You may have read or heard that gut health impacts our entire health. Recent research does in fact show a link between a strong digestive system and overall vibrant, good health.
You may think that poor gut health reveals itself as bloating, heartburn or a bit of gas but a compromised digestive system can cause numerous and far reaching health problems including impaired immune and nervous system function as well as impacting hormonal function and balance.
There are two closely related facets to gut health. Firstly there is our gut bacteria or microbiome known as ‘gut flora’. Our unique gut microbiome promotes digestive function and regulates metabolism, protects us from infection and makes up more than 75% of our immune system.
Secondly, there is our intestinal barrier or gut lining which when damaged causes permeability or ‘leaky gut’. Leaky gut occurs when large protein molecules escape the intestinal tract and enter the bloodstream. Proteins don’t belong outside the gut so the body responds but mounting an immune response to attack them.
According to Chris Kresser (www.chriskresser.com) it is not only the digestive issues that suggest leaky gut because other symptoms are many and varied.
If you have any of the following symptoms, it’s likely you may have leaky gut (seeing a naturopath or functional doctor is advisable for confirmation):
- Digestive issues like bloating, gas, diarrhea or heartburn
- Food allergies or sensitivities where you react negatively to certain foods
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Mood swings and irritability
- Skin problems like eczema, psoriasis or rosacea
- Autoimmune Disease like Graves or Hashimoto’s
- Frequent infections
- Poor memory or concentration, brain fog, ADD or ADHD
Causes of compromised gut health are:
- Poor diet choices like eating refined carbohydrates, sugar, bad fats, excessive caffeine and alcohol
- Antibiotics and other medications like birth control which destroy good bacteria in the gut
- Parasites, viruses and fungal infections
To heal a damaged gut, a program called the 4R Program developed by Jeffery Bland PhD and Associates at the Functional Medicine Institute has demonstrated consistently positive results. There are 4 steps to the program:
- REMOVE – offending foods and toxins. Processed foods, gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs and sugar are inflammatory foods so an elimination diet can identify if they have a negative impact on you. Take inflammatory foods out of the diet for 2 weeks and reintroduce one at a time to see if they effect your system. Parasites, yeast and bad bacteria can be identified with a stool analysis and treated with herbs, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial supplements by a naturopath or functional doctor.
- REPLACE – essential ingredients for proper digestion like digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid and bile acid. Often heartburn and indigestion are blamed on too much stomach acid when in fact often the opposite is true. Instead of depleting your gut of acid by taking antacids, consider discussing digestive enzyme supplementation with your health care professional.
- REINOCULATE – Restore beneficial bacteria in the gut. If you don’t have a yeast problem you can eat fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut easily and cheaply made at home. If taking a probiotic supplement, forget store bought yoghurt or liquid probiotic drinks that are full of sugar and invest in a probiotic for a dose of 25-100 billion good bacteria a day. Consume foods rich in prebiotic that feed the good bacteria and are high in soluble fibre. These include garlic, onion, leeks, asparagus, banana, cabbage, yacon Jerusalem artichoke and dandelion greens.
- REPAIR – Bone broths are very healing to the gut lining and a diet rich in nutrient dense wholefoods is the best way to repair your digestive system. Slippery elm and aloe vera are particularly restorative to the gut.
We all want to enjoy life with energy and exuberance so starting with our gut health is of vital importance. If you are planning a pregnancy, remember your baby’s gut flora is possibly picked up in the womb and definitely through the birth canal during birth. Passing on a healthy microbiota is a great start for your bub.
Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride (author of the Gut and Psychology Syndrome) states that those with damaged gut flora will crave the very foods that support the survival of unhealthy bacteria often at the refusal of others. If your child is starting to demand processed carbohydrate foods and refuse a balanced diet, it might be best to find healthier alternatives for the long-term health of your family.
Gut and Psychology Syndrome – Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride