FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE: GUT HEALTH
We know most of our LifeWorks Integrative Health community has heard from us the importance of a healthy gut, but just in case you’ve forgotten, we wanted to give you a little refresher on the importance of maintaining gut integrity. Many of the diet, lifestyle, supplement and lab recommendations we give are based on healing a damaged gut.
But before we dive in, let’s be sure the basics are covered:
What Do We Mean By Gut?
The “gut” is the long tube winding from the mouth to the anus. Most people don’t realize this is one long, closed system that separates your gastrointestinal tract (gut or GI tract) from all the other organs and fluid in your body. This includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and the anus.
The small intestine has 3 parts: duodenum, jejunum and ileum. Throughout these 3 parts is where food is digested and absorbed into the bloodstream for nutrients. When we refer to “leaky gut” we are primarily referring to the membrane lining the small intestines, but the large intestine does a play a role. The large intestines is where the rest of the food, not released into the blood stream essentially turns from food to feces… you can fill in the blanks from there ?
Why Is The Gut So Important?
The GI tract (gut) is known as the “second brain.” The actual brain, and the gut are the 2 organs that essentially direct traffic for all other biological functions. The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that extends from the base of the brain all the way to the abdomen sending chemical signals throughout the body – particularly from the gut to the brain. This is how neurotransmitters that the brain needs to regulate mood, are actually primarily stored in the gut. The gut, via the vagus nerve, sends the brain what it needs when it needs it, but a leaky, heavy metal toxicity, poorly balanced hormones, etc disrupt that signal making many neurological issues, at their core, gut issues. More on gut and mood/neurological issues in the coming weeks. Another reason the gut is so important is because it houses our offensive and defensive teams when it comes to opportunistic or problematic bacteria, parasites, viruses, and fungi- otherwise known as pathogens. When problematic pathogens and yeast are not controlled and friendly bacteria and yeasts are not thriving, the whole body suffers. Many people link probiotics to digestion, and rightly so, but probiotics (support for friendly bacteria and yeast) can modulate systems throughout the whole body. The support probiotics can bring to the whole of gut health is much bigger than only improving constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating, although we love them for what they do for those issues.
What Is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut is a term used to describe the breakdown of the semi-permeable barrier between the gut and the blood stream. Imagine the lining of your digestive tract as a net with teeny tiny holes, like a net. that “net” can only allow certain sized items to pass through. The “net” blocks larger things, while allowing smaller things to pass through. In a healthy gut this “net” works as it should, keeping undigested food, bacteria, viruses, toxins, and chemical molecules inside the gut to continue on to elimination. Therefore, not bothering the immune system. BUT, if your “net” (GI tract) gets damaged, this can lead to bigger holes in your gut’s net than should be there. When the gut is inflamed, undigested food, bad bacteria, chemicals, heavy metals, proteins like gluten and casein “leak” into the bloodstream, where they shouldn’t be. The immune system doesn’t recognize this size particles and goes into “attack” mode which causes an immune reaction, and when left untreated, autoimmune diseases.
What Causes Leaky Gut?
Here are a few causes, but food is often the biggest culprit. Keep reading for a few foods that also cause leaky gut.
What Foods Contribute To Leaky Gut?
Gluten: found in wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats, gluten is notorious for contributing to leaky gut. Gluten can actually cause the body to produce a protein called zonulin that is known to specifically break down the “net” of the digestive tract.
Conventional dairy: dairy products have changed dramatically over the years through pasteurization, and the huge, confined feed lots cows are on giving them very little sunlight and grass with a lot of diseases to medicate, and corn to eat. Most conventional cow’s milk (including cheese, yogurt, and cream) has A1 casein which is known to be up to 26x more inflammatory than gluten. There are small independent farmers using A2 casein cows which is shown to provide much better digestion of dairy. Raw dairy, from a trusted source, is also much less inflammatory and can even provide healing properties for the gut.
Sugar: We’ve all come across some sort of sugar controversy over the years and pretty much everyone would agree that it isn’t the most ideal food. But what we tend to forget, or are encouraged to forget, is that too much sugar can damage the intestinal well, your “net.” This because sugar’s preferred food is yeast and bad bacteria so it promotes the body’s production of these, while suppressing the production of good bacteria. Because of this, sugar also impairs immunity (the body’s ability to heal and fight pathogens). Raw honey and organic grade B maple syrup are sweeteners to use in moderation.
GMO foods: the levels of herbicides and pesticides in GMO foods are significantly high in genetically modified organism. Many of the pesticides, particularly glyphosate used in Round Up damage the gut lining. The Journal of Environmental Sciences also found that GMO foods actually destroy the probiotics in your gut designed to be both your offensive and defensive team to protect your gut lining. This destruction of probiotics causes organ inflammation.
These are just a few of the “heavy hitters” when it comes to foods contributing to leaky gut, which is why working with a skilled practitioner to determine the best foods for you to eat is important.
How Do I Help And Heal My Gut?
If you deal with any of the issues in the graphic to the right, you likely have a leaky gut. The simplest way to begin healing an inflamed gut is to change your foods. Simple isn’t always easy, we encourage you to get help from a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist who has experience with this, or another qualified practitioner. In2Great has both ? Foods can get many people a long way down the field of a healthy gut, but often it is not enough. Just taking out the offending foods often isn’t enough to actually heal the gut. That is where your story, quality supplementation, and targeted lab data are all needed to balance out the root cause of your leaky gut. Quality food is absolutely the cornerstone of a healthy gut and avoiding leaky gut, but usually the years of leaky gut have caused other hormone, neurotransmitter, or organ imbalances that need to be corrected by a skilled functional medicine practitioner. Leaky gut is not a stand alone issue. It is often a symptom of other imbalances in the body that need to be addressed.
Where To Start?
- Avoid foods listed that “cause leaky gut”
- Consume gut restorative foods like: bone broth, cooked organic vegetables, coconut oil, organic meats
- Begin or change to a quality soil based probiotic.
- Get enough sleep and manage chronic stress
- Consider using a functional medicine practitioner to balance, support and correct the underlying issues
What Is A Soil Based Probiotic?
Prescript Assist Pro is the brand we like for a soil based organism (SBO) probiotic. Bacteria, friendly yeast strains and humin strains from soil bacteria are one of the best ways to support a healthy gut. We used to get good amounts of friendly bacteria, humin strains and yeast when we ate vegetables out of garden from soil that wasn’t nutrient depleted and full of chemicals and pesticides. Each strain of bacteria has different activities needed for good gut health, but strains taken in a supplement probiotic like the ones we recommend, do not colonize the gut- meaning they do not stay there permanently and develop their own community, so need to be taken daily.
SBO’s are soil-based probiotic organisms found in healthy soils which produce and release powerful enzymes that prepare and purify soil to support plant growth. These organisms do the same thing in our gut. Just as natural soil is a living biomass composed of SBO’s, fungi, yeasts, and bacteria, so is our gut. This type of probiotic keeps our gut biomass in a healthy dynamic balance and simultaneously produce and release specific nutrients necessary to accelerate growth of good bacteria.
SBO probiotics act as a living bandaid to allow your own good bacteria in tune with your genetics in your body to regrow and regroup to help the immune system, fight candida, and breakdown biofilm.
Many forms of SBO, as well as their enzyme and nutrient byproducts, were consumed prior to the 20th century when we used to foods fresh from fields and gardens. Today, our food processing techniques combined with fungicides, herbicides and heat destroy most or all of these friendly soil-based organisms in our food supply.
We look forward to supporting all you need for great gut health.