Most of us (including most doctors) do not recognize or know that digestive problems wreak havoc over your entire body, leading to acne, allergies, arthritis, autism, autoimmune diseases, cancer, chronic fatigue, dementia, mood disorders, rashes, and many more. Sadly, conventional medicine views the body in distinct systems and symptoms are treated independently from the rest of the body. We seldom ask: what is the root cause of our health issues?
When you have a skin problem, your dermatologist prescribes some topical treatments, antibiotics or oral contraceptives. When you have arthritis, your rheumatologist gives you non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or painkillers. When you have mood disorders, your psychiatrist suggests antidepressants. Most doctors and specialists are still clueless that many bodily malfunctions can be traced back to your digestive system.
Why Optimal Gut Health Is So Critical
Your gut is the cornerstone of your health. If your gut is healthy, chances are that you are in good health. Your gut determines what nutrients are absorbed and what toxins, allergens, and microbes are kept out. Up to 80% of your immune system lies in the gut. That is why your gut is directly linked to the health of the total organism, you.
First, there are about 3 pounds and 500 species of bacteria in your gut. This so-called gut flora includes both beneficial as well as harmful microbes. It is critical to maintain a healthy balance between the two. The good ones (also known as probiotics), such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, which are the most common strains, help digest your food, produce vitamins, regulate hormones, excrete toxins, and produce healing compounds that keep your gut healthy.
The bad ones like the parasites, viruses, yeasts, and bad bacteria are opportunistic and they flourish when you have less good bacteria in the gut. Some bad microbes feed off partially digested carbohydrates and produce gas, some break down bile salts (used for digesting fats) before the body has a chance to use them leading to fat malabsorption or diarrhea, and some produce toxins that damage the lining of the gut.
Second, the gut lining or mucosal barrier controls what toxins, allergens, and microbes are to be kept out from the internal environment of your body. The lining is a super thin layer that is only one cell thick. If this barrier is intact and in fine shape, you are likely to have a good, strong immune system. If the barrier is damaged (a condition called intestinal permeability or leaky gut), your defense mechanism is compromised and your internal environment will be exposed to all sorts of harmful substances.
Third, your gut lining is also full of finger-like projections called villi which dramatically increases the surface area of the lining to something like the size of a tennis court. If these villi are damaged or flattened, nutrient absorption becomes compromised. Case in point, osteoporosis is often a problem of calcium malabsorption.
Finally, your gut manufactures more neurotransmitters than your brain. 90-95 percent of your serotonin, the key neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, is made in the gut. A deficiency in serotonin causes depression, anxiety, carbohydrate cravings, PMS, and sleep cycle disturbances. Serotonin and other vital neurotransmitters travel from the gut to the brain via the vagus nerve, the longest nerve that emerges directly from the brain. Hence, those with gut problems are at a much higher risk of neurotransmitter imbalances, mood issues, anxiety, and depression.
What Causes Gut Trouble
- A diet that is low in fiber, high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods, and excessive alcohol consumption tends to decimate the colonies of friendly bacteria in your gut, leading to the abundant growth of the wrong types of bacteria and yeast that upset the balance of your gut flora.
- Hidden food sensitivities or intolerances create inflammation and result in gut permeability or leaky gut. The most common culprits are gluten and dairy, followed by eggs, soy, and corn.
- Chronic low-grade gut infections promote leaky gut. The most common infectious causes are small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), yeast or candida overgrowth, intestinal parasites, and bacteria.
- Overuse of medications that damage the gut lining, interfere with the gut flora, and block normal digestive function. These include anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs like Motrin and Advil), antibiotics, acid-blocking drugs (like Zantac and Nexium), and steroids.
- Environmental toxins like mercury, pesticides, herbicides (such as Roundup), BPA from plastics, and mold toxins damage the gut lining.
- Genetically engineered foods have been implicated in the destruction of gut flora.
- Stress can also alter the gut environment causing leaky gut and upsetting the bacterial balance in the gut.
Signs Indicating You Have Gut Issues
It is so important to understand that many diseases that seem totally unrelated to the gut actually stem from the gut. If you have any of these problems, your gut health has already been compromised.
- Digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease such as Celiac disease, Grave’s disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Mood disorders such as ADD/ADHD, anxiety, autism, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and schizophrenia.
- Skin problems such as acne, eczema, or rosacea.
- Hormonal imbalances such as PMS or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
- Seasonal allergies or asthma.
- Food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances.
- Diagnosis of chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia.
- Candida or yeast overgrowth.
How To Heal Your Gut?
- First and foremost, stop throwing gasoline on the fire. If you have done a food sensitivity test, be sure to eliminate all your known sensitive foods. Otherwise, cut out gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, and corn for at least three months and see how your gut feels and what happens to your other symptoms. For many people who are sensitive to gluten and dairy, they probably have to avoid these foods for life. For those who have an autoimmune disease, they need to stay off gluten indefinitely.
- Treat any infections or overgrowth of bugs like parasites, small bowel bacteria, or yeasts. Most doctors use drugs or antibiotics but herbal antibiotics are just as effective even though the protocol takes longer.
- Eat real foods that are full of nutrients, not processed foods.
- Take digestive enzymes and Betaine hydrochloric acid (HCL) with food.
- Eat traditionally made, unpasteurized versions of fermented foods regularly. These include pickled fermentations of cabbage, turnips, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, squash, and carrots, natto (fermented soy), kefir, lassi (an Indian yogurt drink), yogurt, cheese such as Brie and Gouda, and olives from the self-serve olive bars in grocery markets (no high heat treatment). Alternatively, you can take a probiotic supplement, which helps to reestablish a healthy gut flora.
- Take extra omega-3 fatty acids and curcumin (turmeric) to help reduce inflammation in the gut.
- Take gut-healing nutrients such as L-glutamine, DGL (deglycyrrhized licorice), slippery elm, and aloe vera to help rejuvenate the lining of the gut.
What To Avoid?
- Antibiotics, unless it is absolutely necessary. When you do, make sure to reseed your gut afterwards with plenty of fermented foods and/or probiotic supplements.
- Conventionally-raised meats come from animals that are routinely fed low-dose antibiotics.
- Processed foods, along with sugar and alcohol.
- Genetically engineered (GE) foods. Most processed foods typically contain one or more ingredients derived from GE crops. In the US, almost all corn, cotton, and soybeans are GE. Some zucchini, yellow squash, and sweet corn are GE. Most Hawaiian papaya is GE.
- Fruits and vegetables that have been sprayed with agricultural chemicals, in particular, glyphosate (Roundup). When it comes to the “dirty dozen”, always buy organic. The dirtiest 12 are apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, imported nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas, and potatoes.
- Antibacterial soap.
- Chlorinated and/or fluoridated drinking water. Instead, choose clean spring water or appropriately filtered water.
How Long Does It Take To Heal The Gut?
It all depends on how severe the damage is. Some people notice an improvement in 3 months with all the symptoms disappearing in 6 months. Some take longer, up to 1 1/2 to 2 years.