(BeWellBuzz) Want a burning hot and healthy metabolism? Super-efficient digestion and consistent energy? A cleansed and balanced colon? Improved immune function? Excellent nutrient absorption? More satisfaction after each meal? Eat more bacteria.
Natasha Campbell-McBride is a Russian neurologist with over 20 years’ experience successfully treating people with an array of illnesses including manic depression, autism, celiac disease and multiple sclerosis. Her method? Heal the gut. Dr. McBride teaches her patients that the key to healing from the inside-out is to cleanse the gut of excessive pathogenic microbes, and restore healthy colonies of “friendly” bacteria.
But how did “pathogenic microbes” get there in the first place?
Risk Factors for Healthy Bacteria
A healthy body and a healthy diet will maintain healthy gut microbes; but our culture and medical practices have introduced real threats to these our friends. Some of the most common include:
- Prescription drugs, especially taken long term
- Toxins introduced through food and drink
Symptoms of deficiency include frequent bloating, chronic indigestion, gas, obesity, chronic diarrhea, depression, food intolerances and even autoimmune diseases such as allergies. In fact, Dr. McBride and many other health experts deal with all dis-ease first by restoring health to the gut and, specifically, by repopulating the right kinds of bacteria.
Life inside our bodies can truly sound like a contest of good vs. evil. We have bacteria which we call “bad,” and then there are the good guys, the “friendly” microbes. In this case, the bad guys know they need to be strong in numbers before mounting an attack. Even the healthiest among us are carrying both kinds of microbes; but as long as our friends are thriving, the enemy won’t attack but remains mostly benign. However, if somehow the bad bacteria get fed, grow strong and proliferate, and if at the same time the good guys are starved, weakened and dying off, they attack and we meet the conditions for disease.
Dr. McBride calls this condition “GAPS,” Gut and Psychology/Physiology Syndrome. The term indicates that breakdown in the gut causes breakdown of both mind and body. In a recent interview she explained, “[in Gut and Psychology Syndrome] Any dysfunction of the brain is usually connected to what’s going on in the digestive system. In Gut and Physiology Syndrome, we’re talking about the functioning of the rest of the body.”You’ve probably heard it said that nearly all disease can be traced back to inflammation. Now hear it said that chronic inflammation can be traced back to gut syndrome.
For severe health conditions or even if you have mild symptoms and would like to do a gut cleansing and replenishing, Dr. McBride has a GAPS nutritional protocol with three stages: Intro (most restricted), Full and Weaning. To get the full plan check out her book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome.
The key foods prescribed for any healthy diet as well as the GAPS protocol to cleanse the system, replenish healthy bacteria and restore proper digestion are made via a very old-fashioned sort of food processing.
Good and Bad Food Processing, Good and Bad Bacteria
Forget about the industrially processed so-called foods from who-knows-where made with who-knows-what, which have been stripped, poisoned and sometimes outright mutated (think: table salt) until they’re no longer recognizable either to the chemist or to our bodies. These foods don’t feed and don’t bring life. In fact, they’ve helped to introduce an overwhelming volume of bad-bacteria into our bodies. These are not “real” food.
McBride explains that there are only two kinds of real foods available to us and we know exactly where they come from: plants and animals. She explains that plant foods are primarily for cleansing. Animal foods nourish and build. This is because, in their raw state, veggies exit fairly unchanged from how they entered. The cellulose structure of raw vegetables makes them mostly in-digestible. They don’t “feed” us because our bodies can’t break them open and extract their treasures within.
However, there is such a thing as healthy food processing that humans have been employing for thousands of years in order to transform “cleansing” foods into “nourishing” foods. Cooking and fermenting are both methods of pre-digestion. Because some of the breakdown is already done for us, this processing makes the vegetables’ nutrients more readily available to our bodies.
A Note About Going Raw
While raw plant foods are desirable, says, McBride, by no means should they be the entirety of our diet. The health expert advises strongly against a raw, vegan or long-term vegetarian diet. In fact, she maintains that cholesterol from meat, eggs and animal fat is vital for the human body to function properly. Among other things, cholesterol is necessary for the formation of sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. She warns, “If you don’t want to produce sex hormones; if you want to be infertile, and if you don’t want to have any sexual desire, then the vegan diet is the right diet that you should follow.”
To prepare your body for vibrant health, you’ll need plenty of fats and proteins to build vibrant cells and tissues. To ensure that you actually receive the benefits of the foods you eat, you’ll need plenty of friendly bacteria.
Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
Fermented, “pre-digested” food has several powerful attributes:
- Increases digestive “fire”
- Raises vitamin and mineral content
- Enables us to extract and absorb more vitamins and minerals from the food
- Increases glutathione, a powerful detoxifier and “anti-aging” antioxidant that protects from diseases such as CHD, cancer, dementia, autism and more
- Rich in enzymes crucial for digestion and detoxification
- Introduces probiotics, ie beneficial bacteria, into our bodies
The probiotics provided through fermented foods promote chelation, meaning the microbes grab hold of toxins and heavy metals such as mercury and lead, and carry them out through the stool. They also combat pathogenic (disease-causing) microbes. If ever there was a superfood-group that you might add to your meals, it should be these.
Best Fermented Foods for a Healthy Gut
You can either purchase them ready-made or make fermented foods from the comfort of your own home. If you’re buying, make sure the product is clearly marked as “fermented,” “cultured,” or containing “live active” bacteria. Otherwise, it’s not the good stuff.
If making it at home, you might want to prepare them using a starter culture to ensure a therapeutic boost of probiotics. Body Ecology sells starters for vegetables and kefir.
Here are 10 of the most common, easy to find and delicious fermented foods:
- Mixed Fermented Veggies
- Kim Chi
- Yogurt (try raw!)
- Kombucha tea
- Beer & Wine
- Kefir (dairy or non-dairy such as coconut kefir)
- Seed Cheese
If you’ve never enjoyed fermented foods before, Dr. McBride says start slow. It’s potent stuff and eating too much can send your body into super detox mode. Start with a modest ¼ – ½ cup per day, measure your body’s response, and increase gently.
Or, if none of these appeal to you, probiotic supplements are widely available. Your gut, your microbes, and your whole body will thank you for it.
Sources and Further Reading:
Why this Single Organ Powerfully Dictates Whether You’re Healthy or Sick (Dr. McBride interview)