Plants, The Gut Biome, and The Chronic Illness Connection
There is a fundamental connection between dis ease, the Gut Biome, and plants. The connection is our disconnection with earth-based healing systems and the effects this has on the body. The great news is that in modern times we have adapted to be able to systematically treat many illnesses and diseases AND that plants are widely available to us to nourish us through the process, provide comfort, and help us through pain. There is also a variety of research to support the idea that a plant-based diet can facilitate healing on a cellular and microbial level. Unfortunately, what we have forgotten in the recent exploration of humanity is that healing and communing with nature is an age old practice. As we are apart of this ecosystem- we must (re)adapt and use the resources available to us: The plants. Don’t get me wrong- we graciously have modern medicine and the earth to help us on this journey and help us heal. But we must not forget that all medicine comes from earth’s natural constituents. Its roots are in herbal medicine and the healing powers of the fungi. By coming back to nature, we reunite ourselves back into the natural balance. Through our immune system, the helping hands of the plants, herbal actions, and a plant based diet we have a real opportunity to support ourselves through disease and illness, provide relief, and according the research even heal our bodies.
Gut Immune Function
What is Gut Immune Function? The ability for an organism to resist a particular infection or toxin by the action of specific body processes. The basics of how your immune system functions is that it identifies SELF (your bacteria) from NON-SELF (pathogen- Any Disease causing agent is a pathogen). When a pathogen triggers an immune reaction this is healthy immunity. Now, an under-active or overactive immune system can trigger the breakdown of self identifying pathogens and cause an Autoimmune response.
Here lies the connection between the gut and your immune system.
Now, Why Plants? Because the gut’s good bacteria ( the regulators of your immune system) depend and thrive on plants. This is the basis for a healing Plant-Based Diet.
Gut bacteria depends on prebiotics for nourishment. The most abundant source of prebiotics is found in plant food. Some examples of this are leeks, bananas, and Jerusalem artichokes, and MANY more. Bacteria are also dependent on fiber. I am sure you have heard that fiber is essential for digestion. Do you know what is responsible for your digestion? It is your bacteria! These are some of the many reasons why bacterial balance is essential for health.
Now, your gut also houses trillions of “bad” Bacteria as well. But don’t worry, as long as your gut is in balance your good microbes are responsible for regulating these (cue your immune system). According to Robb Dunn( The Wildlife of Your Body), not having enough bad bacteria can actually trigger disease response and autoimmunity( due to having an under- reactive immune system). An interesting thing to consider, isn’t it?
A Balanced Approach
However, THE most important thing to consider is your bacterial balance. A healthy and balanced plant-based diet will provide the fundamentals for this.
A diet filled with sugar, processed foods, and an abundance of meat creates the perfect storm for an imbalance in the gut and a disease state in the body.
Plants + Herbs For Immunity
In addition to a plant-based diet for immune boosting and gut loving constituents herbs also provide. My favorite immune boosting + regulatory herbs are:
Elderberry: This berry ( and its flower, too) are regulators of the immune system. Therefore, it may be suitable for those with an overactive and under-active immune system.
Echinacea: This flower stimulates the immune system. Therefore, it may be suitable for some with under-active immune systems.
Medicinal Mushrooms: Mushrooms like Chaga, Reishi, and Blue Oyster are dense in nutrients and contribute to a healthy microbiome (your gut and then some!)
Where to Begin on a Plant-Based Diet
Begin in a balanced way. A healthy plant-based diet is a balanced and informed diet. It can be helpful to consult naturopaths, nutritionists, health coaches and even some herbalists (like myself) for information on this.
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