Category Archives: Lifestyle Medicine

Pregnancy: The Best Detox You Should Never Have.


In day-to-day conversation, announcing a pregnancy for a woman or couple can be met with happiness, congratulations, apprehension at times, and the simple acceptance that a baby is happily growing, awaiting a healthy arrival into the world. Difficulty conceiving, miscarriage, infertility and fertility treatments are topics that can remain unspoken for many during the time of announcing a pregnancy. For most women and men, their reproductive stories are rarely straight forward, interspersed with loss, contraception, relationship changes, careers, possibly illness and of course, absolute joy.
The journey of potential parenthood is often not straightforward. Practitioners of Complementary Medicine and those integrating this into their life are already aware just how important preconception care is for mothers and fathers to be. Preconception care should ideally take at least 6 months for both men and women, longer if specific health issues are of concern.

We already know that preconception care is essential to establish the following facets of health, ideally before conception takes place:

  • To identify and correct any maternal or paternal nutritional deficiencies
  • To identify and treat any unresolved illness in parents, as much as possible
  • To minimise or even eliminate exposure to environmental toxins, especially those affecting spermatogenesis (sperm production), oogenesis (egg production) and embryogenesis (development of the early embryo; first 12 weeks of gestation).
  • To eliminate exposure to environmental toxins known to accumulate in various human body tissue, for example, heavy metals.
  • Preconception care is essential to the health of all growing families, no matter the level of health experienced by parents. Preconception care maximises the nutritional status of both parents and stabilises the genome. Both allow for the transfer and inheritance of healthy genes. Though not a cure for profound heritable genetic disorders, preconception care can help to minimise some signs/symptoms in families for whom this is a problem.
  • Detoxification is a significantly important topic in preconception, prenatal and antenatal health. However, did you know just being pregnant induces a state of physiological detoxification in the mother? This topic is rarely discussed, even in complementary and orthodox medicine. This is a concern for a number of reasons:

1) Detoxification can actually be initiated very simply and effectively in the preconception phase; harsh methods are not required for its efficacy. It is an excellent form of preventive medicine. Detoxification should take place in the preconception phase, and ideally, well before conception.

2) Pregnancy (due to the action of the placenta) induces a state of physiological detoxification for the mother. Many health practitioners are unaware of the full extent of placental physiology, and the role of the placenta in maternal detoxification. A potential gap may exist in the education of practitioners with regards to this topic.

3) The health of a growing embryo and baby relies on lack of exposure to harmful environmental substances, PLUS those released from maternal tissue storage. They may inadvertently be exposed to such substances in utero, simply via healthy placental function.

The unknown process of pregnancy detoxification
The concept of pregnancy being a physiological process of detoxification remains relatively unknown. This is especially the case regarding general health information aimed at pregnant women. An internet or Google search looking for pregnancy as a form of detoxification will yield no results. The only information gleaned from such a search advises women not to undergo detoxification whilst pregnant or nursing. This advice is absolutely correct; detoxification can release substances stored in tissues that can be harmful to unborn babies, and infants or toddlers who are being breastfed. A closer examination of placental structure and function can explain the physiology behind this process.

The placenta is an exchange organ that requires sufficient and continual access to the maternal circulation. The establishment of such access is a critical process of the first trimester. Maternal erythrocytes (red blood cells, RBC’s) are present in the foetal circulation, though significant maternal RBC’s are not observed until 10-12 weeks gestation. Studies show conversions of blood vessel architecture in both the uterus and placenta toward the end of the first trimester. Additionally, glandular secretions from the uterus supply most nutrients (maternal proteins, carbohydrates and glycogen (from which glucose is derived) and lipids), plus non-nutrient growth factors of early pregnancy. This then progresses toward a more haemotrophic (blood derived) contribution as maternal arteries begin to supply nutrition. This process in essential in establishing a continual nutrient and energy supply for the growing foetus.

For a maternally derived molecule to access the foetal circulation, it must cross several layers of materno-placental tissues, which are selective and tend to regulate the passage of various substances to the foetus.

Placental anatomy and paternal genes
The formation of the placenta is truly remarkable; there is no other time in life when a human acquires a completely new organ, only to be expelled at the end of a pregnancy. The paternal genome of the baby’s father has a major influence on placental development; these genes preside over the building of the placenta. Thus, fathers are not exempt from preconception care practices. They provide half of their baby’s genetic material, and the majority of the genes required for building this vitally important organ.

Placental Physiology: metabolism, transfer and endocrine secretion
Put simply, the human placenta has three main roles during pregnancy:

1) To transfer nutrients (water, simple sugars, fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and electrolytes) from mother to baby, via blood circulation. It is known as an exchange organ.

2) The synthesis of hormones, peptides (very small proteins) and steroids required to sustain growth. It functions as an endocrine organ.

3) Metabolism. Metabolic waste products from the baby are transferred in the same way to the mother for removal. It performs the waste removal functions of the lungs, the kidneys and the liver, all of which are immature in the developing foetus.

Pregnant women and babies in utero are exposed to a large variety of xenobiotic substances. The concept of the placenta acting as a complete physical barrier, protecting the foetus from all harm is false. It is known that most pharmaceutical drugs administered during a pregnancy cross the placenta to some extent. Specific chemical properties determine just how easily a substance can cross the placenta:

Chemical Properties

Lipid solubility: Highly lipid soluble molecules cross the placenta more easily. Some pharmaceutical drugs including aminoglycosides and some environmental toxins.

Protein binding: Non-protein bound substances cross the placenta more easily. They are biologically active and retain pharmacologic/toxic effect

Molecular weight: Low molecular weight substances cross the placenta more easily. Examples include many pharmacological agents. Any molecule < 900 daltons in size, Methylmercury, lead DDT and nicotine.


Physiological exchange from maternal to foetal circulation occurs via the following processes:

Passive diffusion: gases (O2, CO2, CO), H2O, H2O soluble vitamins cross faster than lipid soluble vitamins, glucose, small amounts of free fatty acids, electrolytes (Na+, K+, Cl-, Ca2+ and Mg2+). Diffusion occurs in both directions from mother to baby and the reverse.
Transport-protein mediated passage: solutes are transferred at a rate much greater than that of diffusion. Many amino acids are transported in this way.
Endocytosis and exocytosis: Endocytosis occurs when a maternally derived molecule is ‘trapped’ within a small pouch formed by specific placental cell membranes, forming a vesicle. The contents of these vesicles may then be released or ejected into the foetal environment via exocytosis. Antibodies, unconjugated steroid hormones and infectious agents (particularly viruses) readily cross the placenta via this transport mechanism.
Solvent drag/bulk flow: this drives water transfer, with water-soluble solutes being dragged along.
The placenta is a selective barrier and does prevent the passage of maternal hormones and other substances from crossing the placenta. Additionally, a cache of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes (the same detoxification enzymes present in liver tissue) are active in placental tissue. These are more restricted than those observed in liver tissue, though several drugs and foreign substances are detoxified here.

