When you’re feeling crummy due to an infection, the most common reaction is to get an antibiotic to clear it. But is that the best answer to help restore health? Is there a better way? Is an antibiotic the best way to “support” the immune response?
Let’s walk through what the most common story looks like. Imagine you get what you think is a simple sinus infection. You see your GP, get a prescription, and figure you’ll feel better in a few days. You know that taking an antibiotic will also wipe out the good bacteria from your gut, so you are sure to stop by and pick up some yogurt on the way home to help support your GI. After a few days, the pressure in your sinuses starts to decrease, and you seem to be on the mend. About two weeks later, you get hit with another “bug” and the cycle continues through the next several months. Especially if it’s the winter “cold and flu” season, you know, the one filled with way too many sugar-laden, immune response-destroying holidays. But don’t be fooled. That cycle can also catch you in the summer months!
Let’s look at an alternative story:
You are exposed to a bacteria, virus, or other microbe. Your body has a strong defense supported and prepared to block an infection from taking root. Maybe a sniffle, or a tickle, but after a few days you’d never guess your body had waged a war and kicked it out when the same bug might have laid someone else out for days or a few weeks. How would you support your body for that second story versus the first one?
Support the Gut Flora!
In that first version, you had a bit of a clue and picked up the yogurt on the way home with the prescription. That’s because we’ve been taught that yogurt is the best way to support good gut bacteria. But is it? Hint: NO! Why?
It’s true, there is good bacteria in yogurt. But let’s talk for a moment about how much. Quantity is a big deal here, really big. The number of beneficial microbes found in yogurt is so miniscule compared to what you need in your gut. Not only is it not even close to enough but look at the rest of that label. Who gets plain, unsweetened, allergen free yogurt? Very few. When you consider the gut-destroying sugar content and the inflammatory dairy, that yogurt likely did more harm than good.
If you have yeast, improper bacterial growth, or parasites, what you thought was healthy, the yogurt, actually feeds the infection more than it helps heal and restore. Inefficient, dead, or even wrong strains of probiotics may have the same effect as that yogurt above.
It would be a better option to consider nourishing, fermented foods. Some of our favorites include kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Organ meats and good, live probiotics and prebiotics can also restore and support various organs and systems within the GI.
Why Is the Gut Flora So Important to Begin With?
The gut is often underestimated in terms of importance. From mental health to immune response, the GI is instrumental in maintaining health. There are over 10,000 nerves running from the gut to the brain. An NIH published study has shown important neurotransmitters like serotonin, GABA, glutamate and dopamine are regulated by the gut microbiota:
Emerging evidence indicates that gut microbiota is important in the regulation of brain activity and cognitive functions. Microbes mediate communication among the metabolic, peripheral immune, and central nervous systems via the microbiota–gut–brain axis.
Another NIH study explains that healthy gut flora impacts overall immune response, including those contributing to autoimmune disorders:
…it has recently become obvious that alterations of these gut microbial communities can cause immune dysregulation, leading to autoimmune disorders.
If food isn’t properly digested, nutrients sufficiently absorbed, and waste not expelled, the gut can become a toxic place where even seemingly beneficial constituents could become harmful.
Think of your gut as a cattle ranch. When it’s working properly, it’s a beautiful, productive place. But what happens when there’s a breakdown in a fence or barrier? Chaos and destruction is likely. Either the cattle (good guys) can get out of the space they should be confined to, or the bad guys (coyotes, robbers, or other foreign invaders) can disrupt the peaceful function. At that point, it takes a lot of work to get things back in order. It takes intentional dedication, but restoration is possible!
Proper, Comprehensive Testing is Crucial to Overall Health
The key isn’t simply a stool test, but proper, comprehensive testing. A test of this magnitude will assess digestion and absorption, including:
- Pancreatic Elastase 1 (PE-1 monoclonal antibody)
- Products of protein breakdown (Valerate, Isonbutyrate, Isovalerate)
- Long-Chain Fatty Acids
Important Inflammation and immune markers that may indicate parasites and the severity of an immune response include:
- Eosinophil Protein X (EPX)
- Fecal secretory IgA
Metabolic markers that can help assess the levels of fermentation and the function of the liver in terms of detoxification include:
- Short-Chain Fatty Acids (total)
- N-Butyrate Concentration
- Short-Chain Fatty Acids %
- N-Butyrate %
- Acetate %
- Propionate %
Commensal bacteria balance. These are bacteria which may typically be considered good, or even simply neutral, however, an overgrowth wouldn’t! An imbalance of these bacteria could be harmful and toxic:
- Bacteroidetes Phylum (5 targets)
- Firmicutes Phylum (10 targets)
- Actinobacteria Phylum (3 targets)
- Euryarchaeota Phylum (1 target)
- Fusobacteria Phylum (1 target)
- Verrucomicrobia Phylum (1 target)
- Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes Ratio
Looking at a microbiology culture and Maldi Tof Identification of key components including:
- Bacteriology & Sensitivity testing regardless of quantification
- Mycology & Sensitivity testing regardless of quantification
- Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) Preparation for Yeast
Parasitology ranging from:
- Nematodes – roundworms
- Cestodes – tapeworms
- Trematodes – flukes
- White Blood Cells
- Charcot-Leyden Crystals
PCR Analysis (NexGen Sequencing)
- Blastocystis spp.
- Blastocystis spp. Subtyping (if positive)
- Cryptosporidium spp.
- Cyclospora cayetanensis
- Dientamoeba fragilis
- Entamoeba histolytica
Restoring Health and Gut Flora
Once you have thorough, complete testing done, it is important to know how to proceed with that information. It is important to remove the bad, or overgrown bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens. This may seem like an obvious step, but the process is a delicate one! Replacing factors like stomach acid, digestive enzymes, or nutritional deficiencies are imperative to helping restore proper gut flora. Once you’ve done that, you may need to recolonize any good bacteria you may be deficient in. Remember, your digestion, mental health, and immune response all rely heavily on the good bacteria in your gut. Repairing the lining in your gut, whether that is leaky gut or other disruptions, is crucial to ensuring the durability of the new fences you’ve put up!
There is a plethora of probiotic supplements on the market. There are nearly as many versions of diets available online. But restoring health can’t be left to guessing. Once you have the proper testing done, restoring function and health can be done when you find the right information and guidance. At The Wellness Way, our practitioners are trained in state-of-the-art testing and an approach that has delivered consistent, clinical results.