10 Jun AYURVEDA TIPS WITH FLO LAM-CLARK
Yoga teacher and holistic therapist Florentina Lam-Clark brings you a monthly blog, delivering tips from the Ayurveda system on everything, from beauty and diet to health and wellbeing. This month’s post is focused on gut health and ways to support it.
If you would like to learn how to start to incorporate these health-giving practices in your daily routine, Flo will be covering this topic more in depth in the Ayurveda & Yoga Series “Supporting Gut Health” workshop on Sunday 19 June 2022.
OUR MICROBIOME: WAYS TO IMPROVE GUT HEALTH
“You are not cursed with the microbiome you were born with, you have the ability to change and shape your microbiome and make it your own through the choices you make. The choices you make today can alter your microbiome of tomorrow” – Dr Will Bulsiewicz, Gastroenterologist. Gut Health Expert.
The Rise in Chronic Disease
Looking at digestion from the perspective of Ayurveda, what’s outside is reflected inside. We are increasingly aware of the exposure to chemicals in the environment, plastics in the food we eat, the medicines we take, the air we breathe, the products we put on our skin. This is reflected in the rise of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, mental health diseases such as Alzheimers, anxiety and depression.
It’s not just our environment that is having to process the chemicals and toxins of our modern day living but also our gut.
What is the Microbiome?
We are host to a large collection of microbes that live on and in our body. There are over 38 trillion of the largest and most diverse cultures of micro-organisms, living in our colon, the microbiome. The microbiome includes, microbes, parasites, fungi, bacteria and viruses that creates eco-diversity in a healthy gut, it is not there just for nutrient delivery, but it is the frontline of the immune system’s ability to detox the internal environment.
Whilst the gut provides these microbes with a stable environment, the microbes in turn, have a broad range of functions; they digest complex dietary macronutrients, out of which nutrients and vitamins are produced, and defending against pathogens to maintain our immune system.
What is gut health?
Good digestive function is seen as a good sign of health, yet Western public health research clearly shows that over 90% of adults in the West experience digestive symptoms on a weekly basis.
Symptoms like bloating, indigestion, constipation are common, and whilst these symptoms may not seem “that bad” they are indicative of dysbiosis. This is an imbalance or disturbance in the microbiome.
You may of heard of the work of Dr Zach Bush, a physician specialising in natural medicine, and a recognised thought leader on the microbiome. He says, “The microbiome has come to be understood as the foundation of human life and health, we cannot exist apart from the biology of the microbiome”.
The way the microbiome has been shown to affect human health is the capacity for the microbiota to produce either beneficial metabolites that protect against disease or harmful metabolites associated with the development of disease. Emerging research data into depleted microbiome composition is showing a link to diseases such as Inflammatory Bowel Disorder. (ref: Cell.com/”Dietary Fiber to Host Physiology: Short chain Fatty Acids as Key Bacterial Metabolites”).
5 Interesting Facts about the Microbiome
Did you know that:
1. 70% of our immune system and more than 80% of our antibodies are composed and located within the gut lining.
2. Fiber (plant foods) is the preferred food of choice for the millions of microbes living in the gut which has been found to improve gut health,
3. The Gut is known as the second brain, as the gut microbiota are known to produce neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, melatonin – it is a mood modulator.
4) Prebiotics – are food for the microbiome. This is undigested fiber that passes through to the colon which is consumed by the micro-organisms. This supports healthy digestion and assimilation of nutrients, better elimination, immunity, mood and inflammation response.
5) The barrier system. This is the gut lining, starting from the sinuses, to the stomach lining, that spans 2 tennis courts. In the nose, this barrier, is the mucosal layer that exists as one of the body’s first lines of defence. An optimally healthy barrier system is able to absorb the correct things and keep out the bad.
What does the microbiome need/What do we need to feel good?
Ayurveda recognises that our ability to be able to digest and absorb the nutrients in our food is dependent upon the strength of the inner digestive fire, known as Agni. If Agni is weak, then food can sit in the digestive track and putrefy, creating leaky gut syndrome. If it is too strong, then food passes through quickly and has no time to be digested and passes through and the nutrients are not assimilated and absorbed.
From Ayurvedic point of view, healthy digestion is about balance in the doshas, the 3 constitutions and elements we all have. Vata (Air) dosha controls all movement, Pitta (Fire) is responsible for metabolism and digestion, and Kapha (Earth) governs the structure of the body.
The intestinal flora and microbiome need to be fed by a rich and diverse choice in what we eat. Primarily fiber (plant foods) has been found to improve gut health by increasing Short Chain Fatty Acids, which are essential metabolites that produce anti-inflammatory microbes. Inflammation has been seen to be at the root cause of any disease or disharmony in the body. So basically all disease starts in the gut.
In our Western culture we have gotten into the habit of removing and taking away foods to try and fix the problem of allergies and food intolerances. Ayurveda takes the view that we can help digestion by going to the root cause. We can work symbiotically with our digestion when we understand that drinking ice cold water will dampen the digestive fire, or eating heavy meals late at night will tax and make our digestion sluggish so the food doesn’t digest properly, or eating sugary snacks between meals, that spike our blood sugar levels and disrupts digestion of the previous meal.
Rich Roll, Endurance Athlete and plant-based nutrition advocate says, “It is not about removing or reducing things from the diet, it is about building more abundance and variety rather than restriction. The power is in the plants”
10 Signs of a healthy Digestion – balanced Agni
1. Plentiful energy throughout the day
2. Clear glowing skin
3. Mental clarity and sharpness
4. Brightness in the eyes
5. Feeling a sensation of hunger prior to the next meal
6. A daily bowel movement every morning
7. Well formed solid stools
8. The ability to eat most/all foods in moderation without developing symptoms
9. Happiness, calmness and internal peace
10. The collective sense of feeling fit, healthy, vital and happy
Here are 5 Simple Ways to improve the microbiome
1. On waking, drink a cup of hot water. (You can add lemon, ginger, or apple cidar vinegar) This wakes up and strokes Agni – the digestive fire. Continue to sip hot water throughout the day as this will encourage the release of toxins.
2. Eat fresh and clean, at the correct times to maximise on the digestive fire.
3. Reduce stress. Too much stress can create hyper-acidity in the stomach
4. Reduce snacking between meals as it over-taxes the digestive system and then food is not digested properly.
5. Take Triphala Daily. This is a combination of 3 fruits that bring a synergistic effect to the body. It is an exceptional digestive, liver and gut tonic, it’s a prebiotic for the microbiome.
Whilst we recognise and understand how important it is to maintain the rich diversity of our internal microbiome eco-system, there are other ways other than eating fresh nutritionally packed food to increase the health of this vital system.
Good nourishing sleep, exercise and simply being outside and placing your hands in the dirt have all been found to increase the health of the microbiome.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if today you chose your meals with the intention of supporting the incredible internal ecosystem of microbiota? I believe that the key to improving digestion, is by making small changes to implement everyday. Perhaps when reaching for the mid- day tea or coffee, you’ll sip on some hot water instead.