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The Gut-Microbiome Connection: Understanding the Power of Proper Nutrition in Preventing Health Complications

I love the quote, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food" Hippocrates.

Let me start with the fact that I am not a licensed Nutritionist or Dietician. I have read several books, attended many classes, and have been trained about how the body uses food as fuel through my Health and Human Performance/Athletic Training background and my Doctorate in Physical Therapy. I have seen the benefits that come from people eating healthy and wanting to feel or perform at their best. Unfortunately, I have seen more on the side of unhealthy eating mainly due to several reasons from lack of knowledge to people with eating disorders.

I have found cookbooks and online resources that have taught me how to make delicious and healthy food. I tried different diets like Paleo and others. Over time I started learning more about food and how your diet affects your health and longevity. So about 5 years ago, I changed my health dramatically. My Doctor was in shock to see my blood tests change for the better so quickly. I felt much better as well and I felt like I had energy versus all the gut issues I was experiencing at the time.

I grew up in Montana on 2 acres of land. My father would rototill this large L-shaped garden where I would pull weeds or remove rocks for hours. He would filter water from a pond and water the garden daily. He also would graft trees and we had several types of fruit on the property. My parents would also can and preserve food that we could eat throughout the year. We would still experience certain times of the year when we didn't have enough food due to being in a below-poverty level income home. I can still recall how we would pick up our allotment of government-assisted food. During school, we qualified for free school lunches which was a relief to my parents but to this day, I have never been a fan of school lunches.

Through my teen years and through college I witnessed friends skipping lunches to keep their weight down due to anorexia and bulimia. I saw then and through the years the consequences of these choices. It did not seem that anyone around me, including myself, enjoyed food and I saw it as a task to be completed for many years.

I have also seen that we all need to pay attention to what we are eating and how we look at our choices around food. This came to me on a more personal level watching my mother suffer from poor gut health and her death because of it. In October of 2022, I received a call from the Doctor on duty at the hospital my mother was at. She explained to me that if my mother did not get emergency surgery, she had little chance of living. When I spoke with the surgeon later, he explained she had a ballooned area in her intestines the size of a football. He did what he could to repair it but the lining was very thin. I recently watched a video where Erika La Vella, DO, FASMBS of Samaritan Health Services discussed the importance of good gut health and explained generally how my mother's gut health got to the point it did. She explains in the video when you have an unhealthy gut bacteria, toxins can be released which causes an immune reaction, increasing inflammation. This inflammation is not always localized like a cut on the finger, inflammation gets into the bloodstream and goes into all the organs of the body. The toxins can cause achy joints, muscle aches, headaches, pain, irritable bowel syndrome, brain fog, and memory problems.

What Doctor La Vella and the research show is that the best heart-healthy and low inflammatory and anti-cancer diets are known to be plant-based diets. Dr La Vella states that the best foods for good gut bacteria are eating from the rainbow of fruits and vegetables which are nutrient-dense as well as nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. These foods are great sources of antioxidants for preventing cancer. Also, fermented foods with probiotic bacteria, and drinking water. She advised avoiding soda pop and flavored waters and reducing intake of processed foods that decrease gut bacteria.

Start now eating a plant-based diet. Changes in overall health have been researched to have immediate effects once changing to a plant-based diet. No medication or procedure can do that. Your diet can lead to allergies and autoimmune and inflammatory diseases like arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and more. I love the quote by Maya Angelou, "When you know better, do better." You can do this, it doesn't happen overnight but you can make gradual changes and continue to learn about how you can change your life and those around you. It is not easy and you will find that not everyone will support you on this. Sometimes family members need more time to adjust. Sometimes you may have to find the medical providers that support better diet choices. Find answers to your questions. A good resource might be in your library. I enjoyed reading the book, "Intestinal Health" by Mardell Hill. She has great overall information and good tips including how to afford healthy food (see page 139). Let us take responsibility for our health and well-being. Be patient and be empowered by your decision to find your path to wellness.

#Live Inspired

Karen Baltz Gibbs, PT, DPT, CSCS, CMP, LMT, Garage Training & Rehab Gym

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