Yesterday I attended a gut health conference in London. It was an excellent day and my head is swimming with the science, I tell you!
It is 5 years since I first started to learn and write about the microbiome as an essential part of the health jigsaw puzzle. It was early days and still is, but I knew this was going to become a significant part of our health science discoveries. Those of you who have attended a workshop I have delivered, or heard me speak, read my blogs or my book will have heard the garden analogy, which is where we focus on our flowers growing (the beneficial bacteria) and reducing the weed population (the pathogenic bacteria). Yesterday, I heard even more science to show that looking after our gut health is going to significantly improve/support our health, as specifically the microbiota in the small intestines has an impact on our mental health, cardiovascular health and our overall immune function and energy levels.
People are already utilising high strength probiotics for gastroenteritis, flu, depression and stress and there is evidence around using probiotics before taking antibiotics and then whilst taking them to prevent the damage to the good bacteria in the gut (impacting your immunity and stopping the development of candida).
However, like everything, the message is different depending on where you are on your health journey. There is strong evidence for specific nutritional therapy including oral supplementation of pre and probiotic for those suffering from IBD, particularly ‘Ulcerative Colitis’, and there is also lots of work going into Crohn’s sufferers. Dr Nigel Plummer spoke of positive evidence in pre and probiotic use in reducing inflammation (preventing or reducing symptoms), even in healthy individuals and athletes.
It is exciting that there is so much work going on in this field with regards to inflammation and immune response as I see people with autoimmune conditions suffering daily. I also have to note that Dr Ben Brown stated that the first port of call (after making sure of a healthy diet too of course) for someone with autoimmunity is to try gluten-free. Now that has come from other experts too. I find people are very resistant when I suggest this, but it has been proven again and again to improve symptoms dramatically in my experience and others.
Each of us is unique and I am so pleased that the personalised and functional medicine approach is becoming more recognised. It is important that you have support in trialling safely what works for you, but when dietary changes are made, we have all seen what was deemed to be impossible happen.
If you think you are healthy and are reading this for more tips on improving your microbiota, then increase greens and overall vegetables, the aim is to consume plenty of fibre and so brown rice and wholegrain options are great. Consuming fermented foods such as raw organic sauerkraut, kimchi, Tamari and miso will all support your gut health, in addition to making sure you are getting outside for vitamin D stores and taking an omega 3 supplement to balance the omega 3;6 ratios. Also reducing processed foods and oils and consuming nuts and seeds will support a healthy microbiome. Some work has been done on consuming probiotics and prebiotics (e.g. FOS) for healthy individuals showing positive results. Although, there is still a long way to go in this area.
For those with IBD, it is essential that you are consuming a healthy whole foods diet, with very little processed foods firstly, then also taking out the additives from the diet, there is evidence to show many industrialised additives have an impact on the gut e.g. carrageenan (found in many health foods) and emulsifiers and some ingredients that do not have to be labelled as they are industrial aids, therefore going for unprocessed is best. The next line of intervention would be to personalise for you and follow an elimination plan, this would be best looked at with a registered nutritionist or dietitian. There are specific IBD targeted diets which have been shown to be successful e.g. Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SPD), IBD AID (PubMed study), Gluten-free). As with all disease, nutrient deficiencies would need to be assessed, vitamin D and omega 3 have been found to be particularly important with regards to IBD. The curcumin compound in turmeric has been shown to support healing and so this would be a good addition to teas, smoothies, soups, curries etc.
In terms of interventions following this, there are supportive protocols to heal the gut and the remission best practise would be probiotics and prebiotics.
If you have IBD or know someone who does, you need to know that there are miracles happening every day.
Veggie Pearl barley risotto
This is a flexible dish, and you can replace the pearl barley with arborio rice, which I sometimes use too. You can also use any vegetables you like, swap and change, ideally in season, locally sources organic.
- 200g Pearl barley
- Approximately 1 and a quarter pint of vegetable stock
- 2 onions diced
- half a green pepper diced and or broccoli
- half a medium squash, diced and roasted
- optional: Beetroot peeled, diced and roasted
Other options could include mushrooms, garlic, chilli, a tsp cumin, turmeric etc…
- Start with onion and peppers/broccoli in the pan and dry fry (without oil), if it starts to stick add a tiny bit of water and cook for a minute or so until softening and add the pearl barley
- Gradually add the stock to the pan, until the barley has softened – it may take around 20-30 minutes.
Serve with greens and enjoy.
Much love and health,