Do you suffer from Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, or any other digestive disorders?
Are you aware that many neurological and psychiatric disorders like ADHD/ADD, autism, dyslexia, Alzheimer’s, depression, bipolar, and anxiety are highly correlated to your digestive system?
Or do you know that skin conditions like acne, dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis are much more than skin deep and may be traced all the way to your gut?
We have only recently begun to understand the extent of the gut’s role in human health and disease. Many researchers now believe that supporting intestinal health will become one of the most important goals of medicine in the 21st century.
In the following, learn about the common gut issues, how they may be associated with many problems that seem to be unrelated to the gut, and natural ways to restore gut health.
What Is Gut Health?
Your gut plays a major role in your immunity and health. Some 80-85% of your immune cells is located within your digestive system.
Your gut is a huge ecosystem of a trillion bacteria; in total, they weigh about six pounds. Some of these bacteria are beneficial and some are harmful. The good bacteria helps to digest our food, assist in assimilation, create nutrients, and protect us against toxins. Without them, our health will be in great jeopardy.
This colony of bacteria is separated from the rest of your body by the gut lining. This lining’s main job is to let in the vital nutrients from your food and keep out all the harmful substances such as toxins and undigested food particles from the rest of the body.
To have a healthy gut, you need to have:
- A healthy gut flora, which means you have lots of good bacteria (probiotics) and relatively fewer bad bacteria.
- Tight gut junctions that only allow good nutrients to pass through the gut wall barrier but prevent all bad substances from getting by.
Without both, your immune system will be hugely compromised, eventually leading to many gut and health problems.
Common Gut Issues
Unfortunately, for many of us, our gut health has been challenged by a poor diet and modern lifestyle and the overuse of prescription drugs (antibiotics, antacids, birth control pills, NSAIDs, steroids), resulting in an overgrowth of bad bacteria and intestinal permeability, a condition called leaky gut. Here are some of the most common gut problems:
1. Low stomach acid
Likely causes include chronic psychological stress which reduces stomach acid production and overuse of heartburn drugs that neutralize stomach acid or suppress its production.
In a healthy situation when your body can produce enough acid, the stomach is extremely acidic in the presence of food. The pH can be as low as 1 and the acid will destroy most of the harmful bacteria in the food. However, if you don’t produce enough acid, the pH can go up to 4 or 5 and this may allow the bad opportunistic bacteria to survive and thrive within your intestinal tract.
2. Abnormal gut flora with an over abundance of bad bacteria
In a healthy gut, their numbers are limited and tightly controlled by the beneficial bacteria. But when this beneficial flora is weakened and damaged, the opportunists get out of control. A common opportunistic flora is the yeast fungus called Candida albicans. Candida infection is a direct result of abnormal gut flora.
Common causes are over use of antibiotics (also found in commercially-raised meats, milk, and eggs) that have a devastating effect on the good bacteria, and a diet high in sugary foods and processed carbohydrates and lacking in fermented foods, which are rich in live cultures that can help inoculate the gut with good bacteria.
Some people with an abnormal gut flora may be asymptomatic, but some may have gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, belching, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation. More and more research is now linking Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis to an abnormal gut flora.
3. Leaky gut
Most people who have an overgrowth of the opportunistic gut flora have some degree of intestinal permeability. The bad bacteria constantly produces toxic substances, which are by-products of their metabolism. Such bacteria damages the integrity of the gut wall barrier, making it permeable for toxins to leak through. Once the toxins get circulated into the lymph and bloodstream, they cause problems in various organs in the body, especially the brain and skin.
Leaky gut has been associated with many brain disorders like ADHD/ADD, autism, various learning disorders, Alzheimer’s, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety as well as skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis.
When you have a leaky gut, partially digested foods also get through the gut wall into the bloodstream, where the immune system recognizes them as foreign and attacks them. This is how food allergies and intolerances develop. In many cases, when the gut wall is healed, food allergies naturally disappear. Given what we know, it is not at all surprising that a number of studies show that the integrity of the gut barrier plays a major role in many autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s, type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Finally, leaky gut may lead to nutritional deficiencies as it interferes with the proper absorption of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, B vitamins, and other micronutrients.
Natural Strategies For Healthy Gut
The human body has an incredible ability to heal itself, given the right help. However, be patient as recovery can be slow and may take up to a year or two if there is serious gut damage. To have good overall health, you first need to heal the digestive tract, so it stops being the major source of toxicity in the body. Second, you need to remove the toxins that have already been stored in the body. The following are some diet and lifestyle recommendations:
- Consider a gluten-free diet. It is especially important if you have Celiac disease or are gluten intolerant.
- Reduce or eliminate sugar and processed carbohydrates in your diet. Stop all sodas, fruit juices, and energy drinks. Avoid starchy vegetables and beans. These foods result in a surge of insulin and an insulin-like growth factor called IGF-1. IGF-1 leads to an excess of male hormones that cause your pores to secrete sebum, a greasy substance that attracts acne-promoting bacteria.
- Avoid dairy. Most people with a gut problem cannot digest lactose (a milk sugar). Try going dairy-free for 30 days and see if your condition improves. When you re-introduce dairy, start with well-fermented milk products such as yogurt, kefir, and natural raw cheeses that are largely free of lactose because in the process of fermentation the fermenting bacteria consumes lactose as their food. Further, a smaller portion of people with leaky gut cannot digest casein (a milk protein) properly. If so, avoid all dairy except clarified butter or ghee which has minimal casein or lactose.
- No soy products. Unless the soy has been fermented and is organic, it is not a healthy food.
- Restore the proper balance of gut bacteria. Eat cultured dairy (yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche) and lacto-fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, kim chee, pickles) regularly. Drink fermented beverages such as kefir and kombucha; make sure they are not sweetened with sugar. Or if necessary, take a daily probiotic supplement especially after a course of antibiotics.
- Buy grass-fed meats and organic produce. Do not continue adding to your body’s toxic load by consuming more chemicals. Drinking freshly pressed vegetable juice daily will help to speed up the body’s detoxification process. For certain body types, it may be more appropriate to have the vegetable juice with a full meal.
- Drink plenty of clean, filtered water. Many people are chronically dehydrated. Proper hydration helps with your bowel movement and elimination of toxins and wastes. Aim for half your weight (pounds) in ounces. If you weigh 150 pounds, you should drink about 75 ounces, or slightly more than nine 8-oz glasses of liquid daily.
- While you are healing your gut, supplement with stomach acid (Betaine HCL with pepsin) and digestive enzymes at meal times, and the amino acid L-glutamine. L-glutamine helps restore the integrity of the gut wall. Take 500-1,000mg three times daily. If you are allergic to MSG (monosodium glutamate) or have any health conditions, consult with your healthcare practitioner before supplementation.
- Use 100% natural or organic personal care products and environmentally-friendly household cleaning products that do not contain toxic chemicals.
- Exercise regularly. The more you sweat, the more you flush the unwanted contaminants and toxins out of your pores. Also, consider using sauna therapy for detoxification.
- Get a good night’s rest. This is the time your body gets to regenerate and rejuvenate itself.
- Don’t worry, be happy. Optimists tend to have lower stress levels than pessimists. Remind yourself to always focus on the positives. Find ways to mitigate or better handle your stress. Try breathing exercises, meditation, tai chi, or yoga.