Your Microbiome and you
It is estimated that 60-70 million people in the United States suffer with a digestive disorder1. Some of the more common digestive disorders include constipation, diarrhea, Irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, heartburn, nausea, bloating, and gas. and inflammatory bowel disorders such as Celiac Disease, Ulcerative Colitis and Chron’s disease.
In addition to these known digestive disorders, evidence shows that digestive problems can lead to other illnesses including: arthritis, inflammation, depression, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, migraines, and menstrual disorders.
Functions of the Digestive Tract
Two of the main functions of the digestive tract are to breakdown the food we eat into nutrients to fuel the body’s processes and to eliminate waste. It turns out there is so much more going on.
The digestive tract is home to approximately 80% of our immune cells2 and 95% of the body’s serotonin3. Serotonin, mostly known for its influence on mood, actually influences many more processes in the body. Disturbances in serotonin can lead to anxiety, depression, food cravings, pain, headaches and digestive problems. Serotonin also influences sleep, as it is converted to melatonin in the brain.
There is a direct link between the gut and the brain called the gut-brain axis. This connection via Vagus Nerve is why many mental-emotional conditions such as anxiety and depression may stem from gut health.
Stress and our Digestive Health
Stress here refers to emotional, environmental, and dietary stress. When our bodies are under stress, the adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol to help the body through the stressful time. During times of stress, blood flow is diverted away from the digestive organs. Stress depletes serotonin.
**Side note- there are actually many microbiomes in the body- the main three we look at in the clinic are Respiratory, Digestive and Urogenital- more on these later**
Traditional Chinese Medicine
In traditional Chinese Medicine, the importance of gut health has always been a focus for treatment. Of course it wasn’t called the microbiome because they didn’t have microscopes to identify bacteria, but the originators of the medicine knew the importance of the gut.
In Chinese Medicine the gut is often referred to as the Central Pivot. If you think about a pivot- it’s a turning point or an area that is central to something else. There is an entire school of teachings known as the Treatise on the Stomach and Spleen whose main focus is on.. you guessed it digestive health.
One of the main ways we identify if a patient has an issues with their microbiome(s) is by looking at their tongue. The location, thickness and color of the bacterial biofilm coating on their tongue can help us identify where there are problems.
We also ask targeted questions regarding microbiome functions. As it relates to digestion, we will ask questions about:
-Lack of Appetite
-Bowel Movements- we inquire about many different aspects of BM’s.
-Craving of Sweet foods
-Bloating, Gas, Heartburn/Reflux
-Heaviness or weakness in the limbs
All of these areas of questioning help us identify problems with the Gut Microbiome. We then use targeted botanical medicines and Acupuncture to help address the underlying imbalances. I will post a follow up video on the best formula we have to help regulate the microbiome- it’s called Microgard and it’s awesome.
What can you do to help :
- Eat a healthy diet. This is the most important thing we can do for our overall health. Food should be eaten as close to its natural state as possible. The less refining, processing, and preserving the better it is for you. The staples of your diet should be whole food sources of protein, vegetables, and fruits, nuts/seeds and whole grains.
- Eat a variety of colors – it ensures you get a wide range of antioxidants and polyphenols
- Avoid white sugar and white flour products – they have very little nutritional value (if any) and are just not worth it.
- Get enough fiber – fiber helps to fill you up eating plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Exercise-get out and move- anything helps. Exercise helps to reduce the stress response in the body. The exercise does not have to be rigorous. Gentle exercises like yoga, tai chi, meditation, and focused breathing can help with stress.
Here is a link to a really good article about the microbiome from the Guardian. This is one of the better, more accessible articles I’ve read on the topic. It contains some tips as well at the end.
If you are struggling with a health issue, please give us a call at 781 944 3000 and we’d be happy to help.
This article is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any medical conditions. If you are concerned about your health, please contact a medical provider.
Mark Whalen is a licensed acupuncturist, a board certified herbalist His office, Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness LLC is located at 20 Pondmeadow Drive Suite 107 Reading, MA. He can be reached at 781-944-3000 or via email @firstname.lastname@example.org.