Most of the clients who come to my clinic Accent on Healing have digestive issues and often request what they can do to heal the gut. Usually the symptoms of bloating, constipation, diarrhoea (or both), pain after eating, bad reactions to food, feeling tired or unwell finally become too much and they seek help. Quite often they have done the medical rounds but still have not found the cure for their serious digestive problems.
One of these people was Leah who 5 years ago could barely get out of bed. She suffered from weakness, general tiredness, food allergies and skin conditions and ended up being diagnosed with nonspecific autoimmune disease. After being treated with antibiotics, steroids, immune suppressants, anti-inflammatories and anti-cancer drugs, Leah realised ‘I was taking 20 pills a day, and couldn’t distinguish between the side effects and my original symptoms.’
She spent six months in and out of hospital, and had to give up her job as a result.
Her return to good health only started when she went back to basics with a toxin-free, good-bacteria-friendly diet, and started to heal her gut. Working out what she had to eliminate from her diet because her body rejected so much was the first important step. This allowed her ‘digestive system a chance to improve and heal’.
This health journey – from bedridden sufferer of a life-altering health condition to somebody back in control of their health – is a common one. Leah’s diet improvements are similar to those undertaken by many who are on a mission to find a cause and ultimately a cure for their health problems.
Three Easy Steps to Heal the Gut
Your gut is the gateway to better health. This is because its primary role is to break down and absorb your food, providing your body with the nutrients and fuel to function at its best.
There are two closely related factors that determine our gut health: the intestinal bacteria or “gut flora” and the gut barrier.
1. Remove known digestive triggers
- Maybe your ‘healthy’ diet is making you sick The trouble starts with the food itself. Though you’re probably not aware of it, every day over 70% of us are eating foods that our bodies can’t easily tolerate. These food intolerances or sensitivities nonetheless are enough to trigger a response in the immune system to protect the body from the irritants it perceives as invaders. This continuous attack mode creates inflammation and raises insulin levels, which in turn sets the table for weight gain and can also make you feel sick and tired – all that defensive action is exhausting. The goal is to get rid of things that negatively affect the environment of the gut. The top foods to remove are sugar, grains especially those containing gluten, conventional meat, conventional dairy and GMO foods with soy and corn. The top toxic exposures to eliminate are unfiltered tap water, pesticides, alcohol, NSAIDS (non steroidal anti inflammatories such as ibuprofen) and antibiotics.
- What to do: Start an elimination diet – have NO gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs and sugar in your diet for 2 – 3 weeks. This means all carbohydrates, packaged and processed foods, foods with sugar and additives are OUT for the 2-3 weeks. Substitute with anti-inflammatory healthy fats (flaxseed and avocado), fibre-rich foods (nuts and seeds), fresh vegetables and a little protein (organic meat or fish). Base your meals around non starchy vegetables with lots of greens. Also don’t forget to drink more water.Then reintroduce each food type – one every 3-4 days and write down how you feel. You will soon note what foods are your problem trigger foods!
- Deal with your stress We all have stress in our life but when it becomes prolonged distress, then it begins to affect our health. The biochemical changes that occur in times of stress have significant and immediate impact on gut function. Studies have shown that psychological stress slows normal small intestinal transit time, encourages overgrowth of bacteria, and even compromises the intestinal barrier(1). Chronic stress is thought to play an important role in the development of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and leaky gut syndrome. As there is a direct link between our gut and our brain, when either the brain or gut are disturbed, it can create physical and physiological imbalances. A gastrointestinal complaint may lead to anxiety or depression, or all of these. As well did you know that 90% of the body’s serotonin (happy hormone) is produced in the gut?
- What to do: There are many ways to lessen the impacts of stress, including meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, deep breathing and spending time in nature – to name a few. Find one that gives you pleasure and do it regularly. Get your body moving! Physical activity speeds up digestion, stimulates the muscles in the digestive tract and elevates your mood. No time? Just take a walk around the block! Aim for just 30 minutes of exercise every day.
2. The healing food programme
As well as anti inflammatory foods (nuts, seeds, vegetables, healthy fats, organic meat and wild caught fish), try to include at least 3 of these special healing foods every day
- Bone Broth – broth contains collagen and the amino acids proline and glycine that can help heal your damaged cell walls. I recommend my patients do a bone broth fast for three days to help heal leaky gut and cure autoimmune disease.
- Raw Cultured Dairy – contains both probiotics and short chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) that can help heal the gut. Make your own kefir, yogurt, and raw cheese.
- Fermented Foods – contain organic acids that balance intestinal pH and probiotics to support the gut. Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and fermented vegetables are excellent sources.
- All things coconut – all coconut products are especially good for your gut. The medium chain fatty acids (MCFA’s) in coconut are easier to digest than other fats so they work well for healing a leaky gut. Also, coconut kefir contains probiotics that support your digestive system.
- Sprouted Seeds – chia seeds, flaxseeds and hemp seeds that have been sprouted are great sources of fibre that can help support the growth of beneficial bacteria. But if you have severe leaky gut or digestive problems, you may need to start out getting your fibre from steamed vegetables.
3. Repair and Rebalance – Top Supplements for Healing Leaky Gut
- Probiotics are the single most important supplement to replenish good bacteria and crowds out bad bacteria. I recommend getting probiotics in both food and supplement form. So load up on both probiotic-rich foods and take at least 50 billion units of probiotics such as Polybac 8 daily.
- Digestive enzymes (one or two capsules at the beginning of each meal) break down our food into nutrients that our body can absorb, decreasing the chance that partially digested foods particles and proteins are damaging your gut wall.
- L-Glutamine is critical for repairing damage to the gut, helping the gut lining to grow and repair and undoing the damage caused by leaky gut. Glutamine powder found in Gut Repair is an essential amino acid supplement that is anti-inflammatory. L-glutamine benefits include acting as a protector: coating your cell walls and acting as a repellent to irritants. Take 2–5 grams twice daily.
- Licorice Root (DGL) is an adaptogenic herb that helps balance cortisol levels and improves acid production in the stomach. DGL supports the body’s natural processes for maintaining the mucosal lining of the stomach and duodenum. This herb is especially beneficial if someone’s leaky gut is being caused by emotional stress. Take 500 milligrams twice daily.
- Quercetin has also been shown to improve gut barrier function by sealing the gut because it supports creation of tight junction proteins. It also stabilizes mast cells and reduces the release of histamine, which is common in food intolerance. New studies have also shown its effectiveness in healing ulcerative colitis. Take 500 milligrams three times daily with meals.
- Apple cider vinegar helps improve digestion by increasing stomach acid. Drinking a glass of water mixed with a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar 15-20 minutes before a meal can improve digestion and nutrient assimilation by increasing Hydrochloric acid production.
GET YOUR GUT INTO ORDER
Feed your gut well, and your health will thrive, but feed it with the wrong types of foods and you compromise your body’s ability to promote growth and repair, support your immune system and keep your muscles and organs healthy.
JOURNAL OF PHYSIOLOGY AND PHARMACOLOGY 2011, 62, 6, 591-599P.C. Konturek1, T. Brzozowski2, S.J. Konturek2 STRESS AND THE GUT: PATHOPHYSIOLOGY, CLINICALCONSEQUENCES, DIAGNOSTIC APPROACH AND TREATMENT OPTIONS