by Dr. Robert Boyd
As naturopathic physicians, we view digestive health as one of the most important aspects of improving many conditions. Our digestive tract is affected enormously by what we eat and is our first line of defense against any harmful substances. Time and time again, we see that the root cause of many diseases starts with the gut. Healing the gut lining and rebalancing the gut microbiome are critical steps in laying a foundation of health.
The gut lining has the highest concentration of immune cells in the body. When this gut lining is damaged and the microbiome is out of balance, it can quickly become a source of chronic, smoldering inflammation. This chronic inflammation can be a major contributor to chronic fatigue, brain fog, digestive issues and degenerative/chronic disease. Inflammation is also the most tightly linked biomarker to longevity.
That being said, here are 4 steps you can take to get your gut and gut microbiome on track:
Step 1: Remove the foods that you do not digest well
Simply put, no two guts are alike. We all digest and handle foods differently. The first step is to remove the foods that you do not digest well. This can be determined in a variety of ways: Elimination diet, food sensitivity testing or keeping a diet diary. Elimination diets are somewhat difficult to implement, but they are truly the gold standard when it comes to identifying foods that you do not react well to. Food sensitivity testing can be helpful, but many people with a leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, will show reactions to a variety of foods because their digestive lining is damaged. Removing those reactive foods will certainly help, but the true root cause is a disrupted digestive lining. Lastly, keeping a diet diary is relatively easy to implement –simply keep track of everything you eat/drink and then also log when you notice reactions to food. These reactions can be brain fog, fatigue, increased joint or muscle pain. After a while, it will be easy to notice correlations between certain foods and reactions.
Step 2: Repair the gut lining
After you have removed all of those offending foods, it’s time to start repairing the gut. To heal the stomach, where the sterilization of food and initial breakdown occurs, things like DGL (DeGlycyrrhizinated Licorice), Betaine HCl and Ginger are helpful. For the small intestine, where most of your breakdown and absorption occur, herbs such as marshmallow (the herb, not the white puffy stuff!), slippery elm and aloe are helpful. The cells of your small intestine (called enterocytes), use glutamine as their preferential nutrient. Lastly, the large intestine needs to be taken care of. The demulcents listed above for the small intestine can be helpful, as well as increasing your insoluble fiber and water intake. The short chain fatty acid Butyrate is a preferred nutrient for the cells of your large intestine.
Step 3: Enhance the absorption of those beneficial foods
After removing the bad foods and healing the gut lining, it’s time to enhance the absorption of your beneficial foods and nutrients. This can be achieved by using a variety of different methods. Digestive enzymes can be taken with each meal and assist your pancreas in breaking down foods to be absorbed. Bitter herbs, such as Gentiana and Andrographis, can be taken in tincture form to prepare your stomach for digestion and increase the output of bile from your gall bladder/liver. Lastly, mindful eating is incredibly important. Make sure that you sit down in a calm environment to eat your food to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is required for proper digestion. Also, eating is not a race – make sure the chew your food thoroughly. This will help immensely with digestion and absorption.
Step 4: Restore Gut Microbiome Balance
Eating the appropriate foods for you will help somewhat with getting your gut microbiome back on track. However, identifying beneficial bacteria missing or bad bacteria present can really help with fine-tuning your digestion during this last step. Certain bacteria are linked specifically to chronic fatigue, inflammation, digestive issues, sleep disorders and even hormonal imbalances. Testing can help to identify those bacteria, but usually does not provide insight into how to correct the imbalance. That is where Microbiome Analysis comes into play. This is a unique service I offer at Shalva Clinic that can help to finally bring that microbiome into perfect balance. We can identify specific foods, probiotics and nutrients that are beneficial for you based on what good bacteria are missing and bad bacteria are overgrown. No two guts, or in this case, microbiomes are alike!