Why do we all have sick guts? NZ health policy needs to digest some facts.

It’s an election year and there is one health policy I want to see that none of the parties are publicly considering.road to health paved good intestines

It is a policy I believe nearly every Kiwi would support. Especially women, whom this issue disproportionately affects.  A common sense policy to help us maintain our commitment to a health expenditure as a proportion of GDP at under 11%.

It’s a research funding commitment. Not to develop some new flash drug, some silver bullet, or a ‘sure fix’. It’s not a sexy issue, quite the opposite in fact. It’s down and dirty and rather, errr, fecal.

We need to understand what makes our gut lining and digestive system – degrade. Breakdown.

What are the environmental triggers that lead to a permeable bowel? What are the main dietary and environmental factors that result in a reduced gut microbiota – reduced bugs and bacteria in our gut?

We really don’t know.

What illnesses are related to permeable (leaky) bowel? Many cancers, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, coeliac disease, irritable bowel, CFS & ME, allergies, asthma, autism, ADHD & ADD, depression and ankylosing spondylitis, skin conditions including psoriasis, eczema, and atopic dermatitis to name a few. Yes, this list covers a lot of illness. I find it stunning, myself.

A huge part of our immune system depends on a healthy digestive tract. Vitamin C is only part of it. We need a heck of a lot of other nutrients to be absorbed by our bodies – using a healthy digestive system. Without this nutrient conversion and healthy absorbtion our systems break down.  In different ways often, depending on our genetic disposition.

Furthermore, when your family is presenting with ongoing immune related maladies, coughs, colds, the flu etc, it can be pretty surprising to understand the gut connection is a enormous part of getting better. (Therefore don’t eat junk food when you’re sick – get aggressive, get militant, feed your gut and slice and dice that garlic and onion and build up your own forces to repel that invading army. Don’t just spend $40 on medicine.)

There is a reason, 2,400 years ago, Hippocrates considered that all disease began in the gut.

Why is the gut so important? Because a permeable gut wall is usually present before onset of illness. Let me repeat: Before.  So when you descend into illness after a traumatic event, losing a parent for instance, in most cases your gut was already sick. It’s this massive omnipresent cofactor across all these illnesses. Your body didn’t have enough ‘ooomph’ to get you through unscathed. Your gut wasn’t working properly, you couldn’t extract enough nutrients to boost your immune system in a time of stress. Then you got sick. And we all get sick in different ways as we have different genetic predispositions, according to the environmental challenges our ancestors faced.

We have over three times the bacterial cells in our bodies than human cells. Our immune systems and body bacteria are interdependent. Our bodies have evolved to need and use these bacteria every day. We evolved from bacterial sea dwelling slime, we are them and they are us. We get rid of our evolutionary partner and we get sick.

Increased city based populations have resulted in us living in a cleaner, more hygienic environment, reducing our early exposure to germs and dirt. But it’s more than that. Our illnesses are accelerating faster than they ever did before.

What are the environmental triggers that create the pathway into allergy and autoimmune disease? We might have the genetic disposition, but nothing happens until the environmental triggers create the gut dysbiosis.

When we walk into the doctors, the symptoms doctors see are the tip of your own private iceberg. The gut is not often considered, it is hidden away.

Doctors are time poor and this is a relatively new field. Is there a corresponding relationship between New Zealand’s extremely high rate of antibiotic use and it’s correspondingly stunning rate of asthma? How do pesticides sprayed on our food affect our digestive system?  Herbicides, insecticides and fungicides kill plant based bacteria, bugs and fungus, after all. Is it no surprise that a little town of Te Puke in New Zealand with its population of 7,500, it’s orchards and sprays just happens to have an arthritis support group? Why do I know a mum with 2 autistic kids who spent their early years surrounded by 3 different orchards with three different spray regimes?

Why are people starting to believe there is a correlation between the pesticides including Roundup that is sprayed on our wheat, soy, vegetable oils and other cereals, and on the GE/GM feed that our intensively farmed animals (particularly pork and poultry) eat, which together comprise a huge part of our staple food groups – and growing illness rates.

Why doesn’t our government look at the independent publicly released scientific research that indicates pesticides like Roundup and genetically modified organisms are damaging to gut health? You find this newly released research on the NZ EPA site. I can’t.

Please understand there is not a single published study held with the NZ EPA, US EPA, WHO or EU as part of their toxicity assessments investigating the effects of pesticides on the gut microbiome and gut wall and their contribution as  environmental triggers to illness.  At all.

