It's an election year and there is one health policy I want to see that none of the parties are publicly considering.
It is a policy I believe nearly every Kiwi would support. Especially women, whom this issue disproportionately affects. A common sense policy to help us maintain our commitment to a health expenditure as a proportion of GDP at under 11%.
It's a research funding commitment. Not to developing some new flash drug, some silver bullet, a 'sure fix'. It's not a sexy issue, quite the opposite in fact. It's down and dirty and rather, errr, fecal.
We need to understand what makes our gut lining and digestive system - degrade. Breakdown.
What are the environmental triggers that lead to a permeable bowel? What are the main dietary and environmental factors that result in a reduced gut microbiota – reduced bugs and bacteria in our gut?
We really don’t know.
This is a massively important area. Why? Because a permeable gut wall is usually present before onset of illness. Let me repeat: Before. So when you descend into illness after a traumatic event, losing a parent for instance, in most cases your gut was already sick. Your body didn't have enough 'ooomph' to get you through unscathed. Your gut wasn't working properly, you couldn't extract enough nutrients to boost your immune system in a time of stress. Then you got sick. And we all get sick in different ways as we have different genetic predispositions, according to the environmental challenges our ancestors faced.
What illnesses are related to permeable (leaky) bowel? Many cancers, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, coeliac disease, irritable bowel, allergies, asthma, autism, ADHD & ADD, depression and ankylosing spondylitis to name a few. Yes, this list covers a lot of illness. I find it stunning, myself. And when your family is presenting with ongoing immune related maladies, coughs, colds, the flu etc, it can be pretty surprising to come to terms with this.
Yet, a huge part of our immune system depends on a healthy digestive tract. Vitamin C is only part of it. We need a heck of a lot of other nutrients to be absorbed by our bodies – using a healthy digestive system. Without that the system breaks down.
There is a reason, 2,400 years ago, Hippocrates considered that all disease began in the gut.
When we walk into the doctors, the symptoms doctors see are the tip of your own private iceberg.
The gut is not often considered, it is hidden away. How do we learn about this? We need research.
Doctors are time poor and this is a relatively new field. Is there a corresponding relationship between New Zealand's extremely high rate of antibiotic use and it's correspondingly stunning rate of asthma? How do pesticides sprayed on our food affect our digestive system? Herbicides, insecticides and fungicides kill plant based bacteria, bugs and fungus, after all. Is it no surprise that a little town of Te Puke in New Zealand with its population of 7,500, its orchards and sprays just happens to have an arthritis support group? Why do I know a mum with 2 autistic kids who spent their early years surrounded by 3 different orchards with three different spray regimes?
Why are people starting to believe there is a correlation between the Roundup that is sprayed on our wheat, soy, vegetable oils and other cereals, and on the feed that our intensively farmed animals (particularly pork and poultry), which together comprise a huge part of our staple food groups – and growing illness rates. It doesn’t seem all that spurious, when you think about it. Particularly when you think that not a single study held with the NZ EPA, US EPA, WHO & EU investigating the effects of pesticides as environmental triggers to illness - on the gut. At all.
There's more... you could say I am generalising or you could say we need to commit the cash for the research.
The pharmaceutical industry is embracing the big new field of 'prebiotics' and even 'fecal transplant medicine' to help us rebuild our digestive systems. These guys know something is wrong. My call is that we need to practice prevention. In a country where the medicine is taxpayer funded, the only logical situation is to reduce illness in the first place.
There is no point having a poo transplant to improve your gut bacterial profile and then go home and eat a big lunch of bread that has been desiccated (pesticides sprayed on our wheat to dry it out and get rid of weeds) with Roundup (a patented antibiotic, I kid you not).
Yes, our cereals can have Roundup sprayed on them. Combine that with a dose of antibiotics. Killing all those desirable bugs of generously donated healthy fecal matter.
What a …waste… I reckon we can be smarter.
Because the NZ tax system isn't a money pit.
Can we afford to hop on a ridiculous taxpayer funded bandaid roundabout? That's why this call for research funding is simple Kiwi common sense.
Let's get to the bottom of this problem. Digest some facts.
Doctors are often between a rock and hard place. Distressed parents demanding antibiotics to fix baby Sam's illness walk into their clinic every day. But I don't know a single doctor who wouldn't appreciate independent research (with no ties to the pharmaceutical industry) to get to the guts of the matter.
This initiative covers an incredibly broad spectrum of the non-communicable illnesses whose costs to our healthcare system are spiralling. We have blockbuster drugs on our pharmaceutical scheme the likes of which we have never seen before, tied of course, to problems related to a permeable gut.
Sadly, researching environmental triggers for gut breakdown are probably not patentable, which is why the commercial sector aren't here already. This needs to be publicly funded.
Call my bluff, tell me I'm generalising, but I urge you to demand that your political parties think strongly about this research.
The gut is sick before the descent into illness. Without the sick gut would we get sick? Probably not.
We need to understand this. We need to do more than apply expensive pharmaceutical bandaids. Our bodies are delicately balanced systems.
We have over three times the bacterial cells in our bodies than human cells. Our immune systems and body bacteria are interdependent.
Our bodies have evolved to need and use these bacteria every day. We evolved from bacterial sea dwelling slime, we are them and they are us. We get rid of our evolutionary partner and we get sick.
Increased city based populations have resulted in us living in a cleaner, more hygienic environment, reducing our early exposure to germs and dirt. But it’s more than that. Our illnesses are accelerating faster than they ever did before. There are environmental triggers behind this illness explosion.
A needle in a haystack? Perhaps. But while our governments continue to ignore this pressing need to understand the toxins in our diets, the situation will only get more expensive. (I could say distressing but we are talking policy here). It's the twenty first century. We have the technology and the scientists.
Does it make sense that we should direct a significant funding commitment to researching gut health? Support groups for people with the above-listed illnesses may agree. And many sufferers have more than one problem, which often include mental health disorder - both relating back to the digestive system. The gut and brain are intricately interconnected through our immune and endocrine systems, among other things, inextricably tied to gut health.
Primarily this is about reducing onset of disease. A no-brainer. It's tied to a healthy diet (of which lunches in lower decile (‘less fortunate’) schools could only aid), reduced dietary toxins and perhaps amending our medical practices (with independent science based recommendations) to understand what our bodies can actually cope with.
We are in the dark ages when it comes to the science of understand how our we end up with leaky guts and a reduced ability to extract the healthy nutrients we need to live active, happy, well balanced lives.
We need to ensure our kid’s food is safe (perhaps follow European policy with their no pesticides in baby food mandate) and if necessary, legislate in practical ways to protect our kids physical and psychological futures. Keep toxins out of their bodies as long as we can.
On the plus side, where there is tragedy there’s opportunity. Mass illness? Mass niche based opportunities! The science could boost small start-ups in New Zealand. Like suppliers of natural prebiotics. Let's not let all those big overseas pharmaceutical corporations make all the money. We are the land of raw milk and raw honey, after all. Develop home grown organic baby foods. There is international market demand for these products.
Let’s reduce the barriers to small food based businesses and let our foodies develop the stuff they know will sell. Let our producers diversify with smart incentives.
These problems aren't going away quickly. Let's make some cash while we fix the situation.
I know an entrepreneur or two that may be able to help out….