Hippocrates once said: “All disease begins in the gut”. This statement has proven to be far more accurate than he would ever have guessed and the reason is gut flora. Defective gut flora or “gut dysbiosis” can occur in anyone and is usually due to frequent antibiotic courses, elevated sugar levels in the diet, toxins such as chlorine and fluorine exposure from water and other sources, and a diet low in fermented foods. When one’s gut flora is out of balance, leaky gut syndrome occurs and many conditions such as poor digestion, colitis, Crohn’s disease, allergies, arthritis and mental disorders can become worse. Leaky gut syndrome essentially occurs when the layer of bacteria in our intestines becomes unbalanced and some of the more harmful bacteria such as E. Coli or H. Pylori overgrow. These more harmful bacteria secrete corrosive byproducts as a method of protection and this causes gaps to form in the bacterial layer and ulceration of the walls of the gut. Food particles then leak through the gaps and set off the immune response, which is a possible explanation as to why allergies are so prevalent today.
Fermented foods contain fairly large quantities of beneficial bacteria (a.k.a. probiotic) that, if eaten, will continue to re-populate the gut. Some examples of these beneficial foods are:
Miso- a fermented soybean paste which makes up the staple of Japanese cuisine (miso soup) and contains large quantities of Lactobacillus Acidophilus, lecithin and many phyto-nutrients.
Natto- fermented boiled soybeans using Bacillus Subtilis bacteria. It is also part of Japanese cuisine and contains probiotic as well as vitamin K2, pyrazine and nattokinase (anticoagulants that prevent blood clots), and the anti-cancer substances diadzein, selenium and isoflavone.
Kimchi- Korean and Japanese spicy pickled cabbage which has abundant probiotic (Lactobacillus Kimchee), Vitamins B1, B2, C and A, calcium and iron and possesses antiviral and antioxidant properties.
Kefir- a special east European fermented milk rich in various probiotics, which uses a matrix of different bacteria,yeast, proteins, lipids and sugars (called kefir grains) and is antimutagenic, antioxidant, blood pressure lowering and rich in folic acid.
Yet in our germophobic pasteurized culture (pardon the pun), we eat very few of these foods, while previous generations seemed to have eaten more of them and had fewer allergies and more healthy immune systems as a consequence. We are now even seeing processed food manufacturers jump onto the bandwagon by trying to sell probiotic laced drinking yogurts. Unfortunately, these imitations are also laced with sugar, emulsifiers and other flavor enhancing chemicals and are a far cry from the real thing. From a TCM perspective, fermented foods are partially digested and therefore easier to absorb. So if you want to preserve your guts, check out some of these foods at an oriental grocer near you, or better yet, make your own.
J-Town Heisei Mart (www.jtown.ca)
P.A.T. Central Market (675 Bloor St. W., Toronto, 416-532-2961)