“This combination of efflux transporters and defensive enzymes provides a degree of protection to the fetus against exposure to potentially noxious xenobiotics, although many drugs and chemicals can still cross and act as teratogens”.

– Burton, G. et al. Placental anatomy and physiology. In: Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies, 7th ed. Elsevier.


Molecules that are without chemical charge, lipophilic (lipid-soluble), minimally protein bound and of a low molecular weight are known to cross the placenta to the foetal circulation. Some pharmaceutical drugs and environmental toxins belong to this chemical category. Many environmental toxins may have been stored in maternal adipose tissue before well before pregnancy, hence the importance of detoxification prior to conception and pregnancy. Some substances are known teratogens, harmful to growing babies and may also be linked to growth restriction. The enhanced elimination physiology of pregnancy is possibly beneficial for mothers, but undesirable for growing babies. The ideal situation is that any man and women of reproductive age where a pregnancy is possible should consider following:

1. Completely avoid nicotine and recreational drugs. Some substances are linked to foetal growth restriction and can be stored in adipose tissue long-term.

2. Assess exposure to environmental toxins via your occupation, residence, beauty/grooming practices or hobbies. Limit this exposure as best as you can.

3. Limiting environmental exposure is not practical 100% of the time. Nutritional, dietary and detoxification interventions with a professional health practitioner early in the preconception phase is an ideal way to minimise risk.


1. Syme M, Paxton J and Keelan J (2204). Clinical Pharmacokinetics.43: 487.
2. Myllynen P, Pasanen M and Vahakangas K (2007). The fate and effects of xenobiotics in human placenta. Expert Opinion in Drug Metabolism and Toxicology. 3(3):331-46.
3. Kozlowska R, Czekaj P. Ginekol Pol . Barrier Role of ABC facility of proteins in human placenta (2011). 82(1): 56-63.
4. Burton G, Sibley C and Jauniaux E. Placental anatomy and physiology. In: Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies, 7th ed. Philadelphia: 2017; Elsevier, 2-25.
5. Castillo J and Rizack T. Special issues in pregnancy. In: Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2014, 914-25.

– See more at:

Seven Strategies for a Vital Winter

Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc, Masters Candidate (USYD).

It is already that time of year again; the dreaded cold and flu season. And I have a strange confession to make: I sometimes look forward to it! I say with some sarcasm that I look for which new ‘super virus’ will be identified by the media, with facts regarding its severity skewed. It’s often difficult for those in health care viewing medical matters in the general media. A calm and considered approach to health and infection outbreaks is what happens in our profession, not mass hysteria!

Humor aside, the reason I look forward to flu season is the food and lifestyle changes. Winter woes provide the perfect excuse to look after ourselves after months of over-indulgence and pushing ourselves.

As scientists, we learn that certain microorganisms are definitely stronger than others. In medical speak, we call this ‘virulence’. It is a fact that certain infectious microbes are more virulent than others. This is why even the healthiest individuals can still contract a severe case of influenza. Additionally, most signs and symptoms of winter infections simply represent your immune response; pain, swelling and erythema (redness) of affected tissues all signify an attempt by those cells and tissues to remove the problem.

What scientists really don’t communicate well is that our body and the condition of our cells play a major part in who will get sick,  who will not and who will recover quickly and more completely. We have plenty of time to build our immunity before the flu season hits, but for those of us in Australia, we are already here. Some of you may not be ready, or may have already been quite unwell.

Here are seven of the strongest anti-infection practices that will have you feeling energised and strong while others sneeze and cough their way to the pharmacy.

  1. Eat protein every day. Excellent sources are eggs, lean red and white meats, seafood, dairy and tree nuts. Vegetarians and vegans must be vigilant with protein combining, rather than simply scraping animal based foods off their plates. Protein is essential for haematopoiesis in bone marrow, which builds both red and white blood cells (all are involved in immunity) . Protein is required to build lean body tissue. Those of us with good lean body tissue composition are more resilient against infections. Structurally, antibodies are proteins; we must eat protein to build protein.
  1. Eat fats every day. Fats receive much attention that is based on poor science, and not at all on their biochemistry. Natural fats are composed of nutrients called fatty acids. Some fatty acids are saturated fatty acids (SFA’s)  which have strong, natural antibiotic chemical properties. Coconut oil is one of the best, as it is high in SFA’s. Olive, macadamia and avocado oils are also fantastic, they contain some SFA’s. Speak to a qualified Naturopath/Nutritionist about supplementing with a good quality Cod Liver Oil over the winter months. Cod Liver Oil is not used for it’s fatty acid content, but rather its content of the fat soluble vitamins A and D. Vitamin D is essential for a healthy immune system (if your immune system was an orchestra, think of vitamin D as a ‘conductor’). Vitamin A is essential for the formation of healthy mucous membranes; most people simply do not consume enough in their diet. Mucous membranes are located in your eyes, respiratory, gastrointestinal and urogenital tracts. Their entire purpose it to help prevent and manage debris and infection.
  1. Eat serve of green vegetables every day. Think spinach, bok choy, brussels sprouts, celery leaves, peas, all forms of cress, fresh green herbs, asparagus and broccoli. You can sauté greens lightly in coconut oil, butter or olive oil, adding fresh herbs. Eating them is potentially better than juicing, as the chewing action will maximise the digestion and absorption of nutrients (especially for those who are a little frail, elderly, or have poor digestion).
  1. Excess Sugar is a chemical insult to your immunity. Some experiments show that excess sugar consumption (as glucose) suppresses immune functions for 30 minutes to 6 hours after ingestion. Many of us continually eat sugar laden foods while fighting an infection, thus it’s no surprise people don’t recover and require more time away from work, school and activities they want or need to do. Additionally, glucose (a simple sugar) competes with vitamin C; they have extremely similar molecular structures. For strong immunity and  an abundance of energy, cut the junk and sugary foods. A little sugar is OK and essential to provide some substrate to help make ATP (energy) to fight infection, but obtain your sugars from fruits, vegetables or good quality dairy if you tolerate this.
  1. Colds, flu’s and infections are notorious for emerging during a stressful time or immediately after the stressful time has subsided. Most people are not aware that stress is not just psychological: it may be physical (e.g., over-exercising or highly physical occupations with little time for breaks) or nutritional (under-eating, overeating and broad spectrum micronutrient deficiencies). Learning what triggers stress for you will contribute to improving your immunity and vitality for the short and long term. The body’s physical response to stress also consumes precious cached vitamin C to try and keep us going- at the expense of our immune system.
  1. Adequate sleep. Many of us don’t respect how important this is, only taking advantage of sleep’s health restoring properties when we are forced into bed with symptoms. Address and rectify anything preventing you from having regular, sound sleep. Parents of babies and young children; I empathise with you completely. If you can, take turns with a partner, friend or family member to allow you a full night in bed every so often.
  1. Hydration. Water, broths and un-caffeinated herbal teas are wonderful for re-hydrating a crenated (shrivelled), water depleted cellular microstructure. Dehydrated cells, tissues and membranes are magnets for infectious micro-organisms. We must keep our cells moist with water if we want them to be resilient to infections.

