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Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

It’s All In Your Gut

Oct 31, 2015 09:39PM
By Dr. Isabel Sharkar

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said more than 2000 years ago “All disease begins in the gut.” Within the past five years, we are learning more about the gut than ever before, thanks to emerging research. We are finally beginning to take notice that the health of your gut affects the health of your entire body, including your brain.

According to the article, Some of My Best Friends Are Germs, published in the New York Times Magazine, the microbiome in your gut comprises of one hundred trillion bacteria and accounts for 90 percent of all cells in your body. More than 70 percent of our entire immune system is located in our gut, so if you have a compromised gut, you not only have a compromised immune system but a compromised brain.

Medicine is discovering a huge gut-brain connection, marking the gut as the “second brain.” Did you know that your gut is responsible for producing over 80 percent of the “happiness” molecule, serotonin? If your gut is not happy, you’re not happy. It makes sense that a compromised gut may lead to ADHD, autism, anxiety, depression and Alzheimer’s, which are all rapidly on the rise.

Nurture your gut health and your gut microbes can heal you and your brain. The bacteria within your microbiome manufacture vitamins and neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin, as well as maintain the integrity of the gut lining. When the gut lining is compromised, permeability increases and leaky gut arises. This causes inflammation and when chronic, may be the leading culprit to the brain disorders mentioned above.

The Human Genome Project (HGP) discovered that genetics are only responsible for 10 percent of human disease, where the rest 90 percent is induced by environmental factors. Depending on which microbes are present, your microbiome drives genetic expression by turning genes on and off. Your gut bacteria change the expression of the genes you have inherited from your ancestors. Your microbiome eats what you eat therefore a healthy diet will upregulate, modify and improve the quality of your microbiome.

Through your food choices you can influence your microbiome and gene expression. Sugar which is prominent in the western diet, high levels of carbs, deprivation of fat and the loss of fiber has changed the microbiome for the worse. Eat whole organic non-GMO food and fill two-thirds of your plate with colorful plant food because plant fibers feed your gut bacteria. Build your gut lining so that you can tolerate fermented, cultured and plant fiber-rich foods. Avoid food grown with pesticides and stay away from animal factory farmed meat pumped with antibiotics—these alter gut bacteria and your microbiome.

It’s in our North American culture to perceive feeling ill as a nuisance, reaching for antibiotics every time we feel off. However, are you aware that every time you use antibiotics you upset the balance of your microbiome and it may be permanent? Upsetting the balance can cause a certain bacteria to predominate and cause unpleasant side effects. Let’s shift the focus of labeling bacteria “good” or “bad,” to one of balance.

Another hot trend occurring in our culture today is mothers having their children on the go, scheduling cesareans to fit within their plans and tempering with the natural process of birth. According to Dr. David Perlmutter, author of the must read book Brain Maker, children born via cesarean are at risk of inflammatory issues, tripling their risk of ADHD, doubling their risk for autism and an overall increased risk of battling obesity, diabetes and allergies. Why would that be? As a child passes through the birth canal, he or she becomes inoculated with the mother’s beneficial bacteria, viruses and other pathogens, a cornerstone in building the child’s immune system.

Breast-feeding is just as important. If it wasn’t possible to have a natural birth or breast-feed, focus on building your child’s gut through diet, probiotics and avoiding antibiotic use as much as possible. If antibiotics are a must, always follow treatment with probiotics.

Be smart about shopping for probiotics—they are not all created equally. Before purchasing, understand who manufactures and third-party tests the probiotics. Probiotics in general do not stay fresh for many years; even some of the best probiotic manufacturers can only get their probiotics to last a year. Ask to look at the third-party testing to determine how many viable probiotics there are in the product after shelf life. Only consume probiotics that are alive and healthy.

Words of wisdom—depending on your current gut health, it is important to heal your gut in an appropriate manner to avoid causing more harm than good by introducing too much too soon. Introducing a high amount of fermented food or plant fiber in a gut that is compromised may cause many uncomfortable symptoms such as pain, gas, bloating and indigestion.

In such cases, the gut may not have the beneficial bacteria needed to properly digest these foods. It takes months and sometimes years to restore the gut. It is not an overnight phenomenon. It is best to work with a qualified healthcare practitioner who can tailor a unique treatment plan for you that builds your gastrointestinal system over time. Explore food sensitivities, stool analysis and nutritional evaluation. There’s a reason everyone always says “listen to your gut,” and if yours is talking to you, it’s time to listen.

Dr. Isabel Sharkar, ND is a licensed naturopathic physician and co-owner of Indigo Integrative Health Clinic, in Georgetown. For more information, call 202-298-9131 or visit


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