BBC Horizon on allergies

p0253xlpOn 27th August 2014 BBC’s Horizon programme was on the issue of allergies. Here are some of the facts presented in the programme.

The bad news:
o 25 to 30% of people in the UK have allergies
o The main contributing factor is lack of diverse beneficial bacteria in the gut
o A Caesarean Section birth can contribute to low levels of beneficial bacteria
o Antibiotics seriously undermine gut health, especially when given to infants up to one year old
On the plus side:
o Breast-feeding can increase the levels of beneficial bacteria
o A diet with a diverse range of fruit and vegetables has a pre-biotic effect which can reduce the likelihood of allergies
o More time spent outside will enable contact with environmental microbes which are beneficial to the health of the gut

It was refreshing to watch a ‘health’ programme on television that didn’t have me shouting at the screen! Overall I thought it was a well-presented account of the main reason why allergic conditions such as eczema and asthma are on the rise.

What the programme didn’t cover was the health of the mothers of today’s children. If the mother has depleted gut bacteria (and she may well have, being a product of the antibiotic generation) the baby will also have depleted gut bacteria so is off to a difficult start from conception. The same applies to breast milk; if a new mum has poor gut health and is eating a limited diet the quality of her milk will be far less beneficial to the baby.

Women who are considering becoming pregnant or who already are pregnant can do a huge amount before the birth to make their own diet as beneficial as possible for their baby.

Probiotics were presented in a positive light although of course there is no manufactured product which can provide all the beneficial bacteria needed by one individual. Personally I am a fan of naturally fermented foods such as kefir, bone broth and sauerkraut which I think must convey more benefits to the human organism than products made in a factory.

One thing the programme didn’t mention is the foods that are singularly unhelpful to gut health, such as processed foods, starchy carbohydrates and sugar. Much of our so-called food now contains substances that the human body has no idea how to process such as high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. Next time you are in the supermarket think how square footage they would actually need if nothing made in a factory was sold there.

So the basis of allergy treatment has to be improving the health of the gut through improving absorption of essential vitamins and minerals; eliminating toxicity such as parasites, detrimental bacteria, heavy metals etc and filling the daily diet with a diverse range of fruit and vegetables and naturally fermented food.

I spend a great deal of my working life trying to get the digestive health of my patients stronger. There are numerous ways of doing this and it isn’t an overnight process. You can begin by cutting down on processed and sugary foods and begin taking a probiotic. More on the fermenting food in a future post!

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