In partnership with Parsley Health
Why is our gut health important?
Everyone knows that the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is responsible for food digestion. However, most people are surprised to learn that over two-thirds of the immune system resides there. Having a highly functional immune system is dependent upon having a healthy gut, so any impairment in our digestive health means that our immune system is not as strong as it otherwise could be. Moreover, few people realize that more than 90% of our body’s serotonin – an important neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood, sleep, memory, temperature regulation, appetite, sex drive, and more – is produced in our gut. As our GI tract plays such an integral role in maintaining the health of our bodies, how do we keep it healthy?
A Few Signs Your Gut Isn’t As Healthy As You Think
- Feeling bloated after you eat
- Feeling heartburn or acid reflux
- Not moving bowels (comfortably) 1 – 3 times per day
- Any type of skin issues (acne, eczema, psoriasis)
- Experiencing low mood, depression, or anxiety
- Frequently catching colds
- Having a thyroid condition
- Having an autoimmune disease
Heal Your Gut
Healing the gut is a multi-step process that takes time, but the results are well worth the effort. In order to optimize gut health, we have to eliminate the factors that have contributed to the GI tract becoming unhealthy (e.g. subpar diets, excessive stress, toxin exposure). We need to provide the nutritional support necessary to heal the gut lining and re-introduce healthy bacteria in order to crowd out opportunistic pathogens and balance the microbiome. We adjust the diet to one that is supportive of a healthy gut rather than one that creates inflammation, pathogenic overgrowth, and intestinal permeability.
To achieve this, we use a 4-step process: remove, replace, reinoculate, repair.
Remove infections (fungal, parasitic, and/or bacterial), inflammatory foods and foods you are allergic or sensitive to, environmental pollutants, and excessive stress. This step is the most important – if you embark upon a gut healing protocol without also removing things that irritate the gut lining, you will never allow your body to heal!
Replace all the necessary ingredients for proper digestion and absorption that your body is lacking.
Reinoculate with the beneficial bacteria that your gut needs to thrive. This entails introducing healthy probiotics in addition to prebiotics (the food that feeds the healthy bacteria and keeps them nice and healthy).
Repair the gut lining by providing nutrients and herbs that support its ability to regenerate and heal.
- Remove any foods to which you are sensitive or allergic.
- Try eliminating gluten and dairy from your diet for a few weeks and see how you feel. For many people, gluten and dairy irritate the gut lining, so taking them out of the diet can give the gut a chance to heal.
- Eat plenty of prebiotic foods, such as Jerusalem artichoke, onions, garlic, and asparagus. Prebiotic foods feed the healthy bacteria in your gut and allow them to thrive.
- Eat fermented foods like raw sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir. These foods are rich in probiotics.
- Limit sugary foods. In addition to being highly inflammatory, sugar causes a yeast called candida to overgrow and throw off the delicate balance of the gut’s microflora.
- Eliminate soda and other highly sweetened beverages. To wean yourself off of soda, have sparkling water mixed with 100% juice. With time you can reduce the relative amount of juice until you are left with water with, at most, a splash of juice for flavor. Kombucha, a fermented beverage with probiotics, also works as a great, flavorful replacement.
- Avoid pre-packaged, processed foods as much as possible. These tend to be full of sugar, the inflammatory type of fats, and preservatives – all of which harm the gut.
- Stay well hydrated. Your intestines need water to move things along the digestive system.
- Eat plenty of vegetables to get your fill of fiber. Fiber helps move things along the GI tract. (Note that people with major gut problems do not tolerate all fruits and vegetables – at least not initially. It’s important to work closely with a nutritionist in this case.)
- Chew your food thoroughly. Chewing plays a role in both the mechanical and chemical parts of digestion. It physically breaks food down into smaller pieces while simultaneously mixing it with salivary enzymes, ultimately making digestion and absorption much easier down the line. Chewing thoroughly also helps you avoid eating too quickly.
- Relax. Emotions affect digestion. Negative emotions like stress, sadness, and anxiety reduce your production of stomach acid and significantly slow digestion, which makes you much more prone to digestive issues like acid reflux and bloating. Do your best to be in a relaxed state of mind when you eat. Take a few deep breaths before you eat or take a minute to feel grateful for your food in order to prepare your digestive tract for optimal digestion and nutrient absorption.
- Reduce the amount of stress in your life. Regularly engage in some kind of stress management, whether that’s meditation, exercise, yoga, journaling, Tai Chi, or anything else that works for you.
Supplements can be an incredible tool in helping you heal your gut. However, now all supplements are created equal, and dosage varies depending on your specific goals. This is where working with an expert physician who is trained in functional medicine comes in. They can assess your health and specify exactly what supplements and what dosage will be most effective for you.
- Take a supplement that contains potent antifungal, anti-parasitic, and antibacterial herbs to remove opportunistic pathogens. Look for a blend of magnesium caprylate, berberine, grapefruit seed extract, sweet wormwood, black walnut, tribulus, barberry, and/or bearberry.
- Take supplements to replace the ingredients your body needs to optimize digestion. For most people, this includes a digestive enzyme and hydrochloric acid, and some also require bile acids.
- Take a daily probiotic to reinoculate. Look for ones that contain bifidobacteria and lactobacillus species. If you are not eating a lot of prebiotic foods, you may also want to take a prebiotic supplement to feed the probiotics!
- Take L-glutamine to repair the gut lining. You could also look for a blend of L-glutamine, slippery elm, licorice root, and/or aloe vera.
- You may also want to take a high-quality fish oil supplement in order to reduce overall inflammation and speed the rate at which the gut lining can heal.
Feeling bloated, gassy, or having any kind of digestive discomfort is not something you simply have to deal with. These signs are your body’s way of telling you there’s something deeper going on. It’s important to address them at the root as soon as possible. With the right mix of testing, supplements, and dietary and lifestyle changes, you can ensure your gut is happy and healthy.
Parsley Health combines nutrition prevention and wellness with cutting-edge medicine and testing from top doctors who help you live a healthier life. To learn more about working with us, visit our website or schedule a free consult call.