Did you know that there was a time when seasonal allergies and hay fever were considered fashionable? That it was posh to be red-eyed and sneezing every spring?
It’s true, and yes, it’s almost unbelievable! It all began during the Industrial Revolution when the upper classes had cleaner water and better sanitation than the average European.
What happened was simple yet unexpected. With a (slightly) more cleaner life, their gut bacteria became weaker. No longer did it have a regular input of new bacteria from water and poor sanitation. This weaker microbial colony in the gut wasn’t able to keep their immune system in balance and the result – seasonal allergies.
I find it pretty amazing and rather cool that our gut bacteria, non-human cells that colonize our body (mostly in our colon), can play such an important role in our immune health.
Actually, they (almost) fully control it! It’s our gut bacteria that tell our immune system when to react and when not to react. And research is finding a direct connection between a weaker, less diverse gut bacteria colony and an overstimulated, overwhelmed, and over-reacting immune system.
At first, this was a minor imbalance that showed itself as seasonal allergies and later asthma. Pollen, dust, and dander look similar to viruses and bacteria. A balanced immune system can tell the difference between the two, but a slightly overwhelmed immune system struggles and can attack these outdoor allergens like they’re an invading virus.
Over the last few generations, our gut bacteria has become weaker and weaker. For all of us in North America, our lives are relatively clean. We get to drink bacteria-free water and we have great sanitation. We also have chlorine in our water, antibiotic residue in our conventionally grown meats and farmed fish, and we take antibiotics when we have a bacterial infection.
These new inputs have weakened our gut bacteria even further, and this has added a new immune system imbalance to the mix – auto-immune conditions.
Auto-immune conditions like; Hashimotos Thyrioditis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Celiac Disease, and Type I Diabetes are on the rise and they can be very hard to treat. These are complex conditions with many inputs, and research is finding that our gut bacteria may play a significant role in developing them.
Researchers have spent a lot of time studying two very genetically similar groups of people – one in Finland and one in Russia, to find out why these conditions are on the rise. They live less than 100 miles apart, and it was only relatively recently that a border separated them.
What’s interesting is they have a dramatic difference in rates of two common auto-immune conditions; Celiac Disease and Type I Diabetes. And their genetics are so similar that they can rule out any genetic causes of these conditions. There must be something else.
The rate of Type I Diabetes in Finland is 5x higher than in Russia, and Celiac Disease is 6x higher. The group in Finland has a significantly higher risk of both of these conditions compared to those in Russia. Even hay fever was 4.5xs more common in Finland.
And what’s the difference in their lifestyles? Finland is much cleaner. They have clean water and great sanitation, unlike those living in this part of Russia. The Russian group has many different strains of bacteria in their water and the children have very high rates of fecal-transferred bacterial infections, like h.pylori and Hep A.
It seems a cleaner life = higher rates of allergies, asthma, and auto-immune conditions.
The good news is we can help support our gut bacteria! And we don’t need to start drinking bacteria-contaminated water to do it. We simply need to be kind to our gut bacteria by doing a few simple things each day.
3 steps to supporting your gut bacteria –
- Prime your gut – create the best environment possible for your gut bacteria by enjoying fermented foods everyday. Just one serving is all you need! Foods like; unpasteurized sauerkraut, organic kefir, or a fermented supplement like fermented vegan proteins+.
- Seed your gut – to replace the bacteria we used to get from our water, we all need to seed our gut everyday with a good quality probiotic. I love multi-strain probiotics like advanced gut health probiotic.
- Feed your gut – with plant-based phytonutrients. Your gut bacteria love love loves phytonutrients like polyphenols and antioxidants. They’re found in all fruits, veggies, and superfoods. For an added phytonutrient bonus for my gut bacteria, I drink greens+ It’s a high antioxidant, high polyphenol superfood that makes my gut very happy.