Gut Health Basics
A LITTLE ABOUT THE GUT
Your gastrointestinal system, also referred to as the gastrointestinal tract, digestive system, digestive tract, or gut, is a group of organs that includes and starts at the mouth and also includes accessory organs – mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon, and rectum.
Digestion begins well before food even enters your mouth – it begins in your brain when you start to think of the food you are going to eat or smell the yummy aroma of something cooking. Your saliva starts flowing and your digestive acids and enzymes are gearing up for digesting your food.
The surface area of your gastrointestinal tract if you spread it all out, would cover about the size of a tennis court! This internal “court” is covered in specialised cells called enterocytes that constantly regenerate, so that you get an entirely new gut lining every two to four weeks if you are healthy. If you suffer from food allergies, leaky gut and infections, expect that it can take up to 3-6 months to heal this sensitive area.
All systems in the body are intricately connected, so it’s impossible to talk about gut health without discussing the immune system and the brain in particular. The following facts will help you understand just how intimately intertwined the gut, brain and immune system are:
- About 80 per cent of your immune system is in your gut (in the gastrointestinal associated lymphatic tissue – known as GALT). Current research is teaching more and more about how the kind of bacteria, yeasts and parasites you have living in your gut affect how your immune system responds to different triggers (such as potential pathogens or allergens).
- You have more neurons in your gut than you do in your brain. This collection of neurons is known as the enteric nervous system. It’s how you get ‘gut feelings’.
- You have more immune cells (microglia) in your brain than you have brain cells.
While diet and nutrition is a key player to having a healthy gut, there are many other factors that can get in the way of you achieving optimal health, as you will see listed below.
What can damage the digestive tract (GUT)
- Artificial sweeteners such as Sucralose and Splenda
- Burns injuries
- Chemotherapeutic drugs such as Methotrexate
- Dysbiosis (gut flora inbalances)
- Environmental toxins
- Herbicides and Pesticides (including cupric sulphate and Glyphosphate
- High starch diet
- Lack of sleep
- NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, Voltaren, Mobic, Naproxen.
- Organ dysfunction
- Over-training (extreme physical exercise)
- Parasite infections and pathogens
- Partially digested food particles
- Processed dairy
- Steroid medications
- Vitamin A deficiency
- Zinc dificiency
Conditions assosciated with gut health
- Alzheimer’s Disease and Dimentia
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Autoimmune Diseases
- Brain Fog
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Chrohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis
- Fussy/picky eating
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Premenstrual Tension (PMS)
the four r’s of gut healing
Healing your gut can often feel incredibly complicated and overwhelming, I know, because I have absolutely been there – but it doesn’t have to be. Below is a simplified version of a well known approach to gut healing.
The Four Rs are a classic gut healing approach in functional medicine and while working one-on-one with a practitioner or a nutritionist is recommended and allows you a more customized protocol and specialized testing – I want to share just how simple this foundational protocol can be, so you can get started right away getting that gut right!
The goal here is to reduce intestinal inflammation and remove any foods that can be feeding unwanted pathogenic yeast, bacteria or parasites to avoid overgrowth.
We want to take away the biggest culprits, first until the gut is healed. This can be pro-inflammatory foods and chemical irritants that can trigger irritation and create an environment for bacteria, parasites and candida to thrive. High carbohydrate and sugar containing foods or those with added yeast have been shown to feed bad bacteria and cause yeast overgrowth in the small intestine. Foods like gluten (and other grains), corn, dairy, sugar, alcohol and coffee, vegetable oils, artificial sweeteners and processed foods can drive inflammation in the gut and the body.
We want to give the GI tract an opportunity to be soothed and allow the immune system to be less burdened by irritating and inflammatory compounds.
It should also be said that these first Rs definitely go beyond food stressors. When it comes to the health of our gut it’s also very important to remove other non-food, chronic stressors that may be driving inflammation, so this is a great time to look at your lifestyle and to also reduce your exposure to toxins in your environment (and your thoughts) and prioritize sleep – removing these triggers can help to give your gut an opportunity to reset.
