Did you know 1 in 3 deaths among middle-aged people in the U.S. is attributed to excess weight and two billion people around the world are obese (almost 40% of the world population)? Or how about the fact that 1 in 4 Americans die of heart disease each year, 1 in 10 have diabetes and almost half have high blood pressure leading to strokes. Possibly the most troubling health statistic today is that depression is now the leading cause of disability affecting more than 21 million Americans.
The costs of treating these conditions are already in the hundreds of billions of dollars and steadily rising. Can you imagine a world where modern chronic diseases are rare, everyone is naturally lean and fit, and we age gracefully with strong bones, sharp minds, and normal blood pressure?
You may be surprised to read all these ailments are connected and guess what? It’s all about the gut.
Our environment has changed faster than our bodies have been able to adapt. Humans, in a modern civilized world, have become the equivalent of animals living in captivity because our life is unrecognizably different from the lives of our ancestors.
In the late 19th century, the refining of flour and sugars began. We ate less than one-fifth of the sugar we eat today. Today, the average American eats 152 pounds of sugar per year.
What did humans eat generations ago? Mostly meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and some starchy tubers. We were physically active and did not sit for extended periods of time. We lived in sync with the natural rhythms of light and dark and we were in direct contact with nature.
By comparison, the average American today consumes 50% of their calories from processed foods, sits for much longer periods of time, is often sleep deprived, and is under chronic stress.
The best way to recover our health is to eat and live in a way that closely matches what our genes and biology are designed for.
The foods Americans ingest today are high in calories, low in nutrients, fiber, and water which promotes overeating. Overconsumption of empty calories leads to a feeling of not being satisfied and can cause obesity. These foods also cause inflammation and are the root of all modern diseases. Instead of these food selections, Americans need to eat foods that satisfy as well as nourish the body.
The quality of food determines whether we survive or THRIVE.
There are two major types of nutrients: macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, enzymes, etc.).
Humans require about 40 different micronutrients to function properly. Everything that happens in your body (any movement, thinking, digestion, breathing, etc.), depends on micronutrients. Nutrients fuel ALL processes of the body. Remember – food is information! Food will either heal you or hurt you.
Nutrient deficiency is widespread. Up to 50% of Americans consume less than ½ of recommended daily allowances (RDA). (RDA is based on the amount needed to avoid acute deficiency symptoms.) So, what happens with nutrient deficiency? It can result in decreased immune function, the increased aging process, cancers, cardiovascular disease, increased BP, depression, anxiety, infertility, and more. It is not just the amount of nutrients a food has but how bioavailable they are. You are not what you eat, but instead what you absorb and assimilate. For example, grass on the lawn is loaded with vitamins and minerals. However, they are inaccessible to us because grass has copious amounts of cellulose (plant fiber) which humans cannot break down and absorb.
Eat LOCAL and FRESH. Total Vitamin C increases when fruit and veggies are picked ripe. If you buy vegetables from a grocery store, they might have been picked one week ago, transported in a dark truck, stored in the middle of the pile in the produce section then put in a dark refrigerator. Much of their nutritive value has been lost. A Penn State University study found spinach lost 47% of folate after 8 days of this type of storage. Vegetables need exposure to light. Visit your local Farmer's Market or better yet, grow your own garden.
With meats, quality is crucial. Pasture-raised vs. confinement animal feeding operations (CAFO) are an important consideration. Pasture-raised animals yield meat that has a better fatty acid profile and increased levels of vitamins and micronutrients. In addition, 100% pasture-raised organic meats have no antibiotics, hormones, additives, or dyes. Eggs (pasture-raised, free range) have10 times more omega three, increased B12, folate, vitamin E and A. Farmed fish has much lower Omega 3s. The biggest takeaway: foods that contain inflammatory chemicals can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease, and other chronic ailments.
Gut health is critical to overall health. Supporting intestinal health and restoring the integrity of the gut barrier is one of the most important goals of medicine in the 21st century. The two major variables that determine gut health are the intestinal microbiota (gut flora) and the gut barrier.
There are approximately 100 trillion micro-organisms in our gut. We have approximately 30+ trillion human cells in our body. In fact, we are more bacteria than we are humans. Human cells have 23,000 genes as opposed to our gut bacteria which have about 3 million genes. Most of the DNA in our bodies is from our bacteria. Our gut bacteria interact constantly with our own genes. If your gut is not healthy, your immune system is not functioning properly.
So, what leads to bad gut flora? A myriad of things can lead to this including antibiotics, birth control pills, NSAIDs (Tylenol, Advil, etc.); a diet high in refined carbs, sugar, and processed foods; a diet low in fermentable fibers; dietary toxins such as gluten, bad fats (trans-fats, dyes, and pesticides); chronic stress; chronic infections; and decreased production of hydrochloric acid (achlorhydria).
Contents of the gut are technically outside the body. The gut is a hollow tube that passes from the mouth to the rectum. If something does not digest well, it will pass right out the other end. One of the most essential functions of the gut is to prevent foreign substances from entering the body.
Think of your gut barrier as cheesecloth where only small particles can pass through. When the intestinal barrier becomes permeable (imagine holes in the cheesecloth) large protein molecules escape into the bloodstream. The body does not recognize these proteins, creates an immune response, and attacks them. This is known as “leaky gut” and is a pre-condition to developing auto- immunity when the body begins to attack its own healthy tissue.
Our intestinal barrier determines whether we tolerate or react to toxic substances we ingest. If the intestinal barrier is compromised by inflammatory food and toxins like gluten, chemicals like arsenic (in rice), or BPA (in plastics), this causes an immune response that not only affects the gut but other organs and tissues as well such as muscles, joints, pancreas, kidney, liver, brain.
If you have a leaky gut, you may experience a variety of symptoms such as constipation/diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, headaches, brain fog, skin problems, joint pain, anxiety, allergies, obesity, cardiac issues, and auto-immune disease.
It may feel overwhelming to adopt a new nutrition pattern, but once you are armed with the knowledge of how foods affect our bodies, you have already won half the battle. So, what are the next steps? First, it is important to determine which foods to which you are sensitive. Take a simple blood test that determines the reactivity of specific foods. Second, avoid things that destroy gut flora and damage the intestinal barrier. Third, reduce or eliminate inflammatory foods containing gluten, sugar and dairy, and all processed foods. Additionally, begin taking pre and probiotics, try to manage stress, get adequate sleep, and take daily vitamin supplements.
Advancing your overall health is a matter of education and transforming habits. Taking diligent care of your gut will lead to lasting health benefits, both physical and mental. So, what are you waiting for? “Gut” started today! To learn more, visit agelessregenerativemedical.com or call 615-678-7784.