Do you remember that old childhood taunt? Did you ever stop to consider what it means? My husband, a physician, told me something recently that shed new light on this old saying. And it isn’t pretty!
My husband was telling me about Clostridium Difficile, or C. Diff, a bacterial diarrhea which has been around forever that has recently become more potent and more virulent, even deadly. This bad bacteria is already living in your gut but is typically kept in check by the good bacteria (healthy gut flora) also living in your gut. But a heavy dose of antibiotics can kill off that healthy flora allowing C. Diff to take over. The result is life-threatening diarrhea. In recent years C. Diff has become more potent and more virulent prompting researchers to search harder for a cure. The reason my husband was telling me about this is because the Infectious Disease specialist in his practice says researchers have found a very effective treatment: Stool Replacement Therapy. It is a simple concept: stool is taken from a healthy person and placed into the sick person, sometimes via their naso-gastric tube (a tube inserted through the nose, down the throat). Patients typically start to get well immediately. Right now this is still considered alternative therapy, but don’t be surprised if it becomes more and more mainstream. Let me say it again: People with life-threatening diarrhea are being treated with poop from other people who are not sick, and sometimes this poop is put into the sick person through a tube in their nose! Up your nose with a rubber hose!
Well I don’t know about you but that sure doesn’t sound desirable to me! I shared the above with you because it is a perfect example of something you need to understand in order to be healthy: good bacteria in your gut are critical to your good health. How could poop make a sick person well? Because our digestive system relies on good bacteria for proper function. Even though poop is disgusting and loaded with things that will make you sick, if it comes from a healthy person it will still have some healthful bacteria in it. And our digestive tract is very absorbent. So when the sick person is literally fed “healthy poop”, the sick person’s digestive tract absorbs the good bacteria, which makes them well. Your gut is your body’s top defense against disease. Hippocrates said, “All diseases begin in the gut.” If your gut isn’t healthy, then you cannot be healthy either. You might say, “Immunity begins in the gut.”
Be Good To Your Gut…
Several articles ago, when I wrote about chicken stock, I explained how important it is to eat foods that are easily digestible so that your body will have energy and nutrients available for other important functions and not use up everything on digestion. Good digestion is absolutely critical to good health. This is how our body gets the vitamins and minerals required for proper function and optimal health. But your digestive tract cannot function without a healthy balance of good bacteria within it. This healthy gut flora, comprised of good bacteria, yeasts, and viruses, is not only aiding digestion and absorption of nutrients, but is also constantly killing off the bad bacteria, yeasts, and viruses that are also living in your gut. In addition, your healthy gut flora is actively producing more nutrients that your body needs but isn’t getting through your daily diet. Your gut flora is the best anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-biotic around. Your gut flora is so important that when it is damaged, your body goes to great lengths to repair it and keep it in shape. This takes away from other healthful functions, and when our body is constantly repairing its gut flora then we become run-down and susceptible to sickness and disease. It should be a conscious choice every day to make sure we eat foods that will benefit our digestion and promote our gut flora, and to avoid those foods that harm it.
Unfortunately, due to the poor choices we make, every day we are busy about the activity of killing off our healthy gut flora. There are many ways we do this. Antibiotics are an obvious killer, especially those “broad spectrum” antibiotics that just wipe out anything and everything, not differentiating between the good and bad. Antibiotics do have an important role in our health care, but they should be reserved for the serious situations and not everyday nuisances. But antibiotics aren’t the only things killing off our gut flora and slowly compromising our immunity. Oral contraceptives, cosmetics, prolonged stress, steroids, daily radiation exposure, and many other toxins and situations also damage our gut flora.
However I think our bodies could compensate for some of these harmful substances and situations if it weren’t for the Standard American Diet (“SAD”). This modern junk food diet is slowly but surely making us sick. Americans are constantly eating foods that not only don’t give our bodies anything helpful, but they strain our digestive systems and rob us of what little nutrients and energy we had left. Those special sweet treats we give our kids every time they go to Bible class or ballet or play a baseball game…white bread…processed lunch meats…frozen dinners…the Icees we buy our kids to keep them quiet while we shop…the additives and preservatives in all those seasoning packets, salad dressings, and nacho-cheese/cool ranch/spicy bbq flavored chips…the “food” you get from the drive-thru…genetically modified foods…diet drinks and artificial sweeteners…new-fangled foods invented in a lab rather than created by God…and on and on and on. These are all “Frankenfoods.” We freely hand them out to our loved ones as expressions of love and praise yet they are by no means true rewards!! Did you know that research has found specific links between autism, dyslexia, colicky babies, mental illness, ADD, etc. and abnormal gut flora? Have you considered how modern disease has skyrocketed ever since the advent of convenience eating and modern Frankenfoods? Our modern lifestyle and our modern diet are making us sick.
