Until the last few years you might have gone to the doctor with complaints of bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea and your doctor might have given you a diagnosis of IBS, AKA Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Unfortunately, this was just a possible “code” for “I’m not really sure what is going on with your gut.”
Nowadays we know better that when the gut is unhappy it could be so many different things, which are not easy to tease out. The gut is extremely complex and is the second biggest organ in your body after your skin so a lot can go wrong.
WHY is gut health SO important?
- 80-90% of serotonin is made in your gut so if your gut is not happy you may have a physical depression (versus a psychological one).
- 80% of the immune system is in our gut lining so having your gut functionally optimally is important to healthy immunity.
- The gut controls the absorption of our nutrients (vitamins/minerals/phytochemicals), metabolism and overall health.
Current research now shows that many stomach issues are a result of food poisoning and result in SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). It is estimated that 25% of the world’s population has it and has learned to live with it, which increases health issues the longer it is untreated. There is a breath test you can take to see if you have either SIBO or a newer diagnosis called IMO (intestinal methanogen overgrowth) and they are treated differently. With SIBO there is an increase in hydrogen gas produced with the test and with IMO there is an increase in methanogen gas. The test requires being on a special diet two days before, waking up on the 3rd day, drinking lactulose and then breathing in a test tube every 20 minutes for 3 hours. The good news is you can now do it at home. The results will determine the treatment.
Western medicine usually treats a positive test with antibiotics and functional medicine treats with antimicrobials. The problem with antibiotics is they can treat the bacteria in the gut but not in the “lining” overwise known as the “biofilm” which means the bacteria can return within a few weeks. Antimicrobials may be required for a few months but usually get to the heart and lining of the gut.
If the gut is unhappy the lining becomes compromised (AKA Leaky gut) which means the gate keepers which normally block pathogens, toxins, bacteria, parasites, yeast, etc. are not doing their job. Therefore, these pathogens get absorbed via the lining of the gut and then enter the bloodstream. The body perceives these bacteria as invaders and then makes antibodies to them which can result in autoimmune issues, foods allergies and a host of other issues.
If you have not had food poisoning other possible causes of leaky gut or dysbiosis (when your gut is out of balance) are medications (NSAIDS, antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors), alcohol, chronic intake of sugar, processed foods and refined or industrial seed oils (soybean, vegetable, corn, canola, etc.). Other drivers may be lack of diversity in your diet (vegetables, fiber), or eating too frequently and lack of at least a 12 hour overnight fast.
What can you do to help alleviate these complex issues?
Getting a proper diagnosis is the first step from someone who is truly an expert in the gut which means you may need a gastroenterologist, a functional medicine physician or naturopath. Testing is required which may mean a breath test, stool test or an OAT Test (organic acid test which measures bacteria, toxins, etc.) After a proper diagnosis then the challenging part of finding a protocol to match your gut challenges and having the patience to stay on course to help restore your gut balance. Besides the above here are some simple things which may help alleviate some issues if your gut challenges are not complicated.
- Go at least 4-5 hours between meals to “rest” the gut and help the cleaning waves of the gut do their job to create a reset for the next meal. When the cleaning waves are compromised with frequent eating and snacks the “weeds” (bacteria) are more likely to grow and once they take hold, they are more challenging to eradicate.
- Look at the integrity of your diet – consume organic, low sugar/processed foods, with minimal inflammatory oils and alcohol intake.
- Increase diet diversity – eat a variety of many veggies that are high in fiber; don’t eat the same 3 veggies every week.
- Consider Time Restricted Eating and fast for at least 12-14 hours daily.
- Avoid fake sweeteners which contain non-absorbable carbohydrate sugars which aggravate the gut bacteria.
- Keep your vagus nerve in shape and do lymph clearing (blogs attached).
- Exercise regularly, get proper rest and do whatever you need to do to keep stress in check.
The old way of going to the doctor and getting a pill no longer works, especially for gut challenges. The standard question of “what do I take for that” should be rephased to “what is causing that?” and then the journey begins towards gut and overall health. It’s not an easy journey by any stretch but your future health may depend on it.