Depending on the severity of your gut dysbiosis this stage of removal may also pertain to the removal of foreign pathogens in the gut, like parasites, bacteria or yeast. If you suspect your dysbiosis is beyond foods and other stressors, a comprehensive stool analysis can be key to determining if further action is necessary with herbal antimicrobials or antibiotics, etc
Eat a diet rich in a diverse range of nutrient-dense whole foods. This can lead to a diverse microbiota, which is beneficial for your health. I also suggest that you incorporate foods to further support your digestion, like apple cider vinegar and water, lemon water, or bitter greens.
You can also work with a practitioner to incorporate quality supplements that can support hydrochloric acid and digestive enzyme production, these can work alongside your healthy diet to encourage a proper functioning digestive system.
When we use food as medicine this can benefit the microbiota by enhancing its function and reducing the abundance of disease-causing bacteria in the intestines.
Building on the idea of replacing, we want to be sure we are consuming food and supplements that support and repair proper digestion. Through healing the gut lining it also supports the absorption of nutrients in the foods you are eating.
You may want to consider additional gut repair support like collagen and gelatin, bone broth, L-glutamine, aloe, turmeric, bromelain or slippery elm.
It’s also just as simple as making sure you are getting enough water every day and consuming quality Omega-3 fatty acids each week, which will help with overall inflammation in the body. Consider breath exercises, gentle movement, meditation and other stress reducing practices and be sure to get adequate sleep to further repair the gut by reducing inflammation. I collaborated on a blog over at Family Health Hub about this – You can read it here.
Finally, it can be helpful to reintroduce good bacteria to your gut environment in an effort to populate your GI tract with as much of the beneficial stuff as possible.
Now that you have eliminated the problem foods and spent time repairing the gut, it’s time to bring in the big guns! Fermented veggies like sauerkraut, kimchi, beet kvass, pickles, coconut kefir, non-dairy yogurt are all great food sources of broad strains of probiotics.
Foods, while each can uniquely contain different strains than the next, they can be limiting with only a couple different strains each, and many of the strains in probiotic foods are not always acid resistant (ie they die off in big numbers when hitting the acidic stomach), as well some people can not tolerate fermented foods – this is when a probiotic supplement is great.
When you are looking at a probiotic supplement, the CFUs or colony forming units represent the number of active probiotics that the product offers. You want to look for daily maintenance doses between 5 and 20 billion, and more if you need acute support (after antibiotics, etc.)
By looking at your digestive health goals you can find the strain count that is right for you. More isn’t always better. What does your microbiome currently need? Working with a practitioner in this instance is a good idea.
A lower CFU count of 5-20 billion are great for an already healthy gut just looking for daily maintenance. 50 billion CFUs would be optimal for after travel or in times or stress. 200 billion would be intense support for flora balance when your intestinal health needs it mos, possibly after traveling abroad or after a round of antibiotics.
To learn more about what probiotic you need for your specific condition/symptoms – please book an appointment with your health professional. I can make some recommendations, just reach out in the group.
Gut healing foods
There are a range of foods out there that can contribute to healing the gut lining, some of which I will share below. Some healing foods you can easily add in to your everyday routine straight away. Other’s should be included in a individual protocol prescribed by your health professional – Naturopath, Holistic Nutritionist or Integrative Practitioner.
Remember it is important that you remove the irritants and harmful foods along with adding in these healing foods. Having a cup of bone broth to cancel out a can of coke isn’t going to work.
Some of mother nature’s healing foods include:
Apple cider vinegar, Aloe Vera, Bone broth, Calendula flowers, cardamon, chamomile, cinnamon, cloves, coconut oil, cumin, dandelion leaves & root, enzyme rich fruits, fennel seeds, fermented foods, flaxseeds, ginger, Kakadu plum, Lavender, lemon juice, licorice root, marshmellow root, organ meats, oysters, peppermint, pomegrante, saffron, slippery elm, spearmint, sprouted broccoli seeds, stewed apple, turmeric, watercress.
