Thanks for the opportunity to be invited this evening to talk about something that interests us as practitioners and all of you who obviously have a passion for health and doing the right thing by your bodies and your community.

I am Tania McDonald and I am a registered osteopath, who with a team of nine others work at Warragul Osteopathic Clinic in Gladstone street.

So what is an osteopath?

Osteopathy is a form of manual therapy based on the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal conditions. Osteopaths recognise the important link between the structure of the body and the way it functions. This is evident in the four principles of Osteopathy:

1. The body is a unit

2. Structure and function are interrelated.

3. The body has its own self-healing and self-regulating mechanisms.

4. Manual treatment is applied considering the above principles.

Mostly I am here tonight to talk to you about gut health and how it can have an effect on the body as a whole.

So what is gut health? What do we mean by gut health?

When we talk about gut health we are talking about the balance of gut microbiota- a community of micro-organisms which live inside out digestive tracts. These populations are incredibly diverse with hundreds of different types of bacteria, and some fungi and viruses, and vary significantly between individuals. Generally the bacteria can be separated into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria. If the balance of bad bacteria outweighs the good- or the diversity of bacteria is not great enough, this can be an initiating cause of many systemic problems.

So doesn’t this just affect our tummies? And why is it of importance to us as osteopaths?

If our gut flora is out of whack, yes, we can experience localised issues such as bloating, constipation, cramping and irritable bowel symptoms; but increasingly research has shown how gut ecology has an effect on our overall health.

Roughly 70-80% of the body’s immune system is localised within the gut, as it is the first point of entry for exposure to pathogens. The digestive system comprises of cells, proteins, tissues and organs which work together to defend the body against harmful bacteria, disease and toxins. The immune cells within the gut secrete lymphocyte cells, whose role it is to attack harmful invaders, and often work in a connective team or ‘bundle’ of cells to protect the membranes of the intestines from infection. The healthy or ‘good’ bacteria which lie within our gut act together with these immune cells, and are like their little helpers.

When this protective function is compromised, it is what we call ‘intestinal permeability’ ie: the protective walls of the gut can become ‘permeated’ and allow pathogens to enter.

SLIDE 3- Leaky Gut Syndrome

When this happens out immune system goes into overdrive, and our bodies create an unnecessary response against things like chemicals, undigested foods, gluten and bad bacteria which have passed through these permeable holes in the gut lining. This repeated stress reaction, and the release of histamine from the intestinal mucosa, over time, can create a chronic auto-immune response, where the body spends its efforts attacking foreign irritants which ordinarily wouldn’t be a problem. This is called ‘Leaky Gut Syndrome’.

This response can give rise to many common auto-immune problems, including inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis (particularly Rheumatoid arthritis), eczema, psoriasis, depression, migraine headache, muscle pain, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, diabetes, Graves disease and other thyroid problems, lupus, multiple sclerosis Addisons disease and obesity.

And for us in a clinical setting this is really important. There are many patients who we treat who have a simple joint or muscle injury, and within a few treatments they are feeling great and may not need any further treatment. There are however, many patients who come to us who have tried everything, yet still present with all over chronic pain within joints, muscles and connective tissues. Having this knowledge and a very holistic approach to how all systems of the body work together as a whole, allows us to take all aspects of the patient’s history into account, and help them on their best path to recovery. It is important to note that not all cases of the above mentioned systemic problems stem from gut dysbiosis, but are often multifactorial.

In a deeper analysis of this connection is what is called the Gut-Brain Axis. 

SLIDE 4 – Gut- Brain Axis

The Gut-Brain Axis refers to the connection between the brain and the gut via the Vagus nerve- a cranial nerve which exits our skull via a little hole called the Jugular Foramen. The vagus nerve travels down to many organs in our body to give parasympathetic nerve supply for functions such as breathing, speech, sweating, regulating heartbeat, gastric emptying and peristalsis. It is the nerve responsible for what you know as the ‘gut feeling’, or ‘butterflies in the tummy’, and forms half of the ‘fight or flight’ scenario.

New and exciting research has now shown that the reverse relationship is equally as important- that the health of the gut can have a huge effect on our brain, primarily in the area of cognition, emotion and behaviour. This research has shown that Parkinsons disease, Alzheimers, bipolar, dementia, depression, anxiety and autism may all be influenced by gut microbiota.

In one experiment three rats were placed in a bucket of water. One rat had been given lead up course of antibiotics, another had its vagus nerve severed, and a third rat was given a course of probiotics. The first two rats had a severe stress response, before drowning very quickly. The third rat who had been given probiotics was able to remain calmer for longer and survived much longer than the other two. Seperate experiments have involved administering faeces from rats who are calm and relaxed, into those that were anxious; creating the response that these anxious rats then became calm.

So what can you and I do about our gut health?

Things that contribute to poor gut health:


-Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

-hormone imbalance including the oral contraceptive pill

-a diet high in processed and refined carbohydrates, sugars, added chemical and toxins in the diet gluten grains

-chronic stress

-chronic infection

SLIDE 5- Foods containing good bacteria

Things that help restore gut flora:                                          

-remove all food toxins from your diet, and avoid processed foods

-eat plenty of fermented foods: kefir, yoghurts, sauerkraut, kimchi

-probiotics supplement

-treat any intestinal parasites

-take steps to manage stress

I will mention that breast fed infants have been shown to have a more diverse range of healthy bacteria, particularly if mum has taken a probiotic supplement throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. At our clinic we are lucky to be a registered retailer of the Qiara brand probiotic, which contains ‘lactobaccilis fermentum’, a strain of healthy bacteria found in breast milk. So let me know if you or anyone you know needs some!

SLIDE 6 – Further Reading

I have popped up a list of a few books that may be of interest if any of you are keen to look into this topic any further. Thanks for your attention, and I look forward to seeing the film, Thank you!


Fair Food Presentation

Whole Body Health Care