I will also add as a footnote: efficiently washing your hands is still the single best way to prevent the spread of infection. I am dumbfounded as to why this is not practiced by people more often. Wash your hands!

No matter what flu or infections emerge this winter, they key is to build your immune system early, but you can still start today. A vital winter is yours and entirely possible with the right care and attention.

© 2016. Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc, ND. Lecturer | Medical Scientist | Naturopath. May be reproduced with the authors permission and author credit.


The Benefits of Deep Breathing

Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc, Masters Candidate (USYD)

Breathing for health would already come as no surprise to you. Failure to breathe is incompatible with sustaining life. It’s one of the major vital signs monitored in emergency rooms and examined by paramedics to ascertain ones level of consciousness and determine imminent danger to life. In not so life-threatening circumstances, we recognize breathing as one of the quickest and simplest ways to quell excess stress, guide us through anxiety and stem the physical and emotional discomfort of a panic attack. Taking a deep breath helps millions of people everyday, whether they are addressing the world at a press conference, quarrelling with a friend, birthing a baby or attending an important meeting.

The benefits of deep breathing don’t have to be set-aside for times in life where a good deep breath helps you rise to a stressful challenge. Deep breathing has far reaching benefits on many organ systems. Lets consider which aspects of your health will benefit most from deep breathing and how to easily incorporate this practice into daily life.

Respiration (breathing) does not simply mean filling your lungs with air. The main goal of respiration is to deliver oxygen (O2) to every cell and tissue of your body, whilst also removing carbon dioxide (CO2). In order to achieve this, respiration takes place over four key phases:

  1. Pulmonary ventilation. This is simply the inhalation and exhalation of air from the outside environment to inside our body. Air must reach the smallest structures of our lungs, tiny sac-like structures known as alveoli.

Deep breathing facilitates the delivery of sufficient air and O2 to the alveoli, whilst also expelling sufficient amounts of CO2 upon exhalation.

  1. Diffusion of O2 and CO2 between the alveoli and blood, which are in direct contact with each other in the lungs.

Deep breathing helps to deliver sufficient O2 to blood, where it combines with haemoglobin, a protein in our red blood cells. Deep breathing during exhalation helps rid the body of CO2 (a waste product of cellular respiration) via the alveoli.

  1. Transport of O2 and CO2 in blood and body fluids into and out of cells.

Delivery of sufficient O2 to cells via deep breathing is essential for thousands of chemical reactions, most notably metabolism and the production of energy as ATP.

  1. Other facets of respiration, including the regulation of pH (acidity/alkalinity) in your body.

The oxygenation of haemoglobin via deep breathing is one of the most vital buffering systems of the human body. Sufficient oxygenation of haemoglobin is required to prevent dangerous shifts in blood pH (acidity/alkalinity) levels.

Deep breathing is necessary during intense physical activity in order to deliver oxygen to hard working muscles. It is also a renowned stress reliever. The practice of deep breathing is so inextricably linked to health that it forms the foundation of many health and healing modalities including yoga, meditation, and pilates. It is known by many names in these practices, including diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing and paced respiration. The ability of deep respiration to focus the mind and stem anxiety makes it an important practice in the martial arts, from gentle tai chi and qi gong through to combative tae kwon do and jujitsu.

Systems that will benefit most

  • Nervous system. A good, deep breath will help to stimulate the parasympathetic division of your autonomic nervous system. This is the section of the nervous system predominant during rest activities. Deep breathing relaxes the nervous system. Considering that modern life is full of stress, deep breathing is probably the most portable stress reliever we have.
  • While the liver receives most of the glory regarding detoxification (followed closely by the kidneys, bowel, lymphatics and skin), respiration is responsible for ridding the body of the gaseous waste products of human metabolism. CO2 is the major waste product here, but other minor gaseous wastes are also expelled on exhalation.
  • Pain relief. Any woman has been through labour, or any person who has suffered the pain of injury and trauma will be able to relate to the power of breathing as a form of analgesia. This requires effort, as our natural instinct when in pain is to hold our breath. If initiated, deep breathing through pain is known to increase endorphin levels, which are natural pain killers.
  • Lymphatic system. Our lymphatic system is a network of vessels that carry lymphatic fluid throughout the body. Unlike blood vessels, lymphatic vessels are not powered by the heart, thus requiring other ‘pumps’ to move lymphatic fluid around. One of these pumps is good respiration, facilitated by deep breathing. The lymphatics are involved in detoxification.
  • Energy production. It stands to reason that the higher the oxygen content of your blood, the better your energy levels will be
  • Digestive system. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing encourages blood flow to abdominal organs, including those of the digestive tract. This can help to facilitate peristalsis (muscular movements of the digestive tract). Additionally, a calm nervous system is required for efficient digestion. By supporting your nervous system with deep breathing, you also facilitate healthy digestion.

Practical tips for better breathing.

Due to our busy lives, we often do not breath properly and in a very shallow manner. Here are some practical tips to help you reconnect with the feeling of deep breathing:

  1. Sit up straight and walk tall. Improved posture automatically helps fill your lungs with more air when you breathe.
  2. Allocate some time each day for deep breathing: at your desk, in the shower or in bed at the beginning and end of the day. 5 to 10 minutes is all it takes to help make this a habit.
  3. Feel your body move when you breathe… is anything moving? Deep breathing is rather active and uses multiple muscle groups. Focus on pushing your abdominal area in and out to enhance deep breathing, as opposed to the rise and fall of your shoulders (this indicated shallow breathing).
  4. Consider looking in to the practice of Buteyko breathing. 


  1. Guyton, A. and Hall, J. (2000). Textbook of Medical Physiology (Tenth Edition). W. B. Saunders Company. Harcourt Health Sciences. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  2. Harvard Medical School. The family Health Guide (2015). Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response. Harvard Health Publications. Available at:
  3. Moseley, A. et al. (2005). The effect of gentle arm exercise and deep breathing on secondary arm lymphedema. Lymphology. 38: 136-145.
  4. Westerdahl, E. et al. (2005). Deep-Breathing Exercises Reduce Atelectasis and Improve Pulmonary Function After Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery. Chest. 128 (5): 3482-3488.

Written for and originally published by the MINDD Foundation

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Gut Feelings and the Gut Brain Axis


Gut Feelings and the Gut Brain Axis

Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc

Written for and originally published by the MINDD Foundation:

For the past few years, the topics of mental health, emotional health and psychological wellbeing have received some much-needed attention. What was once an area only discussed in the seclusion of a medical appointment, counselling session or support group, emotional health is now a mainstream aspect of our total health and wellbeing. Health blogs, scientific journals and medical conferences are teeming with advice and new research on how to support this fundamental facet of our health.