We can talk about the essential role fibre plays in our digestive system, and that antibiotics certainly contribute, as this great Catalyst program illustrates. But the situation is more complex than that.

medicine war between invadingThere’s more… you could say I am generalising or you could say we need to commit the cash for the research.

The pharmaceutical industry is embracing the big new field of ‘prebiotics’ and even ‘fecal transplant medicine’ to help us rebuild our digestive systems. These guys know something is wrong.  My call is that we need to practice prevention.

Practically speaking, researching environmental triggers for gut breakdown isn’t a money maker, which is why the commercial sector aren’t here already. This needs to be publicly funded.

In a country where the medicine is taxpayer funded, the only logical situation is to reduce illness in the first place.

There is no point having a poo transplant to improve your gut bacterial profile, going home and eating a big lunch of bread that has been desiccated (pesticides sprayed on our wheat to dry it out and get rid of weeds) with Roundup (a patented antibiotic, I kid you not).

What a …waste…  I reckon we can be smarter.

Because the NZ tax system isn’t a money pit.

Can we afford to hop on a ridiculous taxpayer funded bandaid roundabout?  That’s why this call for research funding is simple Kiwi common sense.  This is an exciting and relatively new focus of science which could change the way we view medicine – for the better.

Let’s get to the bottom of this problem. Digest some facts.

Doctors are often between a rock and hard place. Distressed parents demanding antibiotics to fix baby Sam’s illness walk into their clinic every day. But I don’t know a single doctor who wouldn’t appreciate independent research (with no ties to the pharmaceutical industry) to get to the guts of the matter.

This initiative covers an incredibly broad spectrum of the non-communicable illnesses whose costs to our healthcare system are spiralling. We have blockbuster drugs on our pharmaceutical scheme the likes of which we have never seen before, tied of course, to problems related to a permeable gut.

happiness digestion Rousseau

The gut is sick before the descent into illness. Without the sick gut would we get sick? Probably not. We need to understand this. We need to do more than apply expensive pharmaceutical bandaids.

A needle in a haystack? Perhaps. But while our governments continue to ignore this pressing need to understand the toxins in our diets, the situation will only get more expensive. (I could say distressing but we are talking policy here). It’s the twenty first century. We have the technology and the scientists.

Does it make sense that we should direct a significant funding commitment to researching gut health? Support groups for people with the above-listed illnesses may agree.  And many sufferers have more than one problem, which can often include mental health disorders – both relating back to the digestive system. Articles here and here and here.  The gut and brain are intricately interconnected through our immune and endocrine systems, among other things, inextricably tied to gut health.

Primarily this is about reducing onset of disease and being cautious. A no-brainer.  It’s tied to a healthy diet (of which lunches in lower decile (‘less fortunate’) schools could only aid), reduced dietary toxins and perhaps altering antibiotic regimes (with independent science based recommendations) to understand what our bodies can actually cope with.

paradigm shift in medical treatmentWe need to ensure our kid’s food is safe (perhaps follow European policy with their no pesticides in baby food mandate) and if necessary, legislate in practical ways to protect our kids physical and psychological futures. Keep toxins out of their bodies as long as we can.

On the plus side, where there is tragedy there’s opportunity. Mass illness?  Mass niche based opportunities!  The science could boost small start-ups in New Zealand. Like suppliers of natural prebiotics. Let’s not let all those big overseas pharmaceutical corporations make all the money. We are the land of raw milk and raw honey, after all.  Develop home grown organic baby foods. There is international market demand for these products.

Let’s reduce the barriers to small food based businesses and let our foodies develop the stuff they know will sell. Let our producers diversify with smart incentives.

These problems aren’t going away quickly. Let’s make some cash while we fix the situation.

I know an entrepreneur or two that may be able to help out….

Call my bluff, tell me I’m generalising, but I urge you to demand that your political parties think strongly about this research.

About Jodie

It is only by questioning and discussing and attempting to view the world our childrens children will live in, that we start to understand that life isn't a linear process - it is a room of dominoes falling. Our world has a lot of special interests and stakeholders that by default, keep science undone, and economics hooked in the 1920's - resulting in governments that don't address the complexity that is challenging our world. From pollution to mental health (and the cost of food) to the health of our freshwater - it's complex and dynamic. What equilibrium do we want to reach - a healthy vital one or a suffering one?
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One Response to Why do we all have sick guts? NZ health policy needs to digest some facts.

  1. Andrew Boyd says:

    Great article. Fully agree.








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