Healthy digestion is the foundation of great health. Its estimated that over 80% of our immune system resides in our gut lining, so it's only logical that we would want to keep it functioning as optimally as possible.
Our digestive tract is the main barrier between us and our outside world. It's job is to keep undigested food particles, toxinsand other foreign invaders out of our body where they don't belong. Overtime though this barrier can become damaged due to such factors as poor food choices, chemical irritants, alcohol, medications, cigarette smoke, pathogenic bacteria and fungus, and even emotional stress.
As the gut lining becomes damaged, a condition commonly referred to as Leaky Gut Syndrome ensues, allowing substances to pass through that wouldnt normally be allowed to enter our bodies otherwise.
Not only can this contribute to or exacerbate a number of digestive problems such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), but it can also set off autoimmune reactions leading to health complaints such as joint pain, fatigue, depression, allergies, and skin conditions such as eczema that people dont often associate with poor digestive function.
Below are the 5 Steps you can take to begin healing your gut naturally.
This approach has it's roots in functional medicine, and is what's known as the 5 Rs. Keep in mind that each step will need to be tailored to your individual situation, and although almost anyone can follow this approach, it can be quite helpful to work with a health practitioner who is familiar with the protocol and can help guide you through the steps!
Remove anything in the diet that's negatively impacting your gut. This includes allergenic foods or foods you may be sensitive to, highly processed foods, and gastric irritants such as alcohol and coffee that you may be abusing. If you're unsure about which foods might be causing a reaction for you it can be helpful to remove some (or all) of the top allergenic foods for a set period of time (at least 4 weeks) and then add them back in one at a time to see how your body reacts. These foods include dairy, wheat, gluten, soy, peanuts, corn, citrus, and eggs. If eliminating so many foods at once feels daunting to you, you may just choose to give up 1 or 2 possible triggers at a time and go from there. Of course this is going to look a little bit different for everyone and the severity of your symptoms will determine how strict youll be in the elimination phase.
The second part of this equation includes the removal of any infections, such as an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, fungus (i.e. Candida), or parasites that may be contributing to poor gut health. In addition to removing their main food sources (i.e. sugar), antimicrobial agents such as oregano oil, olive leaf extract, berberine, caprylic acid, and garlic can help eradicate these organisms.
Replace those factors that may be lacking in your body to help restore proper digestion. In order to digest our food well, we need sufficient amounts of enzymes, bile, and hydrochloric acid (HCL) that may have been depleted due to poor diet, medications, disease, or aging.
If we cant break down our food we wont be able to absorb the nutrients needed for great health.
Taking supplemental digestive enzymes with or without added HCL or bile salts can be helpful for some people. Bitter herbs can also help to stimulate digestive secretions and help us digest our food better. You can eat them with your meal or supplement with a herbal preparation in tincture format up to 20 minutes before your meal to ignite digestion.
Reinoculate your gut with healthy bacteria (probiotics) to restore balance. Our guts are host to over 500 different types of bacteria, and in fact we have 10 times more bacteria in our bodies than our own cells. Our gut flora is easily disrupted by the use of antibiotics and other medications, poor food choices, alcohol and stress. Probiotics help to repopulate our gut and crowd out unhealthy microorganisms, while also helping us digest our food.
Supplementing with a good quality probiotic is the best way to get a therapeutic amount of healthy bacteria down to the gut, but we can also include fermented foods in our diet that are probiotic-rich like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kefir, and yogurt, as long as youre not sensitive to dairy.
Repair and protect the gut lining through the use of select nutrients, amino acids and herbs such as zinc-carnosine, l-glutamine, deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), slippery elm bark and marshmallow root, and natural anti-inflammatories such as omega-3 fish oils, curcumin, and quercetin. Regularly consuming gelatin-rich bone broth is also very healing to the gut lining and therefore a great addition to the diet.
Rebalance your body through deep breathing, yoga, meditation and other mindfulness-based practices that can help you rejuvenate and relax. Getting adequate sleep every night, managing stress, getting out in nature, spending time with loved ones and making time for play can all help restore hormonal balance that will not only keep your gut healthy, but also your whole body.
Have you suffered from digestive issues? Share your story and what you've done to heal yourself in the comments section below.
Learn more about the importance of a healthy gut! Check out our online seminar: Healthy Gut/Healthy Brain and discover the connection between the health of your gut and your emotional well-being, immune health, skin health, body fat composition and more.