Chiropractic, Gut Health & the Microbiome

The Gut

Why are you reading about gut health on a chiropractic website? Because there are well- established scientific links between the digestive system and the musculoskeletal systems.

Your gut plays an important role in your overall health. We see this regularly in clinical practice. Improved gut health can improve back pain and inflammation. It is also possible improved spinal function may improve some gut problems (1).

That means anyone who is proactive about their health should consider optimising their gut microbiome as outlined.

The Gut

What is the Gut?

Your gut or gastrointestinal (GI) tract starts at your mouth and ends at your back passage.

Every single thing you eat passes through your gut – and the journey can be a long one because your intestines are tightly coiled. If you were to stretch them out fully, they’d fill half a badminton court!

When you eat, food passes down your oesophagus, through your stomach and into the small intestine, which has 3 parts – the duodenum, jejunum and ileum. Once it reaches the small intestine, your food is digested and absorbed into the bloodstream. The last part of the small intestine, the ileum, joins onto the large intestine or cecum.

Now, the gut has many important parts but we’ll just highlight two – The iliocecal valve and the appendix.

1. Iliocecal valve (ICV)

The ICV forms the junction between the small and large intestines. The valve opens in one direction only to let digested food move from the small intestine into the large one. Once it’s closed, it prevents waste materials in the large intestine from moving back up into the small intestine. 

Why is this little valve of interest? Because it is just one example of many where organ problems affect the function of the musculoskeletal system.

People suffering low back pain often experince tenderness around the ICV. Clinically we can often observe this finding related to a weaken the hip flexor on the right side – it would be interesting to build on these observations with research.

2. The appendix

We’ve tended to think of the appendix as an unimportant, leftover piece of the body that only merits our attention (usually with surgery) when appendicitis strikes.

Thankfully, we’re having a rethink about that.

In 2015, researchers from Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute published new research showing a network of immune cells helps the appendix to play a pivotal role in maintaining the health of the digestive system.

Professor Gabrielle Belz from the Institute stated that, 

“We’ve found that innate lymphoid cells may help the appendix to potentially reseed good’ bacteria within the microbiome — or community of bacteria — in the body. A balanced microbiome is essential for recovery from bacterial threats to gut health, such as food poisoning.”

So, maybe the appendix should be allowed to live to fight another day. A landmark Finnish study of appendicitis treatments demonstrated that surgical removal of the appendix is not the only viable option – antibiotic treatment is a reasonable option that would allow the appendix to continue supporting the gut microbiome. Which brings us to the next question…

What is the Gut Microbiome?

Your gut houses about 100 trillion bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microorganisms. Collectively these microbes are called your gut microbiome.

Your body is in fact composed of more bacteria and other microorganisms than actual cells, and you have more bacterial DNA than human DNA.

Your gastrointestinal tract is now considered one of the most complex microbial ecosystems on earth, and its influence is such that it’s frequently referred to as your second brain.

Advancing science has made it quite clear that these organisms play a major role in your health, both mental and physical. As clinical dietitian, Abigail Marsh, explains,

“Disturbances to our gut microbiota have been shown to contribute to many conditions so for example when looking at chronic diseases, such as obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, liver disease – they’ve all been associated with imbalances in the human microbiota. Numerous other diseases have been associated with this disbalance, so when the basically bad bacteria take over from the good bacteria, this can lead to infection, respiratory disorders, autoimmune diseases, irritable bowel syndrome and even mental or psychological disorders.”

The gut microbiome plays a primary role in nutrient absorption and digestion. In addition, the gut microbiome is involved in the production of certain vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12 and vitamin K2.

Clearly, we need a healthy gut microbiome.

So, what does that involve?

How do you Support a Healthy Gut Microbiome?

Your diet and lifestyle are two significant influences (either for good or ill) on your gut microbiome.

1. Diet & the Microbiome – Hello Fibre!

Fibre is an important component of a healthy diet. It slows the rate at which food enters your bloodstream and increases the speed of food exiting through the digestive tract. Dietary fibre also helps balance blood sugar and cholesterol levels, aids in quick release of toxins from your gut and curbs your appetite.

Fibre is also vital for feeding friendly gut bacteria – and so supports a healthy microbiome. That helps to reduce inflammation, which can ease disorders like irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease.

Fibre can also help with weight loss because it helps you feel full more quickly and for longer. That makes it easier to eat less and so easier to lose weight.

You should aim to get 30-50 grams of fibre into your diet every day (most of us don’t get enough). But the type of fibre you choose is important.

Focus on Soluble Fibre

Soluble fibre can help lower cholesterol, blood sugar, and insulin, prevent cancer, balance
hormone levels, remove excess estrogen and reduce the risk of breast cancer, make vitamins
and minerals, provide food for the colon cells, and more(4). So it’s easy to see just how crucial
soluble fiber is to good heath!

