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Gut health: a new approach to treating with natural medicine

Susan Hunter Digestive Health Leave a Comment

People who are looking for results with gut health treatment should get two important things from a practitioner – a clear understanding of the diagnosis and a personalised treatment plan.

Yet I continue to see new clients who are confused and frustrated by their existing care plan. Their condition is worse than before they started treatment. Their quality of life may have been affected so badly by their digestive problems that they cannot work or care for their children. Their distress is obvious.

How could that be?

It is often because the patient has been treated with strong herbal anti-microbials for a bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine or bowel or for parasites such Blastocystis hominis.

The experiences of these clients over my many years in practise have prompted me to revise how I treat pathogenic bacterial overgrowth and parasites, and how I communicate the treatment plan to patients.

herbal teaThe power of herbs

The fact is, using powerful anti-microbial herbs and essential oils is similar to using strong antibiotics. We know that we are entering the post-antibiotic era. They were a revolution when first discovered and they continue to prevent infection and deaths in a way that is nothing short of amazing. Yet there is now strong evidence that the overuse of antibiotics in recent decades has contributed to many of the chronic gut problems we see today.

The overuse of essential oils such as oregano oil, clove oil and thyme oil, and certain anti-microbial herbs or natural agents, can be as detrimental as some antibiotics if used for too long or at all. Citrus seed extract, for example, has long been used as a “natural” anti-parasitic and while it may be effective in some cases, in others cases it has been found to be damaging to the gut bacteria.

All about balance

The importance of treading lightly and doing as much as possible to preserve the good gut bacteria cannot be understated. We have already lost diversity in our gut bacteria. Losing more is counterproductive.

When treating gut problems there needs to be a strong consideration of protecting the beneficial bacteria while eradicating the bad ones. That can sometimes mean ceasing the eradication process and promoting the re-population of positive gut bacteria.

Let me put it another way. We want to change our gut microbiome from being a wasteland that is largely barren or full of weeds to a place with diverse and healthy inhabitants and a thriving ecosystem.

I find myself spending much of my time explaining to clients the importance of introducing foods that feed the existing microbiota to help them flourish.

Food as medicine

We talk about trying to re-introduce prebiotic foods such as oats, black rice, chia seeds, almonds, cacao and berries. These foods are rich in polyphenols and are excellent prebiotic, fermentable-fibre containing foods. They are the perfect food as medicine to begin to re-balance the wasteland that is so many of my client’s current gut microbiome.

Healing takes time and commitment. Most clients have been unwell for a long time and know there are no quick fixes. Slowly but surely we work together to heal and restore gut function.

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Susan Hunter
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