Whether you suffer with a chronic illness, psychiatric disorder or psychological condition, the first thing to check is your belly. "All diseases begin in the gut," says Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, M.D., a leading expert on the subject of autism as well as other learning disabilities and digestive disorders. In her work, she heals both mind and body by focusing on the health of the belly.
At her Cambridge Nutrition Clinic established in England in 1998, Dr. Campbell-McBride traces the connection between neurology and nutrition as well as digestion and the functioning of the rest of the body. "The digestive system holds the root of our health," she says pointing out the extensive role that gut flora plays in disease prevention, including protecting us from invading pathogens, detoxification, facilitating the digestion of food as well as the absorption of vitamins and minerals like calcium and zinc, and actually producing B vitamins. In addition, between 84-88% of the immune system is housed in the gut lining, she says, which would equal the size of a tennis court if opened up and laid flat .
"There cannot be cancer in the digestive tract if the gut flora is healthy," asserts Dr. Campbell-McBride, a medical doctor with postgraduate degrees in both neurology and human nutrition. But in today's society, many people are walking around with impaired gut flora due to steroids, prescription medications, alcohol, stress, a poor diet of processed foods and sugar (which actually feed abnormal gut flora), disease, age, bottle feeding of infants, toxic chemicals, pollution and radiation.
How Antibiotics Can Lead to Mercury Poisoning
A major cause of impaired gut flora are antibiotics and she worries about teenagers being treated for up to two years with acne drugs, leaving them with serious damage.
Dr. Campbell-McBride points to a study showing that rats treated with antibiotics succumb to mercury poisoning while those with untreated gut flora do not. She believes the same is true of humans and that, while the government warns against eating fish because of mercury and PCB contamination, a healthy gut should be able to tolerate the exposure and get the health benefits of eating fish.
Gut Health and the Autism Epidemic
According to Dr. Campbell-McBride, as a population we are degrading healthy gut flora more and more every generation. Mothers who have been on the Pill or antibiotics or a poor diet for long periods develop abnormal gut flora and pass it on to their children. This, she believes, has led to an epidemic of eczema and autism, noting that 20 years ago the autism rate was 1 in 10,000 children and today is 1 in 88.
When children are born with their mothers' unhealthy gut, they have immune compromised systems, develop ear and chest infections and are treated with antibiotics. All this creates more damage to their systems. As the gut wall suffers more damage, it becomes "leaky" and allows undigested food to enter the blood stream resulting in more prevalent food allergies, such as to peanuts.