You’ll find soluble fibre in:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Most Whole Grains

The bacteria in your gut metabolises the soluble fibre in these foods, and that’s when the benefits start.

If you don’t do well with grains, then try increasing your intake of leafy greens.

Ditch the All-Bran

When I say ‘fibre’, many people instantly think of cereals like All-Bran and Sultana Bran – which are wheat fibre. While it might ‘keep you regular’, wheat fibre is largely insoluble and won’t get digested. As wellness author, Dr Mark Hyman MD, explains, ‘This type of fibre is like taking a scrubbing brush or a scouring pad to your intestines. It will not help you the way that soluble fibre can.’

In fact, almost all breakfast cereals can be considered pro-inflammatory foods. They involved refined grains and refined sugar. Try changing up your breakfast routine and choosing items from the second column of the table below.

Beware of fake meats

A plant-based diet can be very healthy – a fake meat diet is not.

Fake meats (plant-based meat alternatives) contain industrial seed oils that are loaded wit linoleic acid (LA). Excessive consumption of LA in the modern diet is already one of the key drivers of chronic disease, and plant-based meat substitutes will only worsen the situation.

Companies may call these things ‘synthetic biology’ and ‘fermentation technology,’ but these foods are all just GMOs (genetically modified organisms). They are using terms people do not understand, so that people will not realize these are GMO ingredients. Worst of all they are marketing these frankenfoods as natural.

My advice – steer clear.

What about grains and gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in various grains including wheat, barley, and rye. It is responsible for the doughiness in bread and pasta.

As Dr Sarah Ballantyne PhD explains, grains have a particularly high concentration of two types of toxic lectins:

  • Prolamins (like gluten)
  • Agglutinins (like wheat germ agglutinin) are of particular concern for human health

The toxicity is part of the plant’s natural defence system – if the plant makes any creature that eats it feel sick, it’s more likely to be left alone to grow in peace.

Obviously, humans have been eating grains since the Agricultural Revolution over 10,000 years ago. These grains are not toxic enough to make most of us severely ill immediately after eating them (otherwise we’d have quit long ago).

No, their effects are more subtle and cumulative but can, ultimately, manifest as serious disease.

2.  Lifestyle & the Microbiome – 3 Key Influences

There 3 types of stress that can destroy gut health – emotional, chemical and physical.

i. Emotional stress – Emotional stress causes dysfunction with the nervous system in your gut. Stress causes smooth muscle in your gut to spasm and loose its normal motility. Emotional stress can lead to ‘leaky gut’ and damage the good bacteria (we’ll discuss leaky gut soon).

ii. Physical stress – Physical stress can come in the form of lack of exercise, poor sleep, and sedentary lifestyle. Studies have also shown that back pain is associated with altered gut microbiota composition, possibly through increased inflammation.

iii. Chemical stress – There seems to be so much of this around that it’s hard to believe we even have a functioning biome left.

Examples include:

  • Medication overuse: anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, antacids, steroids – these can damage the gut and block normal digestive function.
  • Junk diet: this promotes the growth of the wrong bacteria and yeast in the gut, leading to a deranged ecosystem.
  • Pesticides such as glyphosate-based herbicides, which disrupt the human gut microbiome even at low doses regulators claim are safe, according to a new study.

Signs of Poor Gut Health

What about your gut? How do you know whether your own gut health is good or bad?

Look out for problems with your:

  • Digestion – constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, gas
  • Immune health – frequent sickness could be a sign that your gut microbiome is out of balance
  • Skin – eczema, psoriasis, acne are linked to inflammation, which relates to the gut microbiome
  • Mood – the gut produces essential neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA, meaning an imbalance gut is linked to anxiety and depression.
  • Weight – the gut microbiome affects metabolism, appetite and satiety signals.

Leaky Gut and its Link to Other Conditions

From what you’ve read here already, you can see that we regularly encounter many things that are harmful to our gut health. For some people, this turns into a dysfunctional condition known as leaky gut.

Leaky gut syndrome (Fig.2) describes a condition where the intestinal wall, becomes inflamed, and has lost its integrity, and now is too permeable, allowing the wrong material to pass through creating an immune reaction often associated with chronic inflammation, which is linked to diseases such as:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Gallstones
  • Celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Diverticulitis.

Harvard Health describes inflammatory bowel disease as where unhealthy lifestyle collides with genetics.

People may have a genetic predisposition to these conditions but there appears to be some common connections with the stress ‘causes’ listed above and the associated damage known as leaky gut.

Inflammation – the Silent Killer & Unified Cause of Disease

What’s the cause behind the cause? The common culprit behind many of these conditions? Inflammation.

Like the joints of your body, which can get inflamed by injury, the intestine can get inflamed. Chronic inflammation can occur over time in the gut, when the autonomic nervous system, is unable to completely resolve the ‘inflammatory response’ triggered by the immune response.

Chronic Inflammation is often hidden. We can’t feel it but it manifests itself as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression and even back pain or inflammatory arthritis.

