Gut health is at the heart of a healthy immune system because 70% of our immune system is in the gut. A lot of modern day illnesses occur as a result of a malfunctioning immune system – and I believe poor gut health underlies this in many cases.
Some patients think they can improve gut health by popping probiotics, but I like to think of improving gut health as a two-pronged approach: damage limitation and healing. Because you really can’t achieve optimum gut health without both. If you focus on the healing, but something is damaging your gut constantly, it cannot recover. Imagine a shower that’s been left on which has flooded your bathroom. There is no point mopping up the water on the floor – you have to turn the shower off!!
I will go as far as saying that removing the harmful assailants on your gut might be MORE importantbecause your body has the ability to heal itself if only the damages stopped. So let’s look at how to turn that shower off shall we?
remove any food culprits: This is trickier than it sounds. Because allergies and intolerances can be subtle and difficult to tell. A problem food will cause inflammation and damage in the gut lining, and therefore lead to a disruption of the gut barrier. The usual culprits are dairy and gluten but it can be anything… This may then lead to increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and a breakdown in gut health. If you are cutting out foods already but still suffering from symptoms after a few months, it might be helpful to do an elimination diet removing the common allergens whilst keeping a food diary. Once you have achieved optimal gut health then you can reintroduce them one by one to see what the culprit may be. Make sure you eliminate foods after consultation with a dietician so you don’t become deficient in essential nutrients.
reduce toxin load: there are 84,000 chemicals registered for use with the EPA, and most of them have not been shown to be safe in humans – these chemicals are found in our water, air, food, everyday products and may have a direct toxic impact on cells lining the gut, and also impact the friendly gut bacteria which we need to maintain gut health (aka our gut microbiome). Cleaning products, weed killers, pesticides and preservatives in our food can all negatively impact our gut microbiome and contribute to leaky gut. So a KEY step in any gut healing protocol should be to reduce your environmental toxin exposure. If you want to learn more on how to do this, join my FREE 5 day email masterclass.
filter your water: following on from the same thread above - this is an important step in reducing assailants on your gut. Depending on where you live, the water may be chlorinated. What is chlorine? It is a disinfectant we add to kill harmful microbes in our water - which is necessary and great because this protects us from acute sickness. However, preliminary studies have shown that chlorine can negatively impact our gut microbiome. In addition, tap water can contain heavy metals and other contaminants like BPA and PFAS which can all affect gut health. So ensuring your drinking water is clean is important.
avoid unnecessary and inappropriate use of medications which damage the gut: NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) like ibuprofen (Motrin) can damage the gut lining, and antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors like Nexium can disturb the friendly bacteria which help to build a healthy gut. Note I put ‘inappropriate’ – these medications are often necessary and can be life-saving so it is not always possible to avoid them. However, make sure they are used judicially for the right indications. Antibiotics for the common cold is a definite no-no!
is your food toxic? – It is not always possible to buy grass-fed and finished organic animal products because they are expensive, however, it is worth looking into how your food is farmed and where it came from. Conventionally farmed meat often contains high concentrations of pesticides and other pollutants like PCB because they are at the top of the food chain (pesticides increase and accumulate up the food chain) – these can affect our gut microbiome. Also, animals are often fed and injected with antibiotics so you may be inadvertently ingesting antibiotics when you eat meat. This applies to farmed fish too, with farmed salmon showing high concentrations of antibiotics.
reduce inflammation – this ties in with the food above – because a lot of inflammation in our body actually comes from food, unfortunately. We now know that omega 6 can cause inflammation in the body, for example, and this is found in common cooking oils like canola and vegetable oils. For some people gluten and dairy can cause inflammation too.
reduce refined sugar – sugar feeds bad bacteria in the gut and tips the balance of a healthy microbiome. There are many other harmful effects of sugar which I won’t go into here… sugar should really be re-labeled as a toxin in my opinion but who doesn’t love the sweet taste! Once in a while, I do allow some indulgence and it’s hard to be totally sugar-free but when I can I use alternatives (monk fruit, stevia).
reduce stress – Let's be real, who isn't stressed? I know I am a work in progress in this area but working on stress reduction has been a game-changer for my health. Stress can actually shift your gut bacteria and lead to leaky gut.
So now that we’ve looked at ways to minimize harm on our gut, what’s next?
Well, we need to look at ways in which we can help it heal – stay tuned for my next article on how we can help our gut to heal.