Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Gut Check

If inflammation is the root of all evil (disease in all its forms) then the gut is the body's first, last, and only line of defense.

The term "gut" typically refers to the digestive track; stomach, intestines, etc. But the gut is far more than a group of organs working together, in fact the gut is a hotbed teaming with life. Home to hundreds of trillions of microorganisms (healthy bacteria), it's symbiosis at its best. But like any symbiotic relationship both sides have to be in perfect harmony with each other at all times. With each side totally dependent on each other, it is a powerful yet delicate balance that must be maintained. The beauty of this sort of relationship though is that each side benefits from the others existence. We provide a home (the gut) for the bacteria to flourish and in return they make digestion (life) possible, and without proper digestion we cannot survive. If we cannot breakdown our food properly we not only deprive our bodies of the key nutrients required for life, we damage our intestines compromising our immune systems. And a compromised immune system (gut) is a perfect environment for inflammation (disease) to thrive.

Back before agriculture reared its ugly head we were healthy hunter gatherers. Our diets were pure, free of all disease causing foods; refined sugars, refined flowers, processed foods, and grains in all their forms. Our digestive tract maintained that perfect pH balance that makes for a hospitable environment for our symbiont (intestinal flora). This of course all changed about 10 thousand years ago with the advent of agriculture, and from then on our loyal symbiont has been getting the short end of the stick. We poison ourselves daily with diets high in processed foods, refined sugars and flowers, and so many grains (whole grains, breads, pastas, cereals, cookies, cakes...) that our guts normal bacteria friendly environment becomes an unbalanced inflamed mess.

But the rise of agriculture and decline of our health wasn't an instantaneous event. In its infancy we still had no processed foods, no refined (white) sugars, no refined (white) flowers, and no high fructose corn syrup. And just as significant, we had no means of preserving foods beyond the most natural and basic of methods... fermentation! This meant that all of these new foods, primarily grains and dairy, were often fermented in order to consume, in the case of grains and legumes, and or to preserve, in the case of dairy. And the amazing thing about this natural method of food preserving and preparation, is that fermentation like digestion requires help from these same microorganisms (bacteria). Without bacteria fermentation, or the breakdown of carbohydrates (sugar), would not be possible.

Fermented foods are not only easier to digest then their unfermented counterparts due to the elimination anti-nutrients, but they also become a healthier food containing increased levels of nutrients (vitamins, proteins, amino acids...) as well as an excellent source of healthy bacteria.

So this tells me that agriculture (grains and dairy) at its most primitive early state was not the cancer to our health that it has evolved into (factory farming). So what can we as people currently living in agriculture's most deadly years do to protect ourselves? We can eat primarily locally grown organic produce and grass fed meats. We can greatly reduce our intake of processed foods. We can significantly cut back on our grain consumption. And we can do our guts a favor and start living up to our end of the bargain... Eat more fermented foods!

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