….And Your Gut Will Be Good To You
If you want to be healthy, then you need to make sure your gut is healthy. Your immune system cannot function the way God intended without healthy gut flora. Your gut is your body’s top defense against all things toxic, from contaminated food to contaminated air and all the contaminated things in between. What you feed your gut has a direct effect on your well-being.
Good-bye, Sterile Food
Since the inception of this blog about healthy eating, I have tried very hard to point out that God, the one and only Creator of this earth and all things in it, specifically and carefully designed the human body and the rest of creation to not just peacefully co-exist but to abundantly co-exist. This isn’t hippie talk. God created you and me, and he created the perfect things for us to eat that will bring us health, not harm. These don’t come from a lab. They come from the earth that God created. And God didn’t just create some plants and animals for us to eat. He created an entire microbial world that works on and within our food, that, when eaten, will nourish, heal, and re-vitalize our gut. When we eat sterile foods from the grocery store, we completely miss out on one of God’s great nutritional blessings.
Lacto-fermentation is the phrase that best describes what I am talking about. Lactic acid is a natural preservative (i.e., created by God) that prevents the growth of putrefying bacteria. Lactobacilli are lactic-acid producing bacteria that are present on all living things. During lacto-fermentation good bacteria breaks down yet preserves food so that the end result is the presence of many helpful enzymes, easily digested food, and bazillions of probiotic bacteria that will restore your gut. In fact, lacto-fermented foods prevent decay in your bowels, stimulate peristalsis in your intestines, help your blood circulate, strengthens or reduces the acidity of gastric juices during digestion (depending on which is needed – the ultimate antacid), and helps your pancreas function thereby stimulating secretions in all your digestive organs. This is just the beginning; scientists are still studying this amazing process and trying to identify all of its wonderful benefits.
Fermented, or cultured, foods have been around since Genesis chapter 1. All traditional cultures consumed fermented foods, from the arctic north to the tropics. People did not understand the microbiology behind the process; therefore before the invention of refrigeration, fermentation was primarily a means of food preservation. When we began to rely on refrigerators we didn’t need to ferment food any more, or so we thought, and these foods slowly began to disappear from our kitchens and tables, gradually being replaced with modern, processed versions — “frankenfoods.” Traditionally, sauerkraut, cabbage, and pickles were preserved using fermentation rather than sugar, vinegar, or modern preservatives; and they were never canned or pasteurized. But today’s versions of these foods contribute to a slow, overall decline in health as they are not only void of nutrition, they are also loaded with anti-nutrients.
So, what foods can be lacto-fermented? Almost anything! Fermented foods are not limited to cabbage and pickles; you can ferment all kinds of vegetables and fruits that, when eaten, will fill you up with good things. Some examples include homemade sauerkraut, ginger carrots, pickled cucumbers (you can also pickle beets, turnips, radishes, red peppers, garlic, etc), kimchi, miso, chutneys, relishes, and even salsa (my favorite). You can even ferment ketchup and marmalades .Dairy products can also be fermented. They are typically referred to as cultured dairy products and include crème fraiche (European style sour cream), whole-milk buttermilk, yogurt, and kefir. There are even many powerful drinks that can be made at home and can provide you with all the benefits of lacto-fermentation such as kombucha, beet kvass, apple cider and various homemade sodas (root beer, grape cooler, ginger ale, etc). These drinks involve fermentation, but they are not alcoholic (alcoholic beverages are not health foods). The “bible” for learning to make these foods is Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon but there are also many other quality books about it as well.
The good news is that fermented foods are readily available and very economical. You can make all of these foods in your own kitchen. It sounds intimidating, but once you’ve tried it you will be amazed at how easy it is. Remember, this is the way God created our world; God intended for us to get physical health from his creation, not Kraft or General Mills.
What strikes me is that this wonderful process that is so healthful was not invented by man but created by God – the process is free and can be done right in your own kitchen. In fact, that is the best way. God did not create good foods for us and assign one or two giant companies as the keepers. NO! He created these wonderful things free for all. Why do we not take advantage of these wonderful gifts from our Creator?
I will stop here for now and just leave you to think on these things a while. My next post will be full of the technical how-to information. I will tell you right now that it is going to take some time to prepare these foods. Are you willing? Would it be worth it? Think about it…up your nose with a rubber hose… or… be good to your gut and it will be good to you.