Hippocrates said over 2,000 years ago: “All diseases begin in the gut.” I hear a lot about the gut on a weekly basis but that’s because I’m a nerd and I love this stuff. I don’t think it has reached mainstream yet so hopefully a few more people will learn something by reading this. I also posted on inflammation a while ago so feel free to review there.
Our gut contains over 100 trillion microorganisms that promote proper gastrointestinal function, protect us from infection, regulate metabolism, and make up our immune system. Disregulation of these microorganisms has been linked to numerous diseases including cardiovascular, depression, autoimmune conditions, bowel diseases like Crohn’s, and diabetes. Unfortunately, factors in our current lifestyles make it so prevalent:
- Antibiotics, NSAID’s, and birth control
- Highly refined carbohydrate and processed diets
- Dietary toxins
- Chronic Stress
- Chronic Infections
I don’t think many people understand the impact antibiotics have on the gut and health in general. I recently heard someone say antibiotics are just about the worst thing you could possibly do to your gut. Antibiotic use causes a PROFOUND and rapid loss of gut bacteria and the diversity that cannot be recovered without intervention. Yet I see people taking antibiotics all the time for conditions that aren’t even bacterial in nature, or are chronically taking antibiotics instead of getting to the root cause of their health issues. We’ve probably all taken them at some point in our lives, but as we learn more about the underlying causes of a lot of disease conditions, we need to question whether it’s necessary to take them or not. I haven’t taken a course of antibiotics probably since some time in high school, but college wasn’t exactly my healthiest 4 years so hopefully I’ve made some progress in the past few years to re-build my gut.
Birth control is one I recently learned about. The boosted levels of estrogen put the women taking it at increased risk of developing yeast overgrowth (candida).
If we think about the gut, it’s technically OUTSIDE the body, and is a sort of barrier to our external environment, be it the air we breathe or the food we eat. When this barrier becomes permeable, large proteins can pass through the walls into our body, causing the immune system to attack them. This is precisely the mechanism by which experts believe the gut plays a role in autoimmune conditions. So how do we prevent this permeability (also called Leaky gut)?
1. Don’t eat toxins. If you can afford it, get a full allergy panel and you will see what foods and substances you react to. If you can’t afford it though, a general rule of thumb is to avoid any potentially harmful foods or substances for a time being (try 30 days):
a. Antibiotics, NSAIDs (Aspirin/Ibuprofen), steroids, antacids.
b. Wheat and gluten or FODMAP containing foods.
c. Grains – especially processed
e. Industrial seed oils (Corn, cottonseed, safflower, soybean)
f. Processed soy (soy milk, tofu, soy protein, soy flour)
Then after 30 days reintroduce one group at a time and see how your body reacts. This only really applies to the gluten and grains. The other items in the list above should be eliminated forever. If you want to read more about these foods go here.
2. Include some fermentable fibers in your diet – resistant starch is all the rage right now. Here is a good resource for more info on that.
3. Eat fermented foods: Kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi...etc
4. Get tested for an intestinal pathogen and get treated for it if you have one. This is done via a stool analysis.
5. Don’t rinse your farm-fresh veggies! This may sounds gross but that little bit of grime on your farmer’s market veggies contains excellent natural soil-based probiotics.
6. Take some L-Glutamine – It helps strengthen the gut lining. I take it in powder form with water a couple times/day.
7. For the moms - breast feed your babies! Only about 44% of Americans breast feed for the 6 months recommended and this helps restore natural balance to the gut flora in infants. Just a note: infants’ gut flora are significantly impacted (poorly) by C-section due to the antibiotics mothers are given.
Let me just conclude by saying that often times if you heal your gut, symptoms of other problems also go away. This is most commonly seen with conditions like: Acne, rashes, asthma and other respiratory conditions, fatigue, allergies, and headaches. These nuisances are all SYMPTOMS of a problem - they are NOT the problem. For example: People are often prescribed Accutane to treat acne. We don't have acne because of a lack of Accutane. We don't have allergies because of a lack of Claritin. We don't have headaches because of a lack of aspirin. So all these medications do is hide the symptoms, and chronically taking medication is not only damaging but it's expensive.