Balancing Your Flora The gut is the first portal of entry for a vast array of pathogens, and it interacts with all other bodily systems. Maintaining good gut health will minimize disruption to production caused by disease challenges, opening the path for antibiotic reduction. Written by Hillary Bennetts, Certified Holistic Nutritionist Website Instagram We know that gut health influences the health of just about every system in your body. From your brain function to your skin’s appearance, from how well your immune system works to how your body stores fat, your microbiome is at the root
Weed Seed And Feed Gut Health
Are you gardening this year? Do you love seeing your plants grow healthy and strong? If you are a gardener, you know there are certain things plants need to thrive. Some of the first steps are weeding, seeding, and feeding.
It is necessary to get the undesirable plants out of the way by weeding so that the seeds you want to grow don’t get choked out. Then the desirable seed can be planted. Once planted, these desirable plants need to be fed so they can grow.
The principles of gardening can actually apply to the complex habitat within our gut. To have good gut health, we must get the weeds (bad bacteria) in check. To do this we need the good seeds (healthy bacteria) to take root. And finally, we need to feed this good bacteria (prebiotics).
Let’s look at how we can use these principles to cultivate a healthy gut, and learn why it is so important for our overall health.
Why Gut Health Matters
Have you ever considered how your gut health impacts your overall health? Well, since seventy percent of your immune system resides in the gut, it is imperative that it is healthy. There is also a strong connection between our gut and our skin, our gut and our brain, and our gut and our hormones.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, “The health of the 100 trillion bugs in your gut is one of the biggest things that impacts your health.” When the healthy gut bacteria is out of balance with the bad gut bacteria, we are set up for trouble.
In fact, Dr. Hyman explains that, many “diseases are affected by the health of your gut flora – including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, allergic diseases like asthma and eczema and even depression, ADD and autism!”
How the Gut Gets Damaged
When your gut lining breaks down you develop ‘leaky gut.’ This can be caused by using antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, or excessive alcohol use. But it can also be affected by stress, a diet of processed foods, or even food sensitivities – foods that are generally considered “healthy,” but simply aren’t working for your body.
Once you develop a leaky gut, your immune system must deal with the food particles, bacteria, and microbes that leak into the body through the compromised gut barrier that would normally keep them from gaining access. This creates havoc in your system and triggers an immune response – which can lead to an autoimmune response in which your immune system attacks your own body (Think Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Psoriasis, Chron’s Disease, and Ulcerative Colitis just to name a few.)
Ways to Support Gut Health
In order to heal our gut, we need to bring the good and the bad bacteria into balance.
- “Weeding” out the bad bacteria – This can be done through reducing and eliminating excess sugar, alcohol, and processed foods from the diet. In some cases it is important to reduce the amount of bad bacteria through the use of herbs or prescription medicine.
- “Seeding” Probiotics – Dr. Hyman explains that “probiotics can improve the health of your gut significantly… because probiotics help to populate your gut with good bacteria.”
Eating fermented foods that contain probiotics – like kimchi, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, and yogurt – can increase the amount of good bacteria in your system. However, most people would benefit from a quality probiotic supplement as well.
- “Feeding” the good bacteria – In addition to probiotics, it is important to have prebiotics. Dr. Hyman explains that “prebiotics are a form of soluble fiber that help feed the good bugs in your gut.”
This is because many fruits and vegetables contain fiber and resistant starch that your body can’t digest. These indigestible plant fibers, or prebiotics, become food for the healthy bacteria and other microbes. Common prebiotics include onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, asparagus, leeks, carrots, bananas, apples, and almonds. Aim for a variety of colors of veggies every day to adequately feed the variety of “good” bacteria.
What to Look for in a Probiotic
The probiotic market can be really confusing. It seems like there are hundreds if not thousands of options! How do you decide which to choose?
In his book Healthy Gut, Healthy You, Dr. Michael Ruscio explains the 3 main categories of Probiotics. These include:
- Lactobacillus & Bifidobacterium blends
- Saccharomyces Boulardii
- Soil-Based Probiotics using various Bacillus species.
I recommend choosing one probiotic from each of these categories, and taking them simultaneously for at least 3-4 weeks. Want to learn more about why I make this recommendation? I LOVE this probiotic starter guide by the aforementioned author Dr. Michael Ruscio.
What Brand to Use
Quality really matters when it comes to probiotics. In addition to not containing what they claim, some probiotics actually have been found to contain unacceptable microorganisms. I never recommend buying supplements on Amazon as Amazon itself admits that they can’t guarantee that what is advertised is what you will receive.
The brands that I recommend go through external audits to ensure that the product contains what is on the label while not containing unacceptable organisms, or common allergens such as gluten, dairy, and soy.
