In part one we explored:
- how the brain and the gut are interconnected
- the relation of the gut to common diseases
- the changes that occur in the gut during pregnancy
- how the gut of an infant is affected by the mode of delivery
- the importance of probiotics during pregnancy
In part two, we will learn:
- identify how gut flora are affected by the type and amount of food that you eat
- how are your gut flora affected by low carb diets
- how you can improve your gut flora
- how can improved gut flora affect your health in a positive way
- tie the all of the information together as it relates to pregnancy and postpartum, specific to healing and mental health
How are your gut flora altered by the composition of your diet?
According to an article detailing findings from a UCLA study,
“There are studies showing that what we eat can alter the composition and products of the gut flora — in particular, that people with high-vegetable, fiber-based diets have a different composition of their microbiota, or gut environment, than people who eat the more typical Western diet that is high in fat and carbohydrates,” Mayer said. “Now we know that this has an effect not only on the metabolism but also affects brain function.”
This study in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health found that ingestion of Splenda for 12 weeks negatively affected gut microflora. The study found an increase in bodyweight, decrease in beneficial bacteria and several other health markers.
Dr. Mercola cites this information in an article entitled, “Processed Foods Hurt Your Immune System and Gut Health”:
“When you eat too many grains, sugars, and processed foods, these foods serve as “fertilizer” for pathogenic microorganisms and yeast, causing them to rapidly multiply. One of the best things you can do for your health, including your digestive health, is eliminate sugars and processed foods as much as possible.”
Research is clear that processed foods containing refined sugar, vegetable oils and/or artificial sweeteners can damage gut flora. Gut flora is affected negatively by the ingestion of refined foods and positively influenced by the ingestion of whole, fiber rich foods.
How are gut flora affected by low carb diets?
Low carb diets have dramatic benefit to those suffering from metabolic syndrome and related complications such as high blood sugar. But, the lack of resistant starch and other dietary fibers starves off beneficial bacteria in the gut which can lead to a dysbiosis. So the root of all the trouble comes down to less food for the good bacteria and more food for the bad bacteria.
An article from the blog “Human Food Project” offers detailed information on the effect of low carb diets on gut health. …even though someone who eats as much as 200-500g of carbs a day they can still be starving their guts bugs if those foods contain little to now indigestible substrates (fiber), a generic rule of thumb (albeit an ugly measure) is less overall carbohydrates – especially when you start dropping below 75-100g a day – translates into a dramatic drop in the amount of food reaching your colon where the vast majority of your intestinal microbial community resides.
Your gut is a major manufacturing center of bacteria. When it is fed the right type and amount of fuel, a chain reaction occurs where billions of beneficial bacteria are produced. One of the key steps in this process is fermentation which requires an acidic environment in order to be successful. When we eat the soluble fibers found in whole plant foods, the bacteria in our gut ferment these fibers into short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, proprionate, and acetate, and greater amounts of fiber consumed will lead to greater short-chain fatty acid production. When fermentable substrates derived from carbohydrates decrease, there is less energy available for the microbes. This can result in an overgrowth of bad bacteria and increased risk of intestinal permeability.
How can you improve your gut flora?
One of the fastest ways to improve gut flora is to remove all refined carbohydrates, processed foods and sugar. Steer clear of dietary toxins like wheat and industrial seed oils. Chris Kresser offers an excellent description of food toxins in this article on his blog. In his article, Kresser details the harmful effects of cereal grains, industrial seed oils, sugar and soy.
As you remove these harmful products, the next step is to add in the healing foods to rebalance your gut.
- Eat plenty of soluble and insoluble fiber to feed your beneficial bacteria. Here’s a list of some other sources of Paleo friendly fermentable fiber:
- Vegetables: alliums (garlic, leek, onion family), artichoke and Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus, burdock root, chicory root, dandelion root, mushrooms, okra, yams, sweet potatoes, green leafy vegetables, carrots and other root vegetables
- Fruits with an edible peel: apples, pears, berries, carob, citrus, stone fruits (apricot, peaches, plums, etc.)
- Nuts and seeds, including seeds used as spices: Again, the fermentable fiber concentrates in the skins, so purchase nuts with skins.
- Eat plenty of home fermented foods to restore your beneficial bacteria. Home fermentation is key because the most jarred sauerkraut and kimchi found in the stores is pasteurized and does not contain live cultures. Bubbies brand of sauerkraut does contain live cultures and is not pasteurized. Examples of home fermented foods include: beet kavas, sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented vegetables, lacto-fermented mayonnaise or applesauce, and kombucha.
- Make soups and stews with a rich base of bone broth made from pastured (preferably grass fed) bones. Sarah Ballentyne, author of The Paleo Approach describes the healing effects of bone broth. Balentyne writes, “…the resulting liquid is rich in numerous vitamins, minerals, antioxidants (especially calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous, which are essential for bone health), and gylcine.” Glycine is key component of connective tissue. Consuming glycine rich foods is essential for healing microscopic damage done to the gut barrier.
- Consume organ meats on a regular basis. Organ meat is a rich source of glycine and collagen and elastin, which are essential for healing and repair.
- If you tolerate dairy, organic (raw, if possible), full fat fermented dairy is an excellent source of live cultures. Examples include yogurt and knifer.
You can also use supplements to aid in rebalancing the gut if you are unable to use a whole food approach. Some key supplements include: vitamin D, glycine, probiotics (especially soil based probiotics), and antioxidants such as vitamin C.
How does gut health affect pregnancy and postpartum healing and mental health?
This section will address how Mom’s gut health affect her during pregnancy and the postpartum period as well as how it affects her baby.
During pregnancy Mom will benefit from a healthy, well populated balanced gut during pregnancy by experiencing an easier pregnancy. A well balanced gut will result in less inflammation, digestive symptoms (such as bloating, constipation and gas), food cravings, weight management, better nutrient absorption and less bone loss.
If Mom had a well balanced, healthy gut during pregnancy and she maintains that in the postpartum period, she will recover much faster from the trauma of the pregnancy and delivery. As discussed above, your body needs a balance of nutrients coming in and being absorbed in order to heal. If Mom is eating a nutrient dense diet with an healthy gut, she will experience a faster rate of tissue recovery and less nutrient depletion while nursing. Bloating, inflammation and constipation will cause excessive pressure in the abdomen which will halt the Mom’s reconnection with her pelvic floor and abdominal wall.
During a vaginal birth the baby is colonised by maternal vaginal and faecal bacteria. Initial human bacterial colonies resemble the maternal vaginal microbiota – predominately Lactobacillus, Prevotella and Sneathia. A baby born by c-section is colonised by the bacteria in the hospital environment and maternal skin – predominately Staphylocci and C difficile. They also have significantly lower levels of Bifidobacterium and lower bacterial diversity than vaginally born babies. These differences in the microbiome ‘seeding’ may be the reason for the long-term increased risk of particular diseases for babies born by c-section. (post)
In summary, it is important and beneficial to take care to protect your gut. Follow the steps outlined in the above sections on how you can protect your gut before, during and after pregnancy.