Prevention and Recovery from Food Borne Illness
by Guest Blogger, Sarah Pope, The Healthy Home Economist Blog
In the Spring of my eighth grade year, I experienced a very severe and life changing case of food borne illness. I’ll never forget being at my Grandparent’s home when the first feelings of nausea and an overall sense that something very bad was about to happen hit me just a few hours after eating at a fast food chicken joint. I barely made it home before the full fury of salmonella hit. The next week was a complete blur. I lived and even slept in the bathtub as the fluids coming out of me from both directions were completely uncontrollable and the spasms came with little time to react. My parents managed to keep me hydrated enough to stay out of the hospital. How I managed to come through the ordeal without at least one visit to the ER for fluids is nothing short of amazing and a testament to the nursing skills of my Mom and Dad. My petite frame took a beating nonetheless. I lost 15 lbs in a little less than 2 weeks and was nothing short of skin and bones when it was finally over. It took me at least a few months to fully recover my appetite and strength and over a year to regain all the weight I had lost.
I have often wondered why my brother didn’t get salmonella as well. We both ate the tainted chicken; why did I become so gravely ill and he seemed to experience no negative effects whatsoever? I now know that the composition of my gut flora at that time likely contributed significantly to my susceptibility. My brother at the time of the exposure was completely off sugar. He had noticed that sugar contributed to his issues with acne, and being a 16 year old boy in high school, he wanted to minimize any breakouts. I, on the other hand, was not off sugar. Sugar, in fact, was a big part of my diet. Although this is most certainly just an educated guess on my part, I feel quite certain that my brother’s gut flora was in much better shape than mine when salmonella came to call that day at the chicken drive thru. His gut flora protected him; mine did not.
For the next few years, I seemed to succumb rather easily to food poisoning. There is no doubt that the composition of flora in my gut had changed for the worse as a result of my bout with salmonella. It is now known that food borne illness can indeed negatively alter the composition of gut flora. The appendix, long thought a useless intestinal appendage, is now becoming recognized as a sort of “safe haven” for good bacteria during severe intestinal illness. Once the pathogen has run its course, the good bacteria can emerge from the appendix and start the process of rebuilding beneficial colonies in the gut. Unfortunately for me, there weren’t many good guys available to hide in the appendix during my salmonella ordeal. So after the storm had passed, my gut ended up in worse shape than before.
Avoiding Food Borne Illness
Hippocrates was most certainly right. The very roots of our health are found in our gut! When we succumb to food borne illness such as salmonella, E. coli, or even a milder form of intestinal pathogen like the Norwalk virus, it is the condition of our gut at the time of exposure which opens or closes the door to illness. We tend to blame the pathogen, but the fact is, the health of our gut determines whether we give away the keys to the kingdom to the invading pathogen or close the drawbridge to protect the bodily castle.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of speaking at the Weston A. Price Foundation’s annual Conference in Virginia. A Norwalk type virus (the kind that occasionally plagues cruise ships) was unfortunately making its way around the very same hotel as the Conference, and some Conference attendees had fallen ill. My allotted time to speak was Saturday afternoon, and I hoped that I would not succumb to the virus before I had a chance to deliver my talk. At dinner the night before, I began to feel the first twinges of gastroenteritis coming on. Desperate to keep myself well, I noticed that a few of the folks at my dinner table were drinking an unpasteurized beer called “Chimay”. Knowing that my best chance to stay well was to consume a significant dose of probiotics to provide my gut with enough “good guys” to battle the pathogen starting to take hold in my gut, I asked if I could possibly have a bit to drink myself. The generous couple from Long Island did indeed provide me with a couple of glasses of Chimay, and sure enough, within a couple of hours I felt well again. Throughout the next day, I made sure that I continued to sip probiotic beverages from one of the Conference booths (lacto-fermented root beer and ginger beer). I went on to deliver my talk that afternoon and flew home two days later never having come down with any tummy bug at all!
I’ve had people ask me why I advocate consuming raw milk, raw eggs, and other unpasteurized foods given my very personal experience with severe food borne illness like salmonella. My response is that such an ordeal helped me realize more than ever that low quality, highly processed foods produced in factories and factory farms are the real risk for these types of illnesses, not high quality, unprocessed foods from small farms. Notice that the food recalls reported by the media always seem to originate with Big Food and result in the recall of thousands of processed food products. Very rarely is food borne illness traced to a small family farm. Of course, knowing your farmers personally and knowing that the animals that produce your food are free to express the individuality of their species without confinement and are not subjected to antibiotics which encourages the growth of pathogens in the farm environment goes a long way toward guaranteeing healthy food that can be safely consumed in its natural state.
Recovery from Food Borne Illness
Perhaps you are reading this and have recently experienced the devastation of food borne illness. How does one best rebuild health after such a setback to vitality? First, I would suggest viewing the experience as a chance to start anew in building the type of gut health that will prevent such an experience from ever happening again. Severe food borne illness nearly wipes the slate clean in the gut. Vast amounts of both good and bad pathogens are eliminated from the body during the fury of the illness itself, so the chance to build the gut up again with primarily beneficial strains with minimal die off symptoms is a golden opportunity for improving health in the long term. Please note, however, that science has not yet figured out how to repopulate the gut wall with beneficial bacteria if it was populated with pathogens during the birth process and the first few weeks afterward (as with a baby who was born by Cesarean and commercial formula fed). Whether your gut wall is properly populated or not, vibrant gut health can still be maintained by populating the rest of the gut with beneficial strains and continuing to consume probiotic foods every day (ideally with every meal) for the rest of your life as was the practice of Traditional Cultures.
The best way to ensure that the gut gets populated correctly after food borne illness is to make sure not to consume the foods that feed gut pathogens for a period of time until the gut fully heals. Dr. Campbell-McBride MD outlines this diet in detail in her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome. In short, this diet excludes all foods that consist of (disaccharide) sugars and starches that a damaged gut is unable to digest properly. All grains, starchy vegetables such as white and sweet potatoes, starchy beans (navy, lima, and peas are ok), and all sweeteners except raw honey must be avoided for a time. Even raw milk, which contains lactose, a disaccharide, should be avoided. Raw milk cultured into kefir or yogurt, butter, ghee, and cream are usually fine except in the most severe cases. Homemade broth in liberal amounts – a small cupful with each meal – should be included to replenish lost minerals and speed healing of the lining of the gut wall.
Once the gut has healed and strength has fully returned, properly prepared grains and starchy vegetables/pulses may be reintroduced slowly all the while watching for symptoms of gut dysbiosis. Use of a therapeutic strength probiotic and plenty of lacto-fermented fruits, vegetables, and beverages are also recommended during the rebuilding phase to ensure that the correct probiotic colonies take hold and eventually dominate the gut environment.
The importance of balanced gut flora cannot be underestimated in its impact on your health. Not only can it prevent food borne illness from taking hold in the first place, it can also help you recover more quickly once you have fallen ill. Learning to harness the power of these beneficial microbes and the impact they have on immunity to every type of illness, not just gastrointestinal, will help you achieve your best health and help each of us regain the vitality that is our birthright.
Sarah Pope, The Healthy Home Economist is also the Weston A. Price Volunteer Chapter Leader in Tampa, Florida. Visit her blog here: http://thehealthyhomeeconomist.com.
Today is Natural Cures Tuesday, do you have a natural remedy or healthy recipe to share? Have you had success combatting a stomach bug? Do tell in the comments below. Bloggers are welcome to submit links to your posts (archives are fine) to kim dot hartke at gmail.com.
Mean Rooster Soup Blog is our first submission: Using Herbs to Combat Food Borne Illness