The pain can often come and go, but unfortunately the inflammation silently carries on continuing to damage the body. Your gut can also contribute to inflammation in other tissues of the body.
Now that we know a little bit more about gut health and the gut microbiome let’s talk about some of the most effective hacks to increase gut health.

5 Hacks to a Better Gut Microbiome

At Blue Align Chiropractic, we follow 5 key steps to improve the microbiome

  1. Assess
  2. Weed
  3. Feed
  4. Reassess
  5. Optimise

Our holistic approach recognises the connection of the spine and nervous system to all systems of the body, including the gut or GI tract. Here’s what you can expect at each stage.

1. Assess the ‘Gut Microbiome’

This may involve:

  • Taking a detailed clinical history
  • Conducting a physical examination
  • Lab tests to evaluate your GI tract and the bacteria dominating your gut
  • Liaison with your GP, specialist or naturopath (if you have others already involved in your care)
  • Heart rate variability test – a useful indicator of inflammation (more below)
  • Chiropractic treatment using the sacro occipital technique – links dysfunction in segments of the spine to reflex points in surrounding tissue that have been observed to reflect organ stress (similar to acupressure or ayurvedic medicine)

2. Weed

Your gut microbiome is healthiest when it contains large numbers of many different types of bacteria in a healthy balance. You don’t need to weed out all the supposedly bad bugs (40% of over-60s have a ‘bad’ bacteria called Helicobacter pylori in their guts but no symptoms of gastritis or stomach ulcers).

It would seem that balance in the gut biome is the good bugs adapting to the stress of some bad bugs. If there’s an overgrowth of bad bacteria, there are some helpful herbs that can help to weed them out and give you the opportunity to recondition your gut to grow more good bugs.

3. Feed

The goal here is to feed yourself with the foods that help to support your microbiome. There are two key types: prebiotics and probiotics.

Prebiotics are specialised plant fibres that stimulate the growth of healthy gut bacteria. They’re like fertiliser for your microbiome. You’ll find prebiotics in onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, dandelion greens, jicama and resistant starch. Be sure to include these natural gut health supporters as much as possible.

Probiotics provide beneficial bacteria that colonize the GI tract with optimal amounts and types of bacteria to protect against inflammation and support immunity and healthy digestive function.

Fermented foods are an excellent source of probiotics. Try some:

  • Naturally fermented sauerkraut
  • Pickled vegetables (including organic pickles)
  • Kimchi (the Korean version of fermented vegetables or fruit)
  • Kefir (fermented milk—unsweetened only)
  • Miso
  • Tamari (the liquid from miso)
  • Tempeh (fermented tofu cake)
  • Tofu (which is sometimes fermented)
  • Naturally fermented soy sauce
  • Unpasteurised apple cider vinegar
  • Coconut yogurt (unsweetened)

4. Reassess

After a period of lifestyle change and treatment, we then look again at your gut microbiome and overall health. Can we see measurable improvements? Have you noticed changes? Are you feeling healthier? What else could we try for even greater gains?

Yourheart rate variability (HRV) is one important factor here. HRV refers to the gaps between your heartbeats, which can vary quite a bit as your heart doesn’t beat in a perfectly regular rhythm.

Ideally, you want high HRV with more variation between your heartbeats. That indicates you have a well-balanced autonomic nervous system (ANS), which adapts easily from a state of stress or excitement back to a state of relaxation.

That adaptability is good for your health. When your ANS is able to adapt to stress and change, you’ll tend to be less susceptible to inflammation and disease, making you healthier overall. An adaptable ANS is linked to positive health outcomes like mental clarity, athletic performance and strong immune function. The opposite is also true – a poorly functioning ANS puts you at greater risk of many common diseases.

5. Optimise

At this stage, we would continue doing whatever had improved your HRV and your gut microbiome. We’d help you create lasting behaviour change to support lifelong wellness.

Well done for reading this far!

You’ve hopefully learned that:

  • There are trillions of microorganisms living in your gut which exert a profound influence on your overall health and wellbeing – including chronic diseases, mental health and weight.
  • Your food choices and lifestyle influence the balance of these microbes – meaning that the right choices can make a big difference to your health.

Now, we want to help you make those changes. And the best place to get started is by registering for our Adaptability Webinar.

We’ll show you how to proactively manage your current and future health through simple and measurable strategies, including measuring your heart rate variability (HRV). We’ll help you apply 9 simple lifestyle interventions, including meditation, that can be adapted to suit your individual situation. You’ll also learn how to measure the effectiveness of those interventions on your overall wellbeing.

Book An Appointment

If you have any questions on this topic, please call us on (07) 3357 3366 or alternatively, you can book an appointment at Blue Align Chiropractic.

We’d love to help you experience better health.

Reference

  1. chiro.org/Subluxation/FULL/ROME_VSC_NEURO.pdf

DISCLAIMER: All content is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

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