There seems to be a common, yet major misconception that gut health is something that is achieved, a destination on one’s journey to health that can be moved down the priority list once a certain set of symptoms are reduced or no longer appear on the radar screen. Got gut problems or been on a round of antibiotics? No worries. Just take a probiotic for a few weeks and everything will rebalance just fine.
This approach and mindset couldn’t be further from the truth.
Gut health as experienced by traditional cultures was maintained every single day. It wasn’t a healthy condition that one was lucky to be born with that allowed a life free of chronic disease and degeneration. Neither was it a goal to be achieved with short term consumption of probiotics or probiotic rich foods while other glaring problems in the diet remained.
On the contrary, while these traditional peoples were definitely endowed with superior gut health from the start due to a natural birth to Mothers with superior gut health themselves, this lucky state of affairs was easily squandered if the correct foods required to maintain the pristine state of their guts were not consumed every single day, almost with every single meal.
Traditional Swiss Culture
Take for example, the traditional alpine Swiss culture which produced young men of such superior character, strength and physique that they were selected more frequently than any other young men in the country to serve as the Swiss Guard for the Vatican. This culture and its young men are discussed in Dr. Weston A. Price’s groundbreaking book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.
What is also discussed in Dr. Price’s book is how the young people he examined that suffered from dental caries (cavities) in the Swiss alpine villages were invariably the same young people who had left the nurturing foods of home at around age 18 to do this or that in a city elsewhere only to find themselves with one or more rotting teeth within a year or two (or worse tuberculosis). Interestingly, Dr. Price discovered upon examination of these young people who had returned home that their dental caries had invariably healed and were no longer causing any distress. Similarly, not a single case of tuberculosis was reported in the Swiss alpine villages.
The traditional foods of the alpine Swiss valleys were protective only as long as these foods continued to be consumed, thereby maintaining gut health and immunity. Once these foods were abandoned due to living abroad, illness quickly took hold. Incidentally, the typical foods in urbanized Europe at the time consisted of canned foods, refined flour, a high intake of sweets, sweetened fruits, chocolate, and a greatly reduced usage of raw dairy products.
Gut Health Must be Maintained Every Single Day!
The lessons of the Traditional Swiss can easily be applied to our modern lives. First of all, we can learn that use of fresh dairy alone will not protect and maintain our gut health and immunity. It may improve it somewhat, but will not bestow the vitality we seek. The modernized Swiss that lived during Dr. Price’s time who suffered from rampant dental caries and tuberculosis were still using raw dairy – it just was not in the same quantities as the Alpine Swiss and it was combined with heavily processed foods in the rest of the diet.
To give you a more pointed example, using grassfed, farm fresh milk on a breakfast bowl of highly processed, boxed breakfast cereal is not going to go very far in achieving good health for you or your children! ALL grains that come in a box are highly processed even if made with organic, whole grains and must be avoided!
You can’t ride the fence on your journey to health. You can’t take cod liver oil and keep eating fast food several times a week and expect to be well in the long term. You might be fine today, but as we all know, auto immune, chronic illness frequently strikes without warning. A “I’m doing fine on my processed foods diet” attitude is equivalent to sticking your head in the sand while a tsunami is heading your way. You won’t experience high energy and vitality with a pantry loaded with refined, boxed carbs even if you are absolutely compulsive about eating organic produce, grassfed meats, and greatly limit your sugar intake.
You either make the critical changes necessary to get well and stay well or you don’t. Half hearted attempts usually fail, in my experience, as discouragement sets in after a month or two when a major improvement in wellness is not achieved.
This is not to say that all changes required for health need to be made at the same time! On the contrary, transitioning from a modern diet to a traditional one takes time, often months or even years to fully accomplish. As a result, the focus should be on the journey to gut health that takes place over time and not expecting miracles with one or two initial changes in the diet, even if seemingly significant (like the switch from pasteurized dairy to fresh dairy or starting a daily cod liver oil supplement).
Expectations need to be tempered with the total reality of the diet being consumed day in and day out. Gut health and ultimately immunity from chronic illness depends on this path.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. Her work is dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household. She is a sought after lecturer around the world for conferences, summits, and podcasts.
Her work has been covered by major media including USA Today, ABC, NBC, and many others.