microbiome, then are they more likely to get sick? I actually think this statement is fairly true. I myself have spent the last 18-months diversifying my own microbiome by eating a broad range of whole foods, and I have not caught a virus or infection in all that time.

So, if the microbes are so important to our existence, it’s probably a good idea to look at some of the ways in which we are changing our human gut microbiome and why this change is critical to our long-term health.

We are inviting unwanted bacteria into our gut and we are then giving them the opportunity to colonise and grow. Here are some of the ways this is happening:

1) Antibiotics. As wonderful as antibiotics are, because let’s be honest antibiotics are revolutionary for diseases that have been eradicated because of them, but sadly over the last 25-years they have been over-used in humans, animals and plants (yes antibiotics are used in plants to stop infections of crops) [3]. This is an incredibly sad state of affairs because we are now learning that antibiotics kill off infectious bacteria but they also kill off beneficial bacteria. This is becoming a major problem as we are now seeing a rise of superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics. Did you know that there are Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) And tuberculosis is one of those diseases? It’s coming back and it has evolved into a superbug because it’s hard to kill with antibiotics. [4] Therefore, to prevent this crisis we must stop taking antibiotics unnecessarily. There are many infections that we should allow our body to fight on its own without the use of antibiotics. I will discuss this in another blog.

2) Our addiction to sugar! Let’s face it, the Western world IS addicted to sugar. This is not our faults, because I feel that for the last 25-years we have been pumped full of pharmaceutical drugs and sugar. We need sugar for energy but too much sugar in our diet and it can play havoc on our bodies. Not only does the extra sugar get stored in fat cells, it also affects the blood sugar levels, causing us to crash and burn after the sugar rush has gone. Sugar also feeds fungus, so if you have a yeast problem in your gut, then you are fuelling the yeast further with sugar; enabling this opportunist fungus to grow out of control in your body; leaving you feeling toxic and fatigued. Don’t forget that fungus is a microbe so allowing it to grow in abundance is altering your natural balance of yeast in your body.

3) Our lifestyles have changed. Financial pressures mean that most of us have to work to survive and many of those jobs are indoors. The ever increasing population is a major problem for the human race. Housing in urban areas often have smaller gardens, busy roads with cars and fewer places or opportunities to play outside. Even our children no longer enjoy the outdoors. According to Child in the City, on average, children are playing outside for four hours a week, compared to their parents who was double [5]. We’ve also become lazy. Our ancestors would spend most of their day upright, sleeping for less hours in a night, moving more and grazing from the land, and honouring the natural cycles of the planet. Yet, many of us sit at a desk, lounge on the sofa and avoid spending any time with nature. This often gets me thinking. Why have we become lazy? Could this be because of an unwanted bacteria that’s infiltrated our body, causing toxic overload and making us sluggish? Our lack of time outside in nature means we are no longer getting the benefits of natural bacteria’s and wild yeasts prevalent in the outdoors. Instead, we are infiltrating our bodies with different bacteria’s, technology, radio-waves and more (think about how much time we spend in front of our mobile phones, computers, televisions, our comfortable lives are literally killing us).

4) Eco-systems are being destroyed. My husband Simon told me some sad news the other day about a century old Orchard, close to where he works. Last year we collected over a 100kgs of delicious Bramley’s Apples. We turned them into apple cider vinegar and have been using them at home and for broth cooking in the last year. I was looking forward to collecting more this year but Simon told me that last weekend the whole lot was bulldozed, gone completely and is now being turned into farmland, for the further rearing and slaughtering of lambs 🙁 This adds to the collective number of 14.5 million sheep and lambs that are slaughtered in the UK alone [6]. And when you read that in the UK alone, we waste 570,000 tonnes of meat in a year [7] (that isn’t including supermarket waste), then we start to think about the reason this is happening, and it all comes back to money. Anyway, I don’t believe in being vegan but I am just pointing out here that eco-systems are being destroyed and so much is wasted. Furthermore, by destroying a century old Orchard it has a massive detrimental affect to wildlife in the area. Where are all the animals going to go that were living there? Where are the bees going to go? All for the need of more money to line the pockets of those who already have enough.

5) Cleanliness. Our obsession with being clean has resulted in us limiting our connection with certain microbes. Don’t get me wrong it’s important to wash your hands and wash your food but often we over wash everything, or prevent our children from climbing trees, rolling around on the ground and jumping in muddy puddles. Even us adults, we rarely get dirty anymore. A doctor in America called Dr Josh Axe wrote a book a few years ago called Eat Dirty. It’s an excellent read for anyone interested in why we should be a little freer with our cleanliness and to understand more about gut health (Dr Axe is big on Leaky Gut Syndrome too).

6) Contact with wild animals. Thanks to global travel we can now access remote parts of the world where we couldn’t 30-years ago. In the developed world, we have become passionate about visiting under-developed countries; exploring the lands, meeting different cultures and learning more about our world. Of course, that’s a great thing and a wonderful evolution but don’t forget these places we visit are called under-developed for a reason. They do not have the sanitisation in place, or the health systems to cope with infectious disease. Have you ever been to Thailand and seen the wild animals roaming the streets; wild dogs, cats and other animals that we may consider domestic pets in this country.

Sadly, these wild animals carry diseases and these diseases are bacteria that can be passed from animal to human very easily in food and water. Not to mention non-vertebrae animals (animals without a backbone) such as mosquitos and ticks; they feed on human blood and transfer infectious bacteria into the human body making the host extremely sick.

And as the global population continues to grow, more and more land is disappearing and urban living is becoming a common theme. I recently watched a documentary series on the BBC called Cities: Nature’s New Wild. The documentary programs explored how animals are moving out from their natural habit, into cities where food is abundant. It featured bears living in cities and raiding resident and business bins, birds that are no longer emigrating during times of the year because they can stay in the city and have access to all the food they need, even penguins are no longer living in their natural environment because living in the cities gives them, and their families, access to an abundance of food. I found this documentary series very interesting, particularly from a microbe perspective. These wild animals, that carry diseases, are living in urban areas with close proximity to humans.

In summary, there isn’t much we can do about the way in which our world is changing but there are some very basic changes that we can make to our own lifestyle and the top one on everyone’s list should be food. Eating less processed, more natural foods will help your body to metabolise the nutrients it needs for its own survival. Furthermore, getting out in nature more often is a must. We must start to think back to the world in which our ancestors came from and try to find the balance between the world in which we live now, compared to where we have come from. We are in the best position now to understand this. We have a good life, access to an abundance of whatever we want, especially knowledge and information, but it comes at a cost unless you can control temptation and find the balance in life. Sure, don’t be silly and say I’m never going to have that again because that’s setting you up for failure, but more asking yourself, “do you really need this right now?” Most times the answer will be NO! Saying no can be the hardest thing but the more you say it, the stronger you become. The rule I have is everything in moderation but finding the balance is the key to success.

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