One area of integrative medicine gaining momentum in mental health research is the Gut-Brain Axis. This axis involves chemical signals that occur between your gastrointestinal tract and your nervous system. Studies are showing the intestinal microbiota are particularly influential here, communicating with the brain via several physiological pathways. In the future, its possible that many mental health conditions will be treated via amendment of our intestinal microbial populations.

What is the Mechanism?

In medical science research, disease correlations are often found between a specific environmental factor (e.g., diet, lifestyle, medication, pollutant) and a resulting condition or disease state. Correlations are interesting to researchers and the general public alike, but correlations do not prove causation. What is required to prove causation is a cellular mechanism, the discovery of a molecular event that ultimately links a specific environmental factor with causing a condition.

Does a mechanism exist between the gut microbiome having an influence on brain health? The science for this is very strong, and three mechanisms are receiving a lot of attention:

1) The immune mechanism. Microbial populations can cause immune activation directly at the gut mucosal surface membranes. This is especially the case when microbes are pathogenic (disease causing) members of the microbiome. The enhanced inflammatory response in the gut leads to stimulation of the peripheral immune system. This immune stimulation is able to stimulate specific neurons (nerves) associated with serotonin, a neurotransmitter implicated in many behavioural and emotional health disorders.

2) The vagus nerve mechanism. The Gut Brain Axis is a two-way communication network between your central nervous system (which includes your brain and spinal cord) and your enteric nervous system (a nerve network in your gut). Essentially, this anatomical link establishes a direct, physical connection between the emotional centres of the brain and intestinal function. Studies are revealing that the gut microbiota may signal the brain via nerves, hormones, immune responses and antibodies.

3) The bacterial waste product mechanism. Funnily enough, the link between gut and brain health is not new. Just over 100 years ago, patients with depression, anxiety and psychosis were ‘purged’ of their imbalanced state of mind with colonic irrigation and abdominal surgeries. The idea was that poisons originating in the gut were the root cause of these mental health issues. These days, modern medicine has identified these toxins as metabolic by-products (wastes) of certain bacterial populations. Many of these less favourable gut microbes produce neuroactive compounds (including neurotransmitters such as serotonin, melatonin, histamine, acetylcholine and gamma amino butyric acid, GABA) that directly influence brain activity.

Mental Health Conditions Associated With Poor Gut Health

The composition of the gut microbiome is believed to influence the brain in the following conditions:

• Autism
• Anxiety
• Bi-polar
• Depression
• Insomnia
• Schizophrenia
• Poor concentration, aggression, temper and difficulty relaxing
• Overwhelming sense of tension and pressure
• A vast array of other behavioural issues, such as procrastination, teeth grinding and restlessness to name a few.

Take Away Advice:

• Avoid the over use of antibiotics. Thankfully, this message is becoming louder in mainstream medicine. The overuse of antibiotics is one of the main methods of disrupting and destroying a healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut. Only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary, if there is no other alternative.
• Stress management. Everyone finds different life matters stressful, and some people do not find traditional ‘de-stressing’ activities effective. Firstly, identify what causes you the most stress on a daily basis, and speak to a supportive person about ways you can try to manage this. A prolonged stress response releases stress hormones into our body, which in turn have a direct effect on the balance of bacteria in our gut. You can clearly see the vicious circle here.
• Diet. Specific diets and foods are known to encourage the growth of good bacteria, preventing dysbiosis and even restoring gut health. Examples of foods in this category include prebiotic foods (radishes, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, asparagus, carrots, sweet potato, onions and garlic are all particularly good), probiotic foods (fermented foods such as kefir, yoghurt, Kyr, kombucha and fermented vegetables, coconut cheese).
• Remove processed sugar and processed foods from your diet. Focus on obtaining natural sugars from fresh vegetables and fruits instead.
• Probiotic therapy can be prescribed for you, and is a very effective way of restoring the health of your microbiome. This course of action is likely necessary for long-term emotional health issues.

Written by Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc


1. Carabotti, M., et al. (2015). The Gut Brain Axis: Interactions Between Enteric Microbiota, Central and Enteric Nervous Systems. Annals of Gastroenterology. 28(2): 203-209.

2. El Aidy, S. et al. (2014). Immune Modulation of the Brain-Gut Microbe Axis. Frontiers in Microbiology. Evolutionary and Genomic Microbiology. April, 2014. Available at:

3. Monteil-Castro, A. et al. (2103). The Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis: Neurobehavioural Correlates, Health and Sociality. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience. 7: 70. Available at:

4. Reardon, S. (2014). Gut Brain Link Grabs Neuroscientists. Nature. 515: 7526. Available at:

5. Schmidt, C. (2015). Mental Health May Depend on Creatures in the Gut. Scientific American. Available at:

Image credit: Nature Reviews Neuroscience

The Digestive System: Revealing Hidden Facts of your Overall Health


The Digestive System: Revealing Hidden Facts of Your Overall Health.

Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc, ND

Written for and originally published by the MINDD Foundation:

For most people, the digestive system serves as the repository for delivering food to the body, and eliminating waste. We may never give thought to the impressive amount of physiological effort and biochemical work necessary for this to take effect. Most people are not troubled by major digestive pathologies. We enjoy our food, and we get on with life.

Do other small ailments plague your everyday experiences of good health and wellbeing? Are these complaints you simply put up with, or are they major health conditions? Would you feel better if you had more energy? Is your immune system not as resilient as it should be? Are you prone to atopic conditions, such as allergies and eczema? Do you have signs of endocrine dysfunction, fertility issues, or autoimmune disease? Is your mental and emotional health in need of support? All of these are linked to poor digestive health. This list reads like a marketing campaign for the latest ‘cure all’ supplement. However, there is good reason for this; basic scientific principles explain exactly why digestive health is critical to the health of an entire organism. Ask any Naturopath, Integrative Doctor or holistic Nutritionist what is the most important system in the human body and you are most likely to hear the same response: The Digestive System. It is why the MINDD Foundation is so notably focused on how to attain and maintain enduring Digestive health, at any age.

