Funding the NHS is costly and getting costlier. It’s hard to see how savings can be made whilst improving services. The holy grail would seem to be to make people healthier. But is this just a dream? If anything there is hardly a branch of medicine that is not looking for more funding. The problem and its solution may lie in the breakdown of NSH costs. About 60% of NHS funding is on staff costs and no-one thinks it possible to cut this budget. Of the remaining 40%, more than half goes on pharmaceutical costs and this is where savings may be made. Pharmaceuticals are very costly and make big profits for Big Pharma. However, there is a growing market looking at the benefits and savings that can be made by using nutraceuticals, the natural products that we find in our food or that can be bought relatively cheaply as supplements. 

Most people are aware of the great interest in the gut and the gut bacteria, with probiotics being increasingly seen as an important part of a healthy diet. Many people diagnosed with depression are finding probiotics more beneficial than antidepressants. The gut and gut bacteria are now thought to be the site where a host of diverse medical conditions start, including Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, depression, schizophrenia and many others. One of the commonalities is the effect of stress, which makes the gut leaky, thereby allowing gut bacteria or tiny fragments of partially digested food to cross into the circulation. This leaky gut-driven invasion activates the immune system, resulting in low-level, immune-inflammatory activity. It is this regular inflammatory activity that causes much of the damage associated with stress. And it is this inflammatory activity that accelerates whatever medical susceptibilities that people have. So nutraceuticals that target the gut, by improving the growth of good bacteria and preventing any leakiness in the gut can have preventative effects across a wide range of medical conditions, as well as improving many well-established medical conditions.   

This explains how something like curcumin, found in turmeric, may have protective effects against cancers and dementias. It has been the subject of great controversy in medicine as to how this could happen, as very little of the turmeric or curcumin ingested actually pass into the circulation. Recent studies show that the benefits of curcumin and turmeric are via their effects on the bacteria within the gut. It is by encouraging the growth of good bacteria, most of which produce a crucial factor called butyrate, that tumeric and curcumin prevent the gut from being leaky and therefore stop the immune system from being continually activated and producing inflammatory and damaging products. Many other products that are thought to be beneficial across a host of different medical conditions also seem to have their effects on the gut and its bacteria, including green tea, green leaves, fibre, porridge and many other common foods. The things that are bad for your gut bacteria include fatty diets, stress and alcohol.   

Many of the supplements that are thought to be good for improving your mood, such as L-tryptophan, which is required for the body to make serotonin, actually have effects that are mediated via improving the composition of the gut bacteria. This is a different way of seeing things, not only in regard to food but for other things that are generally believed to be good for you. For example, some of the benefits of mindfulness and exercise, by decreasing stress, are via decreasing stress induction of a gut leaky. 

The butyrate produced by good gut bacteria not only prevents a leaky gut, but can cross into the general circulation where it has beneficial effects, including in the brain and the immune system. These beneficial effects of butyrate are partly via its induction of melatonin, with both butyrate and melatonin having beneficial effects on how energy is produced in cells, within the specialized compartment of mitochondria. Mitochondria are present in all the body’s cells and produce all the cell’s energy. Almost all medical conditions show a decrease in mitochondria functioning. As such, good gut bacteria, by upregulating butyrate and melatonin production, help cells to optimize their energy production and decrease the risk of different illnesses, as well as slowing aging-associated changes. 

The gut has a number of two-way interactions with different organs in the body, usually referred to as axes. So there is a gut-brain axis and a gut-liver axis. Many classically conceived brain conditions, such as depression, migraine, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease may be started by changes in the gut and the composition of the gut bacteria. Likewise, many cancers may be the result of long-standing inflammatory processes in cells, to which a leaky gut is a significant contributor. The gut-liver axis seems crucial to obesity and type II diabetes, which are increasingly prevalent in Western cultures, and in other cultures, as they adopt a more typical western diet.  

All of these different illnesses have a host of expensive pharmaceuticals aimed at their treatment. The cost of these treatments is contributing to making the NHS less viable and has opened the NHS up to privatization at all levels. Yet with the political will, it is clear that many medical conditions can be prevented or at least delayed.  This may require a food taxation policy that encourages healthy food consumption. It requires education, including GPs and Practise nurses, on the use of nutraceuticals. It requires the targeting of prevention, from pregnancy onwards. Obesity and many other medical conditions may start prenatally, driven by a diet and stress-driven leaky gut in the pregnant mother-to-be.    

Prevention is never going to be the target of Big Pharma, unless it requires taking costly medication every day for the rest of your life. You have to make the change and encourage your MP to make changes in food regulation that optimize health, for you and your children. 

Disclaimer: Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions regarding a medical condition.