It’s all about the Gut!!
More than 100 million Americans suffer from digestive problems each year and it is the most common reason people will visit the doctor. Yet most people, including your doctor, don’t realize that digestive problems lead to other debilitating diseases such as allergies, autoimmune disorders, skin rashes, acne, chronic infections, mood disorders, autism, dementia, cancer and more, even in the absence of digestive symptoms.
Researchers are finding out how closely linked gut health is to your overall health. Besides the skin, the intestines are the only other direct link from our environment to the inside of our bodies. If it is continuously exposed to things that are toxic or irritating without proper and timely elimination, severe damage and toxin build up can occur. The separation of the gut from the potentially harmful environment is only one delicate cell layer thick, yet it basically contains a sewer. If this single cell barrier is damaged, you will get sick and create an overactive immune system, producing inflammation throughout the body. Anti-aging specialists and Functional Medicine providers call this “leaky gut syndrome” and will often recommend testing and treating the gut as the first step in a comprehensive treatment program.
The Many Functions of Our Gut
A healthy gut has numerous functions in the body, much of which is governed by the 500 species of bacteria that are contained there. When the good bacteria are in proper balance they help you digest your food, produce and absorb vitamins, regulate hormones, excrete toxins, and produce healing compounds that keep your body healthy. Too many of the wrong ones like parasites, yeast, or bad bacteria, or not enough of the good ones like lactobacillus or bifidobacteria, can lead to serious damage to your health.
The gut has also been considered “the second brain.” It actually contains more neurotransmitters (the hormones of the nervous system) than your brain does! It is highly wired back to your brain with a complex messenger system. When those messages become altered for any reason in any direction – from the brain to the gut or the gut to the brain – your mental health will suffer. This can lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
Your gut is also the most important organ for detoxification. It removes all the toxins produced from your liver as a byproduct of your metabolism, and if things get backed up (ie: constipated), you will become toxic and unhealthy.
Finally, your gut has the enormous task of breaking down all the food you eat into its individual components, separating out all the proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals and shuttling everything across that one cell thick layer into your bloodstream to keep your whole body healthy and functioning properly.
Why We Develop Unhealthy Guts
Even in a perfect world, our gut has a hard time keeping things balanced. But in our modernized world it becomes even harder to maintain that balance due to our constant exposure to things such as:
- The Standard American Diet: a low fiber, high sugar, processed food, nutrient poor, high calorie diet that makes all the wrong bacteria and yeast grow in the gut leading to a damaged ecosystem.
- Overuse of medications that damage the gut or block normal digestive function. Things like anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, acid blocking drugs, and steroids.
- Chronic low-grade infections or gut imbalances with overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, yeast overgrowth, parasites, or even more serious gut infections.
- Toxins such as mercury, pesticides, and molds.
- Lack of adequate stomach acid and digestive enzyme function often due to over the counter acid blocking medication or a zinc deficiency.
- Stress can alter the gut nervous system causing a leaky gut and changing the normal bacteria in the gut.
- Excess alcohol consumption, causes inflammation and leaky gut leading to poor digestion, absorption and multiple food allergies.
How to Get Your Gut Healthy
Anti-Aging and Functional Medicine doctors will refer to this as the 4 R Program.
- Remove: food allergies, preservatives, or pathological organisms such as yeast or parasites. This includes irritating foods such as alcohol and excess caffeine.
- Replace: stomach acid and digestive enzymes needed to properly digest and break down food for absorption and utilization by the body.
- Replenish: restore the balance of beneficial bacteria using a high quality probiotic
- Repair: Whole unprocessed foods with plenty of fiber that is largely plant based will help the gut heal, in addition to supplements your provider will recommend such as glutamine and zinc.
Unfortunately the 4 R program does not heal the gut overnight. It takes self discipline and time, usually 3-6 months, for complete resolution of symptoms. However, most patients will start to notice an improvement within 2-4 weeks on the program.