Excerpt from Chapter Three
The environmental factors that contribute to gut dysbiosis, immune dysregulation and downstream chronic illness are complex and vary by individual. Although American society is highly diverse, there are common cultural currents that run through the lives of most every American. Elements of this common culture contribute to widespread gut dysbiosis and immune dysregulation. These factors can be grouped into five main categories:
1) Medication/Drug Over-usage including prescription and over-the-counter medications.
2) Exposure to Environmental Toxins/Pollution including heavy metals, electropollution, petroleum-based chemicals, and many other harmful synthetic substances.
3) Diet and Nutrition with an emphasis on the “standard American diet” (SAD) and the many complex substances we consume everyday.
4) Habits and Lifestyle including everything from how we were born to
what kinds of leisure activities we engage in.
5) Excessive, or Improperly Administered Vaccines, which pertains to the present standard childhood immunization protocol administered by most every state.
Not every American child is affected by each of these five categories. For instance, there are plenty of Americans who do not consume the standard American diet, yet they may be exposed to pharmaceutical agents, receive a full recommended schedule of vaccinations, and live in neighborhoods that are toxically burdened. In some combination, most American children are touched by the above environmental factors.
Although these environmental factors can affect a child at any stage during their development, the most critical time is during the first few years of life, when a baby’s immature immune system continues to develop. Researchers are discovering that the types and quantities of microbiota (microorganisms) that initially populate an infant’s gut are of critical importance to the development of a properly functioning immune system. According to a 2007 article in the journal Neonatology, “Intestinal colonization. . . is essential for maturation of the gut-associated lymphoid tissue and the homeostasis of the intestinal epithelium and developmental regulation of the intestinal physiology. . . Recent evidence demonstrates that deviations in gut microbiota may precede specific diseases later in life.” Essentially, if an infant’s gut is populated early on with pathogenic microbiota, or insufficiently populated with commensal bacteria such as Bifidobacteria, then the immune system does not function properly. [i] Subsequent environmental assaults (toxins, infectious microbes, vaccine antigens, etc.) may be more than an infant’s compromised immune system can handle. As the stability of a baby’s immune system is exceedingly vulnerable during this time period, even the smallest environmental factors known to impact gut microbiota may impact the health of a child.
There are many environmental factors that can adversely impact an infant’s gut microbiota. Perhaps the most important factor is the gut health of the baby’s mother, and to a lesser degree, father. The microorganisms present in a mother’s gut and vaginal canal at the time of birth are the same microorganisms that will colonize her baby’s gut immediately during and after birth. The father’s gut health is important in so far as he transfers his resident microorganisms to his partner through intimate contact. Mom’s microorganisms can also be transferred to the baby via breastfeeding. Essentially, the health of gut and vaginal microorganisms of a pregnant mother plays a significant role in the overall health of her baby. A baby with balanced gut microbiota is better equipped to fight off the effects of environmental toxins, poor diet, vaccinations, and natural infections. Unfortunately, gut health is not something that is apparent or obvious to most pregnant woman. There are subtle environmental factors that influence the health of a mother’s gut, and she may not be aware that simple actions that she takes can adversely impact the health of her gut microbiota. For instance, if she used certain pharmaceutical agents, such as oral contraceptives, NSAIDs (like ibuprofen, naproxen), acetaminophen, corticosteroids (asthma medications) or other steroids (e.g., prednisone) prior to or during pregnancy, then it is possible (although not certain) that her gut flora were negatively impacted.[ii]
[i] Migel Gueimonde et al., “Breast Milk: A Source of Bifidobacteria for Infant Gut Development and Maturation?” Neonatology 92 (2007): 64-66.
[ii] Natasha Campbell-McBride, Gut and Psychology Syndrome (Cambridge: Medinform Publishing, 2004).