Anatomy and Physiology

The human digestive tract is purpose built for every aspect of digestion. The anatomy of the digestive tract actually changes as it descends from the oral cavity, all the way down to the rectum and anus:

  • Oral cavity: a cavity lined with a thick and stratified epithelium, perfectly suited to with standing mechanical and harsh pressures from chewing and swallowing. The oral mucosa is supported heavily by salivary glands and blood vessels. Saliva is a complex fluid of water, electrolytes, mucous, antibodies, and digestive enzymes. Signs of poor digestive health in the oral cavity include halitosis (bad breath), some dental problems, ulcerations, oral infections and abnormal coatings on the tongue
  • Oesophagus: again lined by a stratified epithelium that secretes mucous and has a high cell turn over of desquamation. This desquamation or cell ‘sloughing’ is necessary in the mouth and oesophagus to replace tissue damaged by temperature extremes, mechanical and chemical trauma. Smooth muscle layers facilitate swallowing and peristalsis. Signs and symptoms of poor digestive health in the oesophagus include acid reflux, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, difficult or painful swallowing and inflammation (oesophagitis).
  • Stomach: a highly specialised and thick muscular organ. Mucous must be secreted here to protect the stomach from the low pH of gastric secretions (the low acidic pH here is fundamental to healthy and thorough digestion). Muscle layers are thicker in the stomach, to facilitate strong contractions for the mixing and churning required for both mechanical and chemical digestion. Signs and symptoms of poor digestion originating in the stomach include acid reflux and excessive belching. Achlorhydria (low stomach acid) is rather prevalent in the population. Gastric ulcers and gastritis are another well-known diseases, often induced by diet, stress and infection.
  • Small Intestine: the site of nutrient absorption. Specialised anatomical modification of the mucosa (known as villi, microvilli and lacteals) facilitate the absorption of monosaccharides (simple sugars), amino acids (from proteins) and fatty acids (from lipids). Significant amounts of enzyme secretion to facilitate chemical digestion. Facilitated by smooth muscle contractions for peristalsis. Vast surface area of villi and microvilli network to enhance absorption. Heavily influenced by the health of the nervous system, via the enteric plexus. Influences the health and functionality of the immune system, via gut associated lymphoid tissue located predominantly in the ileum, but also found in other areas of the digestive tract. Signs of poor digestive health and disease here include allergies, atopy, Coeliac disease, malabsorption, obesity and IBS, through to major immune, developmental and mental health conditions.
  • Appendix: the forgotten and neglected appendage of the digestive tract. New research is revealing that the appendix might be a reservoir for beneficial species of good/healthy gut bacteria. It may also be involved in immune responses, hence the volatile reactions noted with appendicitis.
  • Large Intestine: essential functions include the absorption of water and many vitamins. Digested, unabsorbed food is converted to faecal material. Thick walls of smooth muscle facilitate powerful contractions for the defecation reflex. Gut bacteria perform fermentation reactions on complex sugars indigestible to humans, helping to release nutrients from these foods such as vitamins, B1, B2, B6, B12 and vitamin K. Constipation, bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea are all multifactorial in nature, but indicate problems with the large intestine. Other diseases of poor large intestinal health include ulcerative colitis, and any significant signs such as blood and mucous in the stool.

The microbiome

 No discussion of human digestive health is complete without mention of the microbiome. The human microbiome consists of all the genes of the microorganisms living in and on the human body. The vast majority of these microbes reside in our digestive system. Think of the human microbiome as the microbial counterpart of the human genome. Without question, the advances in this area of medical science are incredibly important to health; we will likely see many future chronic disease treatment protocols based around gut health and the microbiome. Obesity, allergies, cancer, autoimmune disease, depression and even Alzheimer’s’ disease all show links to unhealthy gut microbes and a poor quality microbiome. The microbiome population changes rapidly in response to the type of diet we eat, thus nutritional medicine and nutritional counselling is paramount to gut health. For a recent MINDD article on the specifics of the human microbiome, including what to eat, please see

 All disease begins in the gut

“All disease begins in the Gut” – Hippocrates

The iconic figure of both ancient and modern medicine coined this phrase over 2000 years ago, yet it seems nothing could be truer today. In a recent book (Gut: The Inside Story of Our body’s Most Under-rated organ), doctor and scientist Giulia Enders explains that we need to stop treating people as having skin conditions, mental health conditions, immune conditions, etc., and start recognising skin, emotional, immune and a host of other pathologies as patients with intestinal problems. This has indeed been the approach of Naturopathic medicine for thousands of years; fortunately, modern medicine is beginning to accept this approach and provide valuable evidence to support naturopathic and integrative health protocols.


Top 5 take away clinical pearls for gut health

  1. Try not to consume large amounts of liquids with meals. Sips of water are OK to as you get used to this change. Copious amounts of water with food dilute the digestive secretions that contain the acids, hormones and enzymes required to digest food thoroughly and correctly. Adequate water is often secreted by the digestive tract as you digest food, so the need to add more is unnecessary.
  2. As much as you can, chew your food slowly and thoroughly. Take time to eat your meals, at least 20 minutes. Far too many people ‘inhale’ a large meal in less than 5 minutes. Preparing, smelling, touching and tasting food as you cook is incredibly strong sensory stimulation for your brain; the process of digestion has literally begun before you take your first bite. A note to parents of young children: it is hard to eat slowly when you have no time. At least attempt to do this one meal per day. Sit down and enjoy 30 minutes of actual slow eating with your family, at as many meals as you can.
  3. Try not to eat when under stress, or address any chronic stress issues. Under the effects of stress hormones and nerve impulse transmission, blood is diverted away from digestive organs during the stress response. Digestion is deemed unnecessary when other organs such as skeletal muscle and the heart need high blood circulation during the stress response. This lack of blood circulation to digestive organs is incredibly counterproductive to good digestion, diminishes peristaltic activity of smooth muscle decreases secretions involved in chemical digestion, absorption and transport of nutrients across the gut wall in to the blood stream and lymphatics.
  4. Make healthy defecation a priority. This may seem crude or embarrassing to consider, but it is essential to your health on every level. Good quality, healthy stools (faeces) are simple to achieve with the right diet and lifestyle choices. We should all pass 1-3 formed stools each day. If you are regularly constipated, have frequent diarrhoea, loose motions, blood or mucous in the stool, it is vital you seek help from a Naturopath, Nutritionist or Doctor to receive assistance on normalising your bowels through diet and lifestyle practices. Familiarise yourself with the Bristol Stool chart, an insightful and incredibly simple piece of health and medical education.
  5. Consider your diet and where it needs to be overhauled. Diets for healthy digestion are not a one-size approach; the diets we all need for gut health are often unique and tailored to suit our individual needs. Certain food groups may require elimination. To avoid nutrient deficiencies, this should be done with the guidance of a health professional. In general, we need to keep very hydrated between meals with water, fruits, vegetables and herbal tissanes. We need to eat complex carbohydrates and fibre. We need to look at our medications; some digestive problems are a known side effect of specific pharmaceuticals. Reaching out to an integrative health practitioner for a prescription of probiotic strains for your specific health needs is wise. This is especially true if you were born via caesarean section, could not be breastfed, or have had a long history of antibiotic use.


  1. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The Human Microbiome. The Genetic Science Learning Centre, University of Utah. Available at:
  2. Anders, R. (2011). Functional Histology of the Gastrointestinal Tract. Lecture. Johns Hopkins Pathology. Available at:
  3. Janeway, CA Jr.; et al. (2001). “The mucosal immune system”. Immunobiology. New York: Garland Science. 10-13.
  4. Kuo, B. (2006). Oesophagus- anatomy and development. GI Motility online. Available at:
  5. Tiwari, M. (2011). Science Behind Human Saliva. Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine. Jan-Jun; 2(1): 53-58.
  6. Zahid, Aliya (2004-04-01). “The vermiform appendix: not a useless organ”. Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons–Pakistan: JCPSP 14 (4): 256–258.

