With 60-70 million Americans affected by digestive disorders like constipation, heart burn, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis; healing the gut has become a trendy topic. Even seemingly unrelated conditions like auto-immune disorders, skin conditions, joint pain, cancer and diabetes have been linked to gut inflammation. “All disease begins in the gut,” said Hippocrates around 400 BC, without any studies whatsoever. Now, more than two millennia later, we are finding that he was right.
Who Lives in Your Gut?
You may have heard of the gut flora, also called gut microbiome. It consists of 100 trillion bacteria, yeasts, viruses and parasites. Together they make up 90% of our body’s cells. Many of them are beneficial and serve important functions, such as producing B vitamins and amino acids, essential for mood and energy metabolism. In addition, they keep pathogenic microbes in check. If your gut is mostly populated by beneficial microbes, any pathogens passing through won’t have much of a chance of establishing themselves and making you sick. If your gut flora is made up of too many opportunistic bacteria or you have yeast overgrowth like candida, you will be much more prone to infections and chronic health conditions.
It’s Not About Calories
Your weight is less determined by how many calories you take in, but rather by how you metabolize them. Fecal transfer studies in mice have shown that certain gut bugs like Bacteroidetes made obese mice lose weight independent of calories. It turns out that your gut microbiome determines your metabolism and how much energy you extract from your food.
What causes gut flora imbalances, otherwise called dysbiosis? We are exposed to a plethora of toxins, drugs and antibiotics; all of which severely damage the microbiome. One study found that one year after a round of antibiotics the gut flora is still abnormal. Artificial sweeteners, pesticides and food additives severely harm our friendly flora. Metals like aluminum and mercury attract yeasts and parasites, causing sugar and starch cravings, and acidity. Electromagnetic radiation increases proliferation of pathogens. Last but not least, stress is a major cause of gut dysbiosis. This includes unresolved and maybe forgotten childhood traumas which can still impair your digestion today.
Gut dysbiosis and toxins over time damage the gut wall, causing “leaky gut”. This simply means that the gut wall has gaps and leaks. Microbes, toxins and partially digested food particles normally contained in the intestine can now enter the blood stream. As you can imagine, this will fire up the immune system and cause inflammation. Your immune system now starts to make antibodies to these food particles causing food sensitivities. Microbes can now easily migrate to other parts of your body causing joint, nerve or muscle pain. Over time this process can lead to allergies, eczema, asthma and other auto-immune conditions.
Intolerance of foods like dairy and gluten caused by leaky gut are becoming increasingly common. Signs of food sensitivities and dysbiosis can be obvious, like heart burn, bloating, constipation or loose stools and cramps. Or they can be more subtle like headaches, fatigue, brain fog, frequent infections, skin rashes, mood disorders and weight gain. Often people are unaware of which foods they are sensitive to and instead tend to crave them.
Healing the Gut
Restoring your gut health is essential if you want to achieve your ideal weight and beat chronic disease. To heal the gut microbiome, I use the 5R program of functional medicine. In a nutshell this means removing any toxins, microbial overgrowth, parasites and inflammatory foods, repairing the gut wall, replacing any nutrients needed for digestion, re-inoculating the gut with beneficial flora, and rebalancing lifestyle factors and sources of stress. This is not a one-size-fits-all protocol. Food sensitivity testing is very useful for identifying which foods are stressing your immune system. Common inflammatory foods include sugar, gluten, dairy, corn and soy, but sometimes healthy foods like gluten-free grains, legumes, nuts or eggs show up on the test. Following a customized food plan while healing the gut is essential to reduce inflammation. Once the gut wall has healed, formerly reactive foods can be safely reintroduced. Microbial overgrowth and parasites, which are way more common than is recognized, can be removed with oil of oregano, berberine, wormwood, olive leaf extract and other herbs. This will make room for probiotics to repopulate the gut. Grass-fed bone broth and gelatin are excellent gut-healing foods. Glutamine and zinc nourish the cells of the gut wall back to health, while prebiotics like inulin and arabinogalactans found in vegetables feed your healthy gut flora.
Since toxins and especially heavy metals will always attract yeasts, parasites and other pathogenic microbes, it is essential that your gut healing program is followed by detoxing. If you do not detox, they will simply return over time. Detoxing should be done under the supervision of a practitioner since detoxing too fast or without first opening drainage pathways can lead to worsening of symptoms. Liver and kidney function, bile flow and lymphatics all need to be optimized for successful detoxing. Do not attempt to detox if you have leaky gut, constipation or anemia; as toxins will simply be reabsorbed rather than excreted.
Healthy Gut, Healthy You
True healing involves removing the root cause of disease, and not just treating symptoms. Whether you simply want to lose weight or are trying to reverse chronic disease, restoring gut health is an important part of any health journey.
Brigitta Jansen, MS, CDN, practices Functional Medicine Nutrition in Connecticut. She aims to optimize metabolism and address the root cause of chronic disease. Her nutrition philosophy is to sup-port the body’s innate ability to heal itself with personalized diet and supplement plans. Brigitta utilizes blood chemistry, autonomic response testing and functional medicine testing to determine individual diet and nutrient needs. Her focus is on eliminating inflammation, healing the gut, and detoxing.
5 Durham Road, Suite C2, Guilford 917.975.1784