Home' Nova National : July 2011 Contents the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid
arthritis, both inflammatory diseases.
Dr Maslowski believes that changes
in diet associated with a Western lifestyle,
have contributed to the increasing
incidence of inflammatory diseases and
“Changing diets are changing the
kinds of gut bacteria we have, as well as
their byproducts, particularly short chain
fatty acids. If we have low amounts of
dietary fibre, then we’re going to have
low levels of short chain fatty acids,
which are very important in our immune
What Dr Maslowski said next really
got me thinking about my reliance on
the antiseptic hand gel I always carry with
me. Based on her research, too much
hygiene can also affect the balance of gut
bacteria, reducing our immunity to deal
with infectious diseases and making us
more prone to inflammatory diseases
such as asthma. Some exposure to
bacteria is actually good for us and is
essential for our immune system. The
use of antibiotics is particularly adverse,
affecting the balance of gut bacteria.
After the lecture, I talked to one of
the Garvan Institute’s research scientists
who said that for someone who travels
regularly overseas, using antiseptic hand
gel while in Australia may not be such a
good thing. She explained that it might
lessen my immunity and make me more
prone to contracting diarrhoea when
So when you next travel, to maintain
a healthy gut and avoid diarrhoea, what
can you do?
A Healthy Gut
© NOVA JULY 2011
A fellow passenger’s peanut allergy has set regular traveller
Petra O’Neill on a quest to stay healthy, at home and
‘Unprocessed dietary fibre,
as found in fresh fruits,
vegetables, grains, legumes,
nuts and seeds, not only
keeps us regular, it also plays
a vital role in preventing
allergies and inflammatory
The cleansing towels, once uni-
versally handed out by airlines,
may be a thing of the past, with
savvy travellers now carrying
antiseptic hand gel, but after taking off
on a Malaysia Airlines flight recently, I
was handed a drink and peanuts. It’s been
years since I was offered peanuts, once
also part of the in flight service ritual.
Compare that to a flight back to
Sydney from the Sunshine Coast and
the announcement made after taking
off, that passengers would not be able to
consume any food items brought with
them containing nuts, since a passenger
onboard had a peanut allergy. Forget
the crunchy peanut butter sandwich I’d
made. Even as I took out a muesli bar,
a Virgin Blue flight attendant rushed
towards me to ask if she could read the
list of ingredients. “I’m sorry,” she said,
“but the bars may contain traces of nuts. If
opened, vapours could enter the air
conditioning system, and set off the peanut
For those of us who recall growing
up without such a high incidence of
inflammatory diseases such as asthma
and peanut allergies, you’re not alone.
In rural or less urbanised countries, such
diseases are rare. So what’s behind their
marked increase in Australia over the past
I recently attended an Open Day at the
Garvan Institute of Medical Research in
Sydney’s Darlinghurst. At a lecture given
by Dr Kendle Maslowski, she outlined
how she had found that both our diet
and intestinal bacteria are linked with our
Unprocessed dietary fibre, as found in
fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes,
nuts and seeds, not only keeps us regular,
it also plays a vital role in preventing
allergies and inflammatory diseases.
The indigestible part of all plant-based
foods pushes its way through our digestive
tract unchanged, like an internal broom.
When it arrives in our colon, bacteria
converts it to energy and compounds
known as short chain fatty acids. These,
says Dr Maslowski, alleviate the symptoms
of colitis, an inflammatory gut condition.
Similarly, probiotic food supplements that
affect the balance of gut bacteria reduce
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