There is no one “perfect” brand to use. The most expensive one is not necessarily best, but it is important to notice if a probiotic is much cheaper than other brands on the market. Really cheap probiotics may not have the best quality control practices and likely aren’t independently tested.
If you want to learn what my favorite brands are in each of the 3 categories, feel free to ask me at your next appointment.
As always, I’m available to discuss your gut health or your use of probiotics. Just give me a call, and we’ll set up an appointment where we can discuss it!
Seed, Feed, Weed
The gut is the first portal of entry for a vast array of pathogens, and it interacts with all other bodily systems. Maintaining good gut health will minimize disruption to production caused by disease challenges, opening the path for antibiotic reduction. As such, there is no silver bullet for improving gut health status; instead, we must focus on:
Dr. S. Collett of the University of Georgia has created a model encompassing the key factors influencing gut health — the ‘Seed, Feed, Weed Concept.’ Conscious of the parameters facing commercial operations, the program is designed to be:
The program results are measurable, ensuring benefits can be quantified. Dr. Collett describes the concept in terms of caring for crops — sowing seeds of the crops you want to grow, fertilizing the crops for optimal growth and weeding out other plants that may prevent your crop from growing optimally.
The Seed, Feed & Weed Program
Seeding the gut with favorable organisms
In a natural environment, the young animal’s gut would be seeded with the microorganisms from the mother’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract through vertical transmission. Typically, the young animal would also be born into a nest environment, allowing the mother’s microbiota to transfer through fecal material, leading to colonization of the gut. Modern farming practices reduce these opportunities. In poultry breeder birds are fed in order to improve their fertility, and as such, often their microbial population changes to become aberrant. This flora can be passed to chicks on the surface of the shell and will become the first flora to enter the gut.
‘Seeding’ the young animal’s gut with a probiotic ensures that a diverse microflora population can develop, and outcompete the aberrant flora from the parents, creating the framework on which to build good gut health.
With the right intestinal microflora now in place, piglets, chicks and calves show improvements in:
- Early growth
- Feed conversion
Feeding a favorable environment
Once a favorable microorganism population is established in the gut, it is important to ensure that the surrounding environment is optimized for growth and replication. In the young animal there are few organisms established, so it is important that these beneficial bacteria are given the best chance of outcompeting any inherited aberrant microflora.
Most beneficial microflora are acid-tolerant and therefore grow best at lower pH. In contrast, potentially pathogenic organisms such as Clostridia and Campylobacter are intolerant to acidic conditions. Feeding a buffered weak organic acid compound provides a competitive disadvantage to the unfavorable bacteria, allowing beneficial organisms to prosper. Using a weak acid ensures that it is not inactivated at the top of the GI tract, allowing it to reach the small intestine and provide maximum benefit.
Once a beneficial microflora community and intestinal ecology are established, the villi will flourish. This is critical for health and feed efficiency: The healthier the villi an animal has, the more efficiently nutrients are absorbed.
Weeding out unfavorable organisms
Even with a healthy, diverse microflora, stressors throughout an animal’s life can alter the gut environment. Preserving favorable gut conditions is vital to preventing performance challenges. The ‘Weed’ principle maintains the correct balance of microbial species by removing unfavorable bacteria and contributes the biggest proportion of the overall program.
This is also crucial in reducing antibiotic usage and its effect on microbial diversity. Historically, antibiotics were used to remove gut pathogens. However, their non-specific nature means they can remove beneficial organisms too. A recolonized gut post-antibiotic use has a significantly reduced microbial diversity, diminishing its many benefits.
Alltech solutions help prevent pathogenic bacteria from binding to the epithelium, maintaining microbial diversity, which improves the animal’s natural defenses.
For a pathogen to cause disease, it first needs to adhere to the gut epithelial lining. It does this via type-1 fimbriae projections, which recognize specific carbohydrate molecules on the gut cell wall. Once attached, the pathogen can replicate, which can then lead to:
- Villi structure alteration
- A reduction in the animal’s absorption
An animal exhibiting good gut health is one that makes the most efficient use of its feed with minimal disruption to production when subjected to any form of stress.
The ‘Seed, Feed, Weed’ program aids in reducing antibiotic usage by
- Seeding the gut with favorable organisms for improved performance in young animals
- Feeding a favorable environment to provide a competitive advantage to favourable bacteria, which are tolerant to acidic environments, unlike most pathogens
- Weeding out unfavorable bacteria by selective exclusion
While antibiotics still have a crucial role in disease outbreak incidences, effective gut health management using the ‘Seed, Feed, Weed’ program has been shown to reduce the need for antibiotic use in many commercial flocks and herds, as well as enhance performance across several measures.
Paired with effective biosecurity, water and farm management, the Alltech Seed, Feed, Weed solution helps producers get one step further on the path of improved performance and reduced antibiotic use.