I’ll go in to a little more detail about some of the above and some other healing foods below that have helped on our healing journey.
Apple cider vinegar
Raw (unpasturised) and unfiltered. Helps to stimulate the production of digestive acids and bile. Can provide relief if suffering discomfort after a meal. Dilute in water to drink – 1-3tsp to a glass, use as a salad dressing or pour over cooked veg with olive oil to stimulate digestion.
Has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties to help repair the gut. If taken before NSAIDs it can reduce the impact of these drugs on the liver. It can provide healing relief to irritable or inflamed bowels, dental infalmmation like gingivitis, oesophagitis, stomach or duodenal ulcers. You can add the inner gel to smoothies or use as a tonic. Most store bought aloe’s contain preservatives. Reach out in the group if you’d like more info about where to get the good stuff from.
Gelatin is the cooked form of collagen. It helps to soothe and rebuild the lining of the gut. You can use in in smoothies, gummies, gravy’s, sauces, stews ect. The gelatin from the supermarket will not aid in healing. You need to choose one that is preferrably organic and grass fed. My fave brand is Changing Habits. Or you can get Great Lakes & Vital Proteins from iherb, or a more affordable one from LiveLife Pharmacies – Nutra Organics.
Is great at helping to rebuild the gut lining. Collagen, made of one simple ingredient, is a pure protein dietary supplement with a unique combination of beneficial amino acids. Great for anyone looking to improve their overall well-being. Some of these amino acids, missing from many of today’s diets, are concentrated at levels that can promote healing in bones, joints and the digestive system. Collagen protein is nearly tasteless, colorless and odorless. It is easily digested, will not congeal in cold liquids making it a perfect addition to cold or hot beverages, smoothies or recipes. Just mix in and enjoy!
I use Great Lakes or Nutra Organics – Livelife Pharmacy. Marine collagen is also amazing!
Is incredibly rich in minerals glycine, proline and glutamine. Glutamine is the most important amino acid for healing the gut wall. It is very easy to digest and provides a nourishing, nutrient-dense delivery system that soothes the gut, stimulates digestion and requires very little energy to assimilate.
There are a heap of broth recipes in the recipe vault but if you run out or are short on time/good bones to make some, here’s some alternatives that you can buy. Changing habits, Gevity Body glue, Tonemade concentrare, Meadow & Marrow Bone broth concentrate – natural, Nutra Organics – check that it is the organic one.
Along with bone broth, fermented foods rule the gut healing food world. They are rich in live, active enzymes and probiotics. The tart flavour helps to stimulate digestive acids and there are many immune-supportive and anti-carcinogenic acids in fermented foods to further help with gut health. The key is to start with very small amounts, and slowly increase. Check out some of the ferments in the recipe vault or reach out in the group for tips and help.
There are a vast range of probiotics out there. They all have their own role to play within the digestive tract and we all have our own unique eco-systems. We had stool tests that revealed we were very low in particular probitoics that help to digest our food and also help to maintain our happy feel good feelings. We were then able to use targeted probiotic therapy to build up our diversity. You can have stool tests to determine what strains you need if your health is quite poor or consult a practitioner to prescribe based on your symptoms. Read more about it here.
Is a soothing demulcent and bulking agent that is great for both constipation and diarrheoa. If you have diarrheoa, slippery elm will help mop up the excess water to help produce formed stools. If the opposite it will absorb more water in to the bowels to soften to stool and make them easier to pass. It has anti-inflammatory properties and can act as a bit of a broom for the intestines. You can get it from your health food shop or online at iherb.
Some great websites to help you nerd out on your gut healing journey are:
None of the information provided on this page should be taken as medical advice. Please consult a professional for individualized treatment planning for your individual needs.