Neurological Networks: powered by Nutrition and Lifestyle


Neurological Networks: Powered by Nutrition and Lifestyle

Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc

Written for and originally published by the MINDD Foundation:

 Broadly speaking, neurological conditions are disorders of both the central (brain and spinal cord) and peripheral (all body nerves) nervous systems. This collection of conditions is so vast, many sub-categories of disorders exist. Mental health conditions, dementia’s, epilepsy, acquired brain and spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, autism and learning difficulties are all forms of neurological illness, but each is very different. The aetiologies (causes) of these diseases represent some of the most complicated clinical situations for modern medicine to manage.

Despite the intricacies of these pathologies, some are renowned for presenting in infancy and childhood. Others present in young adulthood. Some conditions are endured by individuals their whole lives, only to receive some clinical insight and solutions from integrative health and medicine later in life. This article will discuss neurological conditions that predominantly present in childhood. Each has great propensity for healing and reversal through the biomedical approach of nutritional, lifestyle and integrative medicine. Neurological health is a central pillar supporting the work of the MINDD Foundation.

Scientific literature is accumulating more and more research that children with the conditions listed below are deficient in micronutrients essential to cognitive, mental and behavioural health. Without treatment interventions, these conditions do persist in to adulthood.

Conditions associated with compromised neurological development:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (ADHD)
  • Learning and language delays/impairment: including dyslexia and dyspraxia
  • Visual processing delay
  • Auditory processing delay
  • Other sensory processing disorders
  • Gross and fine motor skill delay
  • Socialisation and emotional problems
  • Behavioural concerns: including aggression, bed wetting, short tempers and poor concentration

Any of the above conditions or situations represents signs that a) thorough routine medical investigation is required b) illness is present and change is required c) nutritional and possibly allied behavioural therapies are essential.

Neurological conditions linked to mental and emotional health:

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Objective Defiance Disorder (ODD)
  • Pyrrol Disorder
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Compromised Neurotransmitter Biochemistry:

In a previous article published by The MINDD Foundation, the entire range of human neurotransmitters implicated in neurological conditions were discussed. A link to this article can be found here. Key neurotransmitters discussed include Acetyl Choline, Adrenalin, Dopamine, Gamma Amino Butyric Acid, Glutamine, Histamine, Noradrenalin and Serotonin.

 Key nutrients for neurological health:

  • Vitamins: A, C, D, E. Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12.
  • Minerals: Zinc, Magnesium, Manganese, Calcium, Iron, Chromium and Selenium
  • Amino acids: Tyrosine, Taurine, Glycine, Methionine, Glutathione, and Glutamine
  • Essential fatty Acids: Saturated Fatty Acids (SFA’s): required for the structure of phosphatidylcholine, sphingosine and other lipids essential for building healthy neural tissues. Poly-unsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA’s): Alpha linolenic acid, Eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexanoic acid (DHA) are all forms of omega 3 fatty acids. These are abundant in brain tissue and breast milk

Problematic environmental substances and contaminants:

  • Lead (Pb): this heavy metal can substitute for calcium ions. Lead is particularly toxic to the developing brain.
  • Mercury (Hg): methylmercury bioaccululates in the food chain. Degree of exposure dictates the severity if neurologic issues, ranging from infant mortality to very subtle developmental delays.
  • Arsenic (As): Inorganic arsenic (sodium arsenite). Contamination of ground water with As is a significant environmental health issue for some countries.
  • Pesticides: for example, organophosphates such as DDT.
  • Solvents: used in everything from cosmetics, pharmaceuticals to household cleaners, paints and varnishes.

Breast milk as a contamination source

It goes without saying that if you can breastfeed, breast milk is best for babies. However, a mother is exposed to countless toxic substances in the environment, the home, the workplace, her beauty and hygiene products and her diet. Many environmental contaminants known to trigger neurologic problems are lipid soluble and are stored in adipose tissue, thus breast tissue and breast milk are potential sources of contaminant exposure for infants. Mothers must plan for reducing her toxin exposure while both pregnant and breast-feeding. Ideally, this would start in the very early pre-conception months.

What you can do immediately:

The take-away advice that you can implement today, without immediately seeking advice from an integrative health professional is as follows:

  1. Just Eat Real Food! Keep things simple; avoid anything that is a false, manufactured food-like substance
  2. Beware of preservatives: get to know food labels, or simply avoid any food with a very long shelf life.
  3. Avoid processed foods: they are deplete of micronutrients, difficult to digest and offer no real nutritional value for building health.
  4. Smart cooking methods: including fermenting, and choice of cooking oils, fats and liquids. Learn how to make healthy staples and take classes.
  5. Ready made foods: avoid these, as they often contain preservatives or additives that may not require a food label.
  6. Eliminate packaged foods: these often fall in to the processed, preservative laden category. You will become very savvy regarding packaged foods as you learn more. Healthy kitchen and pantry classes can really help you here.

In theory, these changes can be made immediately at your next meal, or at your next food-shopping trip. In reality, some individuals and families need to make changes in a step-by-step fashion in order for changes to be lasting. The important point here is to make life-long, permanent changes. Discuss these changes with your family, and select which change will be the easiest to implement first. Set a realistic time frame for change (it may be a few weeks to a couple of months). Researching new places to shop and source food will be necessary. If you do need to progress to an Integrative health practitioner, much of the challenging diet change work will already be done. Most people notice enormous, positive changes in their children’s and family’s health by simply eating according to these principles. Often, the improvement in general health assists in revealing the precise clinical issue requiring attention, as opposed to being concealed by many lower grade or sub-clinical health issues.



Cellular and digestive health improves and can be recovered via targeted nutritional therapies and integrative medicine. The improvements in health are a physiological and biochemical cascade; the enhanced nutrient utilisation supports neurotransmission in the brain. These positive changes go on to further support allied and behavioural therapies. The human brain is incredibly plastic; very much so when we are young. A healthy diet, home and environment support’s the cells and structures needed for neural plasticity to reveal its full potential.