Providing solutions for each step of the Seed, Feed, Weed process, Alltech is a one-stop shop for gut health.
Pig: Pathway to ZnO-free: a holistic approach optimizes gut health
Time is running out to find solutions that could be used to replace therapeutic, high-level zinc oxide (ZnO) in weaned piglets. The EU will ban the use of medicinal levels of ZnO in 2022, and other regions will follow suit.
Alltech’s Seed, Feed, Weed (SFW) program is a timed gut health strategy that ensures your piglets perform optimally, even under stress. It is a synergistic combined approach to accelerate the evolution of the microbial community to a stable state and then maintain the status quo. Thanks to the antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and digestive properties, these natural ingredients stabilize piglets’ intestinal flora, boost their feed intake and set them up for strong and sustainable health and growth performance. Alltech SFW makes the transition to ZnO-free piglet diets more reliable and cost-effective.
Poultry: Achieve profitability in a sustainable manner
There is a broad interest in developing natural nutritional strategies to promote gut health and development in birds, maximizing lifetime growth performance, minimizing antibiotic use and improving the overall sustainability of production. Alltech’s SFW program is designed to positively impact gut health, affecting both microbial diversity and gut structure. This is essential for the bird and helps ensure optimal lifetime performance and profitability for producers in a sustainable manner.
Calves: Improve immunity for life-long benefits
A healthy gut is crucial for a healthy calf, and every calf disease will leave subclinical or clinical effects that may lead to early culling or reduced milk production. Establishing gut health and development in calves is essential for building a foundation for performance and profitability in the future herd. Alltech’s SFW program plays a crucial role in helping producers invest in future performance by modifying the gut and helping establish a favorable and more diverse microbial population after birth.
THE 3 ESSENTIAL STEPS TO MAINTAINING A THRIVING MICROBIOME
We know that gut health influences the health of just about every system in your body. From your brain function to your skin’s appearance, from how well your immune system works to how your body stores fat, your microbiome is at the root of it all.
Over 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates made the statement that “all disease begins in the gut,” but it wasn’t until recent years that we started paying attention. So what can we do to maintain a thriving microbiome? Here are three essential steps: weed, seed, and feed.
Step 1: Weed
The first step to support gut health is to remove, or “weed out,” the foods that contribute to gut inflammation and imbalance. In other words: cut the crap.
The “Standard American Diet” is packed with processed, inflammatory foods like refined carbohydrates, excess sugar, and industrial seed oils. Even if you seek out better-for-you options, the reality is, most processed food contains inflammatory ingredients and lacks gut supporting nutrients like soluble and insoluble fiber.
So what can you do? Transition to a diet based on healthy, whole, nutrient-dense foods. You may also take weeding a step further by working with a practitioner to run a food sensitivity test or elimination diet. You may find that certain foods (even foods you may otherwise view as healthy, like eggs) are irritating and inflaming your gut. By identifying such foods, you can remove them from your diet for a period of time to allow your gut to heal.
Step 2: Seed
The second step to support gut health is to seed the gut with good bacteria.
You constantly have both good and bad bacteria in your body. The bad bacteria can quickly overrun the good if left unmanaged, so the key is to keep the balance of good bacteria greater than the bad. You can do this by adding good bacteria to your gut, which can actually help fight off the bad and restore a healthy balance. Probiotic foods and supplements are a way to add good bacteria to your body.
So what can you do? Incorporate fermented foods into your diet. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics and include foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, yogurt, and kefir. You can also supplement with a probiotic. Consult with your provider on specific strains if you have a known gut issue (like SIBO, leaky gut, histamine intolerance, IBD, or IBS).
Step 3: Feed
The third step is to feed the good bacteria in the gut with prebiotics. Just like us, bacteria need to eat specific food to survive and thrive.
So what can you do? Increase your intake of fermentable fibers. These are found in foods like unripe (green) bananas, plantains, artichoke, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, and dandelion greens.
Taking care of your microbiome can have a broad range of benefits. As every microbiome is different, every body will respond differently to weeding, seeding, and feeding. However, incorporating these steps can improve allergies, brain function, skin health, immunity, digestion, and bone health. In addition, it can reduce the risk of autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
It might sound miraculous, but that’s just how powerful a thriving microbiome can be. Try these three simple steps and see what benefits you notice!
Hillary Bennetts is a nutritionist and business consultant focusing on prenatal and postpartum health. In addition to nutrition consulting she provides business consulting and content creation for companies in the health and wellness industry. Hillary spent almost a decade in corporate consulting before shifting gears to combine her lifelong passion for health and wellness with her business background and nutrition education.
Hillary holds a Bachelors in Economics from Washington and Jefferson College, an MBA from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, and is certified as a Holistic Nutritionist through Bauman College. She lives in Colorado with her husband and toddler son.