As cold and flu season are upon us, I believe the gut is an important topic for people to understand. The majority of our immune system resides in the gut. When the gut is out of balance the whole body is unable to properly function. Our gut is where hormones are made as well, such as serotonin. This is a “feel good” hormone, so when our gut is out of balance, we can also find ourselves feeling depressed.
Gut dysbiosis (imbalance) develops from long term inflammation that creates tiny holes in the lining of the gut. This allows for the wrong molecules (ie. “bad guys) to enter the blood stream where they don’t belong. Hence the term “Leaky Gut”. Gut bacteria, such as lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, are the “good guys” that help to digest the food we eat and maintain homeostasis within the gut. The more variety of bacteria, the better.
Leaky gut can affect all other parts of the body. It can lead to symptoms of bloating and indigestion, as well as inflammation throughout the body. It can also cause autoimmune disease, thyroid problems, and hormonal imbalance.
Leaky gut is often caused by poor diet. Food such as GMOs, sugar, dairy, and gluten, as well as antibiotics, toxic chemicals in cleaning products, stress, pesticides, and herbicides all contribute to the development of leaky gut.
The great news is that you can heal a leaky gut. This is accomplished by maintaining a healthy microbiome in the GI Tract through supplementation, a clean environment, proper diet, stress reduction, digestive enzymes, probiotics, and time.
How to heal a Leaky Gut
Healing a leaky gut can take a lot of dedication. Let’s start with diet! Certain foods are known to cause inflammation in the gut. An elimination diet is a great way to cleanse the gut and begin the healing process. Start by removing all GMO foods from your diet. This should continue even beyond the elimination diet. Next, remove gluten, dairy, nuts, eggs & soy from your diet for 3-4 weeks. Keep a food diary and continually gauge how you feel. After this strict elimination phase, slowly reintroduce one food group at a time every 2 weeks. If you notice symptoms from reintroduction of any food group, remove it again for 3 months before testing again. This is done because it can take a long time for the gut to heal from certain foods.
Stress can also cause leaky gut to develop. Stress causes elevated cortisol levels which impacts the immune system and gut. High cortisol increases gut permeability and slows motility which can alter the gut microbiome. This is a “fight or flight response”, much like the stress your body would be under if it was being chased by a bear. Not one cell in your body would be thinking about digestion in that moment. This is a mechanism designed for survival. The problem is when we live chronically stressed, our bodies continue to focus on survival rather than digestion and this leads to decreased gastric juices and slowed motility which causes constipation and imbalance. Developing stress reduction techniques is an important part of the gut healing process. I suggest yoga, walks, and meditation.
Other things that we can do to heal our gut are to detox (or cleanse) and support a healthy gut microbiome. Detoxing improves a sluggish digestive system and can improve immune function, mood, nutrient absorption, and digestive/skin issues. I suggest doing a 14-28 day nutrient supportive detox 2-4 times per year. It is important to drink lots of water while detoxing and to continue eating a diet free from gluten, dairy, sugar, GMO foods, processed foods, and soy. Nutritional IV therapy can help ease the detox symptoms by providing electrolytes and added hydration. This can help reduce headaches, nausea, and digestive upset which can sometimes be associated with detox.
Developing and maintaining a healthy and diverse microbiome is accomplished through an adequate and proper balance of bacteria in the GI tract, and maintaining a clean gut lining. This is why taking probiotics as well as digestive enzymes are so important. One of my favorite product lines for these is from Designs for Health. They offer a very healthy variety of commensal bacteria in adequate quantity in their probiotics and a good amount and variety of enzymes.