  1. Sanders, T., Liu, Y., Buchner, V., & Tchounwou, P. B. (2009). Neurotoxic Effects and Biomarkers of Lead Exposure: A Review. Reviews on Environmental Health, 24(1), 15–45.
  2. Castoldi A, Coccini T, Manzo L. (2003). Neurotoxic and molecular effects of methylmercury in humans. Reviews on Environmental Health. Jan-Mar;18(1):19-31.
  3. DeFuria, J. and Shea, T. (2007). Arsenic inhibits neurofilament transport and induces perikaryal accumulation of phosphorylated neurofilaments: roles of JNK and GSK-3beta. Journal of Brain Research. Nov 21; 1181: 74-82.
  4. Gomez-Pinilla, F., & Gomez, A. G. (2011). The Influence of Dietary Factors in Central Nervous System Plasticity and Injury Recovery. PM & R : The Journal of Injury, Function, and Rehabilitation, 3(6 0 1), S111–S116.
  5. Dick, F. D. (2006). Solvent neurotoxicity. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 63(3), 221–226
  6. Rosales, F. J., Reznick, J. S., & Zeisel, S. H. (2009). Understanding the Role of Nutrition in the Brain & Behavioral Development of Toddlers and Preschool Children: Identifying and Overcoming Methodological Barriers. Nutritional Neuroscience, 12(5), 190–202.
  7. Nyaradi, A., Li, J., Hickling, S., Foster, J., & Oddy, W. H. (2013). The role of nutrition in children’s neurocognitive development, from pregnancy through childhood. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 97.


The Intricacies of Immunity.

The Intricacies of Immunity: Why Your Immune System is Vital for Health at Every Level.

Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc

Anyone who has studied the immune system in depth has a deep appreciation of the intricacies, complexities and vast functions of this defensive network of protective structures and processes. It is arguably one of the most difficult systems of human anatomy and physiology to study; the seemingly limitless cell populations, biochemical reaction cascades and molecular categorisations of the immune system all require great attention to detail to understand them well. Ultimately, the immune system serves to protect us from both infectious and certain non-infectious diseases. However, the role of our immune system is targeted at significantly more human health issues than attacking pathogenic microorganisms. This system serves us at almost every level of our health; many other physiological systems rely on the strength of our immune system in order to operate properly. This is why Immunological disorders are central to the core principles of the MINDD Foundation.

Anatomy of the Human Immune System

A network of cells, tissues, nodes, nodules, ducts and vessels scattered throughout your body, the immune system responds to everything from invading microorganisms through to foreign tissues and cells (including cancerous cells). The immune system performs much of its physiological functions via lymphatic tissue. The lymphatic system is sometimes described separately to the immune system, however both work together for immune defence.

Spanning all regions of your body, the lymphatic network of vessels, capillaries, tissue and nodes primarily transports lymphatic fluid from peripheral organs and tissues before it is returned to general blood circulation. Lymphatic tissue and nodes are responsible for screening this fluid for pathogens, abnormal cells and other cellular complexes deemed to be ‘waste’ by the body. This ensures lymphatic fluid entering the general circulation is essentially cleaned of unwanted and unnecessary immune debris.

Lymphatic tissue is arguably some of the busiest tissue in the body. Lymphatic tissue located within specific skeletal tissue is haematopoietic (blood cell producing). Your five tonsils (2 paired, 1 singular) are perfectly located for their role in oropharyngeal and nasopharyngeal defence. Masses of lymphatic tissue located in the illeal region of the small intestine known as Peyer’s Patches monitor digestive content for possible pathogens. The upper left abdominal quadrant is the location of your spleen, an organ involved in screening blood for infections, abnormal cells and immune complexes. Immediately anterior to the heart is the Thymus gland. Very active in childhood and adolescence, the Thymus is involved in contributing to the ‘memory’ aspect of immunity, knowing which infections and immunisations one has been exposed to.

Adaptive and Innate Immunity

While possibly not as physiologically complex as adaptive immunity, innate immunity is critical for the protection of other sensitive, specialised and vital organs. Innate immunity involves secretions such as mucous, tears, acids, saliva, sebum and cerumen (wax). Mucous is produced not only in the respiratory system, but also in the gastrointestinal system and reproductive system for this reason. Fever and inflammation are both examples of innate immunity, and both signify an attempt by the body to speed up the immune system, slow the reproduction of a pathogen, prevent the spread of localised infection and deliver cells of the immune system to an area of infection or damage.

Collectively, innate immune responses are not selective; the hallmark of these responses is their ability to regard to all pathogens, physical tissue destruction and atypical cells as a problem. Without healthy innate immune mechanisms, your general blood circulation can be accessed by invading microbes, meaning infections spread easily. Nutrition, herbal medicine, acupuncture, manual therapies and lifestyle medicine is essential to buttress these defences to work in your favour.

Adaptive immunity involves responses that are highly specialised and targeted toward a specific pathogen or antigen (foreign substance). Adaptive immune mechanisms are those involved in providing the body with lasting, sometimes life-long protection from certain infections. The ability to distinguish foreign tissue from ‘self’ tissue is a hallmark of the adaptive immune system. When one’s immune system responds to a normal healthy tissue structure as ‘foreign’ and reacts with destruction, the ensuing disorders are known as autoimmune diseases.

Cells of the Immune System

As stated earlier, the cells of your immune system are produced in the red bone marrow. After a series of maturation events occurring in the Thymus, general blood circulation or other lymphatic tissues, the cells of your immune system comprise the following:

  • Neutrophils
  • Lymphocytes
  • Monocytes
  • Eosinophil’s
  • Basophils

Each category has multiple cellular subtypes; some so specific and diverse there are hundreds in each category. While many are involved in the innate immune defences of inflammation and fever, others are so specialised they only respond to a specific species of microbe or antigen (foreign protein).


Immunodeficiency is a significant health issue; the incredibly vast structures, cells and pathways of immune responses mean that immune compromise involves any and many parts of the immune system. Immunodeficiency disorders include the following:

  • Inherited: these are genetic disorders running in families. Examples include diseases affecting the body’s ability to synthesise antibodies during infections. These disorders are rare; some are lethal due to the inability to control serious infection.
  • Acquired: this occurs due to other pathological events or malnutrition. HIV infection, cancer, splenectomy and diabetes are all associated with diminished immune strength. Nutrition and lifestyle medicine warrants special attention, as both contribute heavily to both the strength and adaptiveness of your immune responses in all phases of life, from the neonatal period to elder age.

Complementary and Integrative Health Perspective

For those of us who do not suffer a chronic illness with severe consequences for immunity, this system does a wonderful job in keeping us healthy. For some people, autoimmune diseases threaten quality of life and diminish our wellbeing. Allergies and recurrent or low-grade infections seem to now plague modern society. Those with generally robust health who invest time and effort into their health may regard an infection as a ‘failure’ of their immune system.

Complementary and Integrative medical practices can support the functions of the immune system at many various levels. There is no one single practice, food, supplement or lifestyle intervention that will suddenly ‘boost’ the immune system. Immune responses are so intricate, multi-layered and involve so many different cells, reactions and tissues that a long term approach is required to support immune health, usually from many different clinical angles including nutrition, exercise, premature aging, toxin exposure, psychological stressors and medication use.

