Your Gut's Health is the Foundation of Well-Being
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, claimed that “all disease begins in the gut.” Well then. If the father of modern medicine believed gut health to be the foundation of well-being, then it is crucial for us to understand the gut’s role, to recognize when its health is compromised and how to restore it.
So let’s cover the following:
- What your gut is and what it does
- What a healthy gut looks like
- What makes the gut unhealthy
- What Leaky Gut Syndrome is
- The symptoms of a leaky gut
- How to improve your gut health
The gut is the largest immune organ in your body and includes the intestines (a part of your GI system). The important parts to consider for gut health are it’s gut flora and it’s lining (mucosa). A healthy gut absorbs nutrients and minerals, digests food, aids in the metabolism of drugs and defends the body from toxins, pathogens and antigens. In other words...the gut is THE wall that defends your body from the bad guys.
When the gut barrier is compromised it cannot properly defend you! Nor can it properly absorb the needed nutrients to fuel you. A healthy gut depends on balanced gut flora (the trillions of microorganisms that form a natural ecosystem within your body) and an intact mucosa (the intestinal lining) because it is your gut’s barrier and it contains the largest population of immune cells in your body.
What, then, disrupts or damages the health of your gut. Many things. The key contributors that negatively affect gut health are:
- poor nutrition choices
- too much stress
- insufficient or poor-quality sleep
- antibiotic usage
- food sensitivities
- food additives
- excessive alcohol consumption
These contributors upset the fine-tuned balance of your body’s gut flora and cause inflammation of the mucosa which lead to a weakened immune system. As we now know, inflammation is the root cause of disease. So when our mucosa is inflamed, it becomes permeable. This permeability in your gut barrier is known as Leaky Gut Syndrome.
Leaky Gut Syndrome is intestinal permeability. In other words, your wall of defense is breached: dangerous bacteria, undigested food particles, and toxic waste products can pass through the barrier and enter the bloodstream causing inflammation and your absorption of nutrients is compromised. The bad guys are out and the good guys can’t get in!
Leaky Gut Syndrome is linked to a host of chronic health issues: joint/muscle pain, auto-immune diseases, anemia, asthma, depression, diabetes, ADD & ADHD, even autism (brain/gut barrier breach/fascinating cutting-edge research!). However, it is important to note, that conventional physicians, as of yet, do not recognize Leaky Gut Syndrome as a diagnosable condition. They are bound to treat only that which is evidentially proven and diagnosable. But, there is growing evidence that intestinal permeability is a real condition and more physicians are beginning to accept it as a possibility. The good news: the steps needed to repair Leaky Gut Syndrome are simple and are the healthy habits that should be adopted anyway for optimal well-being! First, let’s address the symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome.
As with many chronic health issues, leaky gut has vague symptoms that can point to many things**:
- excessive fatigue
- digestive issues
- brain fog
- problematic skin issues
- cravings for refined carbs/sugar,
- weak immunity, and
- auto-immune issues
These symptoms drive many of us to seek blood tests only to be told that our thyroid is disease-free, our blood tests are negative and what we need is to de-stress and get more rest(good advice as we will see). However, our energy, our appetite, our weight, our sleep....is just not, well, right. We know something is off...but our blood panels say otherwise. The doctor is more than likely not wrong: you are disease-free. BUT, the real question that is not asked: is your body functioning optimally?
Perhaps, one of the best concepts I’ve learned as a nutritionist is: just because symptoms are common does not mean they are normal. Just because you are disease-free (praise) does not mean you feel your best! So let’s get feeling our best, optimize our metabolism, and balance our hormones by improving the health of our gut and making its barrier our body’s impenetrable defense.
As I mentioned earlier, whether or not you accept the possibility of Leaky Gut Syndrome, the steps to repair it include nutrition and lifestyle habits that will improve your overall health.
First, DETERMINE if you have food sensitivities. Foods that you tolerate (no serious allergic reaction) but cause an inflammatory response in your body should be removed from your intake. Your body treats them as foreign invaders and constant exposure alters your gut flora balance, damages your mucosa and overwhelms your immune system. There are two ways to ascertain this:
- A food sensitivity test (simple lab/blood test).
- An elimination/restore process: remove common inflammatories such as gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, corn, pork, beef, chicken, beans/lentils, coffee, citrus fruits, nuts, and nightshade vegetables for 21 days. Then slowly —one at a time every 3-4 days—reintroduce each taking note of any reaction or return of symptoms.
Word of caution here: just because there is a “diet/food industry trend” to demonize a real food as an inflammatory doesn’t mean you should eliminate it without knowing if you actually need to! What causes inflammation in one does not in someone else.
Second, ADD more good things:
- hydrate sufficiently
- increase fiber intake
- eat more nutrient dense food (yep, non-starchy veggies...no surprise there)
- consume more foods with pre/pro biotic benefits: (some yogurts, kefir, buttermilk, fermented foods, whole oats, quinoa, berries, flax, beans)
- incorporate higher quality foods (grass-fed, pastured, organic, local, seasonal, Wild-caught) especially the foods you eat consistently
- increase your intake of healthy Omega 3 fats
Third, REDUCE your intake of food products that are highly processed, refined, loaded with additives, added sugar alcohols, and preservatives. Limit packaged foods with a bunch of unrecognizable ingredient.
Fourth, PRIORITIZE sleep. Change your schedule to ensure you can sleep for 7-8 hours consistently. Improve your bedtime routine so your sleep quality is better (same bedtime; limit caffeine/alcohol/devices; cold/dark room; daily exercise and sunlight).
Fifth, DEPOSIT into your well-being. Find the ways that uniquely de-stress you: find your breath, yoga, meditate, massage, water therapy, devotion, read, walk your dog, laugh, cook, listen to music. Take moments to slow down and re-center yourself.
Sixth, SUPPLEMENT. Add L-glutamine (rejuvenates intestinal lining) and a digestive enzyme for a few weeks, then add a pre/probiotic to restore healthy gut flora balance (high CFU count and multiple bacteria strains) and include a collagen based protein powder or bone broth to your daily intake.***
So how do you know if your gut is restored to health? Of course many symptoms you experienced have improved or disappeared (digestive issues alleviate, skin calms, aches/pains lessen, hormonal balance restores so cravings diminish or disappear, you resist illnesses more effectively). You feel re-vitalized and your energy has returned. Your mental clarity has improved, your mood is more balanced, your sleep is better and your weight/body fat reset to a healthier number. Most of all...that nagging sense of something isn’t right disappears and you feel back to normal! Even optimal. You feel your body working for you rather than against you.
Dr. Gerard Mullen, MD said it best:
“Heal the gut and you heal yourself.”
**with the presentation of any concerning symptoms always seek the advice of a medical professional.
***before taking any supplements check with your doctor that they do not cross-reference with any prescriptions.