Q1: Ask a Holistic Health Coach–“What can I do to fix my gut?”
Before we discuss how to start healing our gut, it’s important to understand why gut health is so important. Modern medicine has only recently begun to realize that the gut and the gut bacteria that make up our microbiome are some of the major components to our body’s regulatory system.
The gut is often referred to as our “second brain” because it is powerful enough to rival our most important organ–our brain. The gut has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS) which contains as many nerve cells as they are in your spinal cord! Additionally, the immune cells in our gut make up the vast majority of our body’s immune system which makes our gut our largest and strongest defense system against dangerous bacteria, viruses and more. It doesn’t stop there. The lining of our gut houses a large number of endocrine cells which contain up to 20 different types of hormones that can be released into our bloodstream if needed.* The gut also houses 95% of our body’s serotonin which plays a vital role in our sleep, appetite, mood, and pain sensitivity, in addition to our normal digestive functions. Finally, the gut is connected to our brain through nerve channels which is used to communicate back and forth about stressors and changes to our mood, our hormones, levels of inflammation, our hunger and satiety, and more. When our gut is triggered, it sends those sensations to our brain and similarly, the brain sends signals back to the gut as gut reactions. The brain and gut are linked.
Healing our gut is possible over time. Individuals who suffer from chronic gut issues will likely need additional medical assistance to make sure their condition and treatments are observed and administered appropriately and in the right dosages.
In general, there are 4 main steps to healing your gut.
- Eliminate inflammatory foods from your diet. One of the most common symptoms of a compromised gut system is a leaky gut. Individuals with leaky gut have an intestinal lining that is compromised and allows for excess bacteria and toxins to leak through the intestinal wall and into the tissues, thereby causing inflammation and changes to the gut’s healthy microbiota. Persistent intake of inflammatory foods will worsen gut issues and will often result in more severe auto-immune conditions. Foods like gluten, soy, dairy, sugar, alcohol are some common inflammatory foods. It is possible to get tested for food intolerances and sensitivities which is the first step to understanding which diet is most appropriate for you. (Note: Once your gut has healed, it is possible to slowly re-introduce past foods into your diet on occasion. However, this is not recommended until after significant improvement has occurred.
- Improve your gut microbiome. The well-being of our gut bacteria depends on the food we eat and is also influenced by our environment. Conditions like whether we were born naturally or via cesarean or whether we grew up in a germ-free household or not can greatly alter our microbiome. While environmental factors such as these are usually out of our immediate control, we can control the types of food we eat. Certain types of foods produce specific types of bacteria–some better than others–and these bacteria then influence the mind-gut connection, alter our body’s regulatory functions, and reduce or increase inflammation. In general, eating whole (unprocessed, unpackaged) foods, seasonal and fresh ingredients and following a plant-based diet is best.
- Add gut-health boosting supplements. When our gut health is already compromised, it can be useful to add in supplements that have been shown to aid in healing. Pre/Pro-biotics are a great way to increase and diversify the number of good bacteria in your gut and aid in digestion. L-Glutamine can be taken in capsule form and are an amino acid that helps build protein and aid in intestinal health. Natural ingredients like marshmallow extract, slippery elm and aloe vera have also been shown to aid in gut health. Many gut supplements incorporate these ingredients for daily use. When deciding which supplements to use, make sure to purchase the product from a reputable seller who produces products without unnecessary additives. Please consult with your doctor when deciding which supplements are needed as some may interfere with certain medications.
- Reduce your stress. As mentioned earlier, the brain-gut communicates in tandem. When our mind is stressed, our body and gut reacts similarly and alters its normal regulatory functions. Chronic stress can lead to chronic inflammation over time, ultimately leading to disease. Stress can also alter our gut’s microbiome which can worsen the effects of symptoms like leaky gut, IBS, etc.
Our approach to disease thus far has been one of acute care–one that seeks to address issues as they come up, instead of getting to the root and working to prevent the issues from occurring in the first place. As a result, millions of individuals have suffered from chronic pain conditions, auto-immune disorders, brain-gut disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and even mental illnesses without the proper care. As the medical world and society at large begins to accept and incorporate functional and integrative medicine into their healthcare, individuals and their doctors should be able to utilize more holistic ways in addressing their issues from an interdependent perspective.
*Mayer, E. (2016). The mind-gut connection: How the hidden conversation within our bodies impacts our mood, our choices, and our overall health.
**I am not a registered dietitian or nutritionist. Those with major medical concerns should consult with their doctor.
***If you would like to submit a health question, please follow me on IG at @sanghaofgrace and tag me to submit your question.