We hear a great deal about the gut microbiome today. It’s the name given to the trillions of micro-organisms in our gut and recent research suggests it has a large influence on the overall health of the dog. As a former student of Acupuncture and Macrobiotics, I learned that Traditional Oriental Medicine draws a strong affinity between the function of the large intestine and the brain. Good mental health depends on a healthy digestive system. To modern ears this may sound preposterous, but in recent times, Science is catching up with this possibility.
Recent research points to the gut microbiome (the trillions of micro-organisms in the gut) as an important factor in mental health in humans. This reinforces the idea that diet can be an important factor in mental health and behaviour in the dog too. The microbiome is made up of bacteria, protozoa, yeast, fungi and viruses. We think of the gut as the organ by which we digest and absorb food and eliminate waste products, detoxifies and produces antibodies. But quite a lot of attention in recent times has been turning to another role of the microbiome, namely, its influence on other organ systems and especially on mental health.
In a recent TV programme, the presenter found that when he took a commercial prebiotic preparation, his sleep pattern was improved. It has also been suggested that autism may be linked to a gut disorder. All of this offers new avenues for investigating illnesses and their cause but it wasn’t new to the ancient Orientals. Traditional Oriental Medicine linked gut, specifically large intestine health, and brain function as part of the holistic view of the individual. [Reminder: holistic health means the health of the individual as a whole, both physically and psychologically, rather than the separate parts].
In my Guide to Natural Health and Nutrition, the first version of which I wrote over 20 years ago, I said,
“…while all organ systems are important, the digestive system is probably the most important. The digestive system underpins the function of the whole system.”
On that note, see also what I have written about coprophagy (poo eating):
“My view is that coprophagy is a sign of non-specific ill-health, most probably affecting the digestive system.”
It has become fashionable to focus on how to alter the gut microbiome by seeding the gut with beneficial bacteria. I’ve already mentioned the use of prebiotics which are the beneficial bacteria, e.g. Lactobacilli, taken orally. There is also interest in probiotics, which is the term used for certain fibres intended to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in the lower gut.
The latest thing is to introduce faeces from an apparently healthy individual such as an elite sportsperson into one’s gut as a way of correcting a deficient microbiome. This seems dangerous to me and is on a par with blood-letting as practised by the old barber-surgeons. Bacteria which are well controlled in one person’s gut may proliferate in someone else, especially if that person is not in excellent health.
I am prepared to believe in anything that works but I see problems with all these approaches. One species of bacteria may be beneficial to one individual but not another; you see, we’re all different. Another difficulty is the “beneficial” bacteria may not thrive and populate the gut if the correct conditions are not present in the first place. A supplement is no substitute for the correct diet.
And this of course brings to the nub of the matter…
A simple, wholesome diet, fed in the correct amount will result in a healthy microbiome being established in a fairly short time and it will last. Unhealthy micro-organisms will die or be killed off to be replaced by a range of beneficial micro-organisms. This applies to humans and pets alike.
As I said earlier, a healthy gut (microbiome) underpins the health of all organ systems and the health, both physical and mental, of the whole individual.
You can read more in my guide to Health & Nutrition.
To shop for suitable products for a healthy happy pet, you can visit our web shop.