Did you know that your intestines are considered to be the second brain? Recent studies have shown that the more than 80% of serotonin, a hormone responsible for mental well-being, are found in our intestinal tracts. It’s long been known in the East that headaches are often times triggered by an imbalance in the digestive system, and the acupressure point for both constipation and headaches is located between index finger and thumb. Even now some doctors in the West now prescribe anti-depressant for people with IBS, irritable bowel syndrome.
But gut health is more than just for digestive function and mental health, but it’s crucial for the health of the entire body. Eastern medicine says that the health of digestion determines one’s life as a whole, and “life line” in palm reading is actually the meridian of digestive system. In this post, I talk about how healthy intestines are important, and can be even life-saving, and tips to improve and maintain your intestinal flora.
Can a healthy gut be the key to success in cancer treatment?
Human intestines are coated with a layer of epithelial cells, which are re-generated every 4 to 5 days in a healthy person. But this is only possible through the activation of stem cells, sort of like “super tissue regeneration machines.” Within a healthy internal environment, our body naturally produces a molecule called Rspo 1 or R-spondon 1. This Rspo 1 activates stem cell production in intestinal walls. And these stem cells produce epithelial cells, thus rebuild damaged tissues.
So in theory, this means that even if you are taking chemotherapy and it is damaging your healthy cells and tissues, your body is supposed to be able to reproduce healthy cells,repair damaged tissues, and rebuild healthy tissues again. In other words, little side effects of chemo. In fact, some studies showed that mouse that were given an injection of Rspo1 survived some deadly doses of chemotherapy. However, as I mentioned earlier, this is only possible when your intestinal environment is in good shape, where the stem cell production is being activated constantly and continuously by Rspo 1.
So if your gut bacteria are in balance (beneficial bacteria predominant), the gene expression of intestinal epithelial cells is normal and healthy. But If your intestinal flora is our of balance, Rspo 1 won’t be efficiently produced, then the stem cell production will be suppressed, therefore the regeneration of epithelial cells in the intestines will be slowed or halted. This means, chemotherapy kills healthy cells faster than they are reproduced, which explains why many cancer patients on chemo develop digestive problems and cannot absorb nutrients properly (drastic weight loss), along with other serious side effects. In other words, if you have a healthy intestinal flora, the body may be able to produce cells and repair damaged tissues faster than chemo can destroy them.
Gut health is our “Life Line”
We all have trillions of bacteria inside our gut, 10 times more than our own cells, and 500 to 1000 species are operating its unique ecosystem. Their roles are as crucial as the liver or brain to the optimal function of human body. After a long digestive process, for example, without their help, out body cannot absorb the nutrients from the food. They also produce some important nutrients such as B vitamins, K, biotin, folic acid, and even steroid hormones. Bacteria protect us from infections and other pathogens from outside, improve our overall immune system.
However, all these are guaranteed only when our gut flora is in a good balance. Then what creates healthy flora and what messes it up?
Foods that devastate your gut flora: Meat, dairy food, sugars (alcohol included) and antibiotics
These foods are the major culprits that devastate the intestinal environment, creates a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and completely alter the delicate ecosystem. Antibiotics sweeps away both good and bad bacteria, also destroys the intestinal environment. Imagine you are on chemo, eating SAD (Standard American Diet), and taking antibiotics for side effects and so on. How deadly can it be?
Probiotic Foods: Foods that create and maintain healthy intestinal flora
Including a large amount of plant-based, high fiber foods in your diet is the key to good health. Good bacteria feed on fiber so they grow and spread. So high fiber diet is the key to create healthy intestinal flora. Whole grains, vegetables, beans, sea vegetables are all great source of fiber, while meat, dairy & sugar have no beneficial fiber whatsoever. Plant-based probioticscan help further improve your gut health. Pickled or fermented foods such as homemade sauerkraut, miso, soy sauce, sauerkraut, and other salt-brine based pickles (not the vinegar-sugar ones), are particularly beneficial. And the longer it’s aged, the more medicinal effect. What about yogurt? Yogurt has some probiotics, and may have some benefit, too. But in general, animal protein cannot be completely absorbed into human body, and the “leftover” stays in the gut and produce some harmful gas, which have negative impact on the gut ecosystem. Also some studies show that the probiotics from animal source cannot survive human digestive process and won’t get to the intestines alive. Considering its pasteurized process and added sugar, flavor and so on, I would not rely on yogurt for my gut health.
A story from a woman on a healing journey from stage 4 cancer
A client of mine was diagnosed stage 4 lung cancer about a year ago. She doesn’t live in NY, so we talked on the phone first, then have been exchanging e-mails back and forth. I gave her some dietary suggestion based upon Macrobiotic principles, “Stay away from meat, dairy, sugar, processed food” and instead, “Eat more brown rice, miso soup, lots of vegetables and beans, etc”, a basic regimen for regaining natural healing power.
The next day, she made a 80mile drive to the nearest health food store, bought organic vegetables, brown rice and miso, and prepared the first macrobiotic meal. Several months later, she told me that the day before, on the day, and the day after the chemotherapy, she takes a small cup of miso broth made with “3 year barley miso”, 3 times a day, and eat only brown rice and sauteed vegetables for the meal. And now her diet has been mostly plant based and little from animal sources.
As a result, she’s been having little side effect of chemo, actually feeling great, and now the tumor has shrunk too small to be eligible for immuno-therapy. She is still on a healing journey, hoping that the last bit of cancer will be completely gone.
It’s amazing, when you think about it, how we have this microcosmos inside our gut, and helping us function as human being day in and day out.I think it’s worth paying more attention to how what we eat everyday, which can cause environmental disaster inside that little universe. How can you help your gut today?