Sustaining Strong Immunity

  • Do not smoke. A host of nutrients are depleted through cigarette smoking, but the destruction of innate immune defence structures in airways is extremely problematic for smokers.
  • Exercise regularly, but not in the extreme. Exercise that is extreme enough to cause stress on the body can act as a stressor, releasing cortisol (an immune suppressant). Exercise that depletes muscle mass is known to deplete the immune system.
  • Healthy weight maintenance. This is not only in regards to weight loss, but losing excess fat as opposed to lean body mass (muscle) and gaining weight (both fat and muscle mass) in those who are underweight. Both healthy fat and protein stores in muscle are essential for strong immune health.
  • Without question, healthy and restful sleep is protective for your immune system. Without adequate rest, we do not recover well from infection; we run our body on energy reserves and do not give our body adequate time to repair damage whilst asleep.
  • Micronutrient malnutrition is extensive, even in affluent countries and societies. A diet low in variation (common in children and the elderly) is one possible cause. The quality of foods ingested, or a diet high in processed foods is another. Diets low in protein are renowned for compromising the immune system.
  • The minerals zinc, selenium, iron and copper are all very important for sustaining healthy immune responses. In terms of vitamins, A, D, E, B2, B6 and C all support accurate immune responses in animal studies.

Written for and published by the MINDD Foundation:

Image credit: Biology Questions and Answers

1. Alberts, B. et al. (2002). Molecular Biology of the Cell (4th Ed). Chapter 24: The Adaptive Immune System. Garland Science, New York.

2. Kau, A. et al. (2011). Human nutrition, the gut microbiome and the immune system. Nature. 474: 327-336.
Lange, T. et al. (2010). Effects of sleep and circadian rhythm on the human immune system. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1193: 48-59.

3. Legrand, N. et al. (2006). Experimental models to study development and function of the human immune system in vivo. Journal of Immunology. 176 (4): 2053-2058.

4. Segerstrom, S. et al. (2004). Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of thirty years of enquiry. Psychological Bulletin.

5.  Wiesner, J. and Vilcinskas. A. (2010). Antimicrobial peptides: the ancient arm of the human immune system. Virulence. 1 (5): 440-464.

Why Understanding Your Microbiota Is Key to Health and Longevity


Microbiota, microbiome, gut flora, intestinal flora. Scientific phrases commonly spoken by microbiologists, but now becoming etched in common parlance. The terms gut flora and intestinal flora are old terms. The term ‘flora’ technically refers to any species belonging to the plant kingdom. The organisms that colonize the human body are certainly not plants; they are bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses, archae and other microorganisms. Their habitation within and introduction to your body has a profound influence on your future health, initiated long before you are born.

The terms ‘microbiota’ and ‘microbiome’ are a more accurate reflection of the microorganisms residing in and on the human body, yet the terms are often used incorrectly:

Microbiota: refers to all microbial species associated with humans
Microbiome: refers to the catalogue of these microbes + their genes

The microbiota of humans consists of approximately 10-100 trillion microbial cells. Put into perspective, this is approximately ten times the population of the human cells in your body. Your microbiome comprises as much as 3% of your body mass. Primarily, they reside in the gut, however no surface of the human body is uncolonised by microbes. Your integument (skin), respiratory tract (including the lungs), and urogenital tracts are teeming with microbial life. Many of these organisms are symbionts; they live within other organisms, such as us! In the majority of cases, this symbiotic living arrangement benefits both the microbes and their host. Some members of the microbiota are pathogenic (disease causing). Their populations are smaller and unable to cause disease until the surrounding environment changes to favor their growth.
Microbiome research is taking place worldwide, aiming to understand the role of the microbiota to human health. Here is what the current body of research has uncovered.

The human microbiota is highly specialized
Knowledge of the different microbial species present during times of health versus disease, between individuals and between different sites on the same individual is not new; this was established as early as the 17th century. Modern medical science wants answers to these questions:

Why do these differences exist?
What affects the transformations from one state, person or site to another?

Research has established that microbes of the human gut are not acquired merely from the environment in which we live. Evolution has carefully selected a specific community of microbes that flourish in the stable, warm and nutrient dense environs of the human gut. Everything you touch and eat introduces microbes to your body, everyday. It appears that the most diverse microbial communities are located in the oral cavity and the gut. We can postulate this is due to their role in eating, as no other sites come into contact with literally thousands of microbial samples (foods) in quite the same way as your mouth and digestive tract. The Hologenome Theory of Evolution questions that natural selection is not simply based on an individual organism, but the organism together with its attendant microbial populations.

What influences the colonization process?
Approximately one third of human gut microbiota is the same in all individuals. The remaining two thirds are specific to each individual. It is fascinating to consider that our microbiome is as diverse as fingerprints, our faces and our genetic profile. Diversity can be influenced by the following factors:

• Method of infant delivery. Some research suggests that cesarean delivery may impact on early biodiversity of intestinal bacteria. Babies delivered vaginally are exposed to mother’s microbes much sooner, instantly initiating colonization of the infant. Other research suggests there is little difference in microbial colonization between babies delivered vaginally versus C-section by the time they are 3 years old.
• Dietary interventions. Babies who are breast-fed are colonized early via microbes from mothers skin. Research also shows that breast fed infants have higher levels of gut microbes in general. The introduction of solids also has a significant impact on a breast-fed baby’s microbial population, as it begins to look more like the profile of a formula fed baby.
• Pharmaceutical interventions: Antibiotic treatment is the most well known drug therapy for causing dysbiosis, but evidence is mounting for other drugs too, such as oral antacid medications and anti-diabetic drugs and oral contraceptives.
• Longer term dietary changes. Science continues to show the inseparable link between an individual’s microbiota, digestion and metabolism. Some studies suggest that dietary changes can influence microbial populations within a week or even a day of the eating pattern shifting.
• Environmental interventions: individuals from highly antiseptic environs have less diversity in their microbiome.

Take away points
• A balanced gut microbiota assists with proper digestive function. As it exists at the interface between food nutrients and the intestinal lining, it assists in breaking down foods left partially digested by the stomach and small intestine.
• Your microbiota is like an army, preventing resurgence and attack from pathogenic microorganisms.
• A balanced microbiota helps fulfill the body’s production of some B vitamins and vitamin K.
• The interface provided by your microbiota is an immune barrier. Dysbiosis (unbalanced gut microbial populations) is linked with all major immune disorders, such as allergy, atopy, recurrent infections, autoimmune disorders, some cancers, cardiovascular disease and many chronic digestive disorders.
• Prebiotics act as nourishment for gut microbiota. They induce both the growth and metabolism of beneficial members of the microbiome. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers such as inulin, pectin, starch, beta-glucans and various oligosaccharides (complex sugars).
• Probiotics are live microorganisms that are supplied via food, beverages (particularly fermented or soured types) and supplementation.
Simply taking an over the counter probiotic may not be enough to fully restore the healthy function of our microbiota, or replenish populations of healthy gut microbes and treat dysbiosis. Your diet possibly needs to change. You may require certain species of microbes, or even certain strains of microbes to regain health. Knowing how long to take probiotics, prebiotics and what nutritional changes to make should be undertaken with a complementary or integrative health professional to achieve the results you need, and to stop problems recurring for you in the future.

Written by Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc.

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