Restoring Gut Health
- Do you feel like your food sits in your stomach?
- Are you bloated?
- Do you have constipation or diarrhea?
- Do you get heartburn?
- Do you have feelings of depression?
- Brain fog?
All of these issues can point to problems in the gut.
What’s Wrong With My Gut?
The human gastrointestinal tract is not only the largest organ in the body, but also one of the most complex, and central to the healthy functioning of the rest of the body. Until recently, most people assumed the intestines were a long, passive tube that carries food in and carries waste out. Today we understand more about the vibrant and dynamic environment of the intestinal lining, the intricate relationship between the gut and the brain, and how the health of the gut affects both autoimmunity and overall levels of inflammation in the body.
The gut needs a balance of good bacteria and bad bacteria to function optimally. Did you know that your body should have more bacterial DNA than all of your own DNA? And that most of this bacterial DNA lies within the gut? 70% of the immune system is in your gut, and 95% of the chemicals needed for healthy functioning of the brain is made in your gut.
How Gut Function Affects the Body
Our understanding of the function of the gut has changed dramatically over the past several years. According to recent studies, the gut is constantly in a state of flux. Evolutionarily, humans put much of the outside world into the gut, so the cells that line the intestines had to determine what was safe for the body and what wasn’t. As a result, 70% of our immune system is in our intestines. Our intestines are one of the body’s “first line” defense mechanisms, screening for dangerous bacteria and sounding off the alarm if need be.
Today, however, most people have disordered immune systems because many things in the environment create inflammation. Pesticides, insecticides, heavy metals, plastics, industrial chemicals, preservatives in food, processed foods, food allergens, and of course stress all contribute to increased inflammation in the gut. Inflammation creates an imbalance of good and bad bacteria, which further affects the healthy functioning of the intestines. Consequently, patients suffer bloating, poor digestion, irritable bowel syndrome, and a “leaky gut.”
A leaky gut cause large food particles to diffuse directly into the bloodstream, which increases inflammation throughout the body. Increased inflammation leads to all achy joints, autoimmunity, and many other diseases.
When we have so much inflammation in our guts, our intestinal cells can’t absorb and digest food the way they should. The cells in your body, including brain cells, don’t receive the nutrients they need to keep us healthy. 95% of brain chemicals are produced in the gut, so if your intestines can’t function properly, you can experience depression, anxiety, irritability, and poor thinking.
Interestingly, good bacteria actually help us to make healthy neurotransmitters. When we are stressed, toxic, or eating food that isn’t good for the body, our good bacteria die off. Low levels of lactobacillus in particular has been linked with depression.
Treatment for Gut Function Problems
Gut problems can be complex, and while a broad-based approach is best, a few simple tactics can be enormously helpful.
Diet is first and foremost for a healthy gut. Eliminate processed foods, increase fruits and vegetables, and avoid common food allergens such as wheat and dairy products. Drink water every day, at least half your bodyweight in ounces. Fiber is also essential for the health of our good bacteria; a daily intake of forty grams of fiber lowers the risk of colon cancer. Sometimes, we are so attentive to cleaning the outside of our bodies but we don’t think to clean the inside as well.
Remember, whatever you eat, the bacteria in your gut eats it too. Studies show that different foods encourage different strains of bacteria. If you eat junk food, you encourage bad strains of bacteria that actually cause you to crave more junk food. If you eat lots of vegetables, you encourage healthy strains of bacteria that cause you to want more vegetables.
Taking a digestive enzyme with meals can help get your digestive tract going again. The digestive enzyme should have all the basic components: lipase to digest fats, amylase to digest sugars, and protease to digest proteins. A common gut problem for many people is low stomach acid. When the body is stressed and the gut isn’t functioning, the body can’t produce enough stomach acid to properly digest food. Stomach acid also helps to keep good bacteria healthy because they like to be in a more acidic environment. A simple way to stimulate the production of both digestive enzymes and stomach acid is apple cider vinegar taken ten to fifteen minutes before meals. The dose is one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in two tablespoons of water.
Probiotics are the healthy bacteria we need for our gut to function properly. Healthy gut flora helps us break down carbohydrates, metabolize fats, make healthy neurotransmitters, and promote a healthy immune system. In general, looking for a probiotic that has the greatest variety of bacteria with the highest number is a good place to start.
You can strongly promote a healthy digestive tract by eliminating toxins. Toxins such as heavy metals, plastics, pesticides, and insecticides affect the gut on many levels. They create inflammation, which leads to poor functioning of the gut; they kill healthy bacteria; and they promote the growth of bad bacteria and yeast. Studies show that yeast and mercury go hand-in-hand, so if you are suffering from a yeast overgrowth, chances are very high that you have mercury toxicity. While a complete detoxification program can be very in-depth and require more extensive testing, a nice place to start is activated charcoal or EDTA taken daily on an empty stomach. Both of these bind toxins and pull them out of the system, but they will bind anything and everything, so an empty stomach is really important – take them one hour before and/or two hours after eating. You should also give yourself breaks, so don’t take them every single day.