Hello dear friends!
In case you haven’t already heard, digestive health is the new hot thing in the wellness world. With books on the subject now clocking in the hundreds (including goodies like Clean Gut, Brain Maker, and Wheat Belly), information about the importance of our gut in our overall wellness is more available than ever. Which I think is fantastic! I believe that the origin of many of our modern ailments lies in the amazingly complex ecosystem right in our GI tract.
Your body plays host to billions of microorganisms, most of them working in harmony to keep you safe, balanced, and healthy. There are bacteria everywhere from your skin to your intestines, part of your unique biological “fingerprint” that makes you you. We are just beginning to understand the complexity of the ecosystem that lives in your digestive tract and how important it is in maintaining your wellness. People are calling digestive health the next big advancement in medicine and could hold the key to unlocking many complex disease processes. After all, the gut is the cornerstone of your vitality system: this is where you absorb all the nutrients from your food and supplements, where most of your blood gets shunted during everyday activities, and where a vast network of immune cells and nerve cells resides.
Recent research suggests that the particular types and amounts of bacteria present in your gut can impact everything from your weight and your immune function to your cognitive abilities and mood. Our symbiotic relationship with microbes has evolved over the millennia to bring us to where we are today- a truly complex and fascinating specimen of interdependence. We begin to colonize our guts from the second we are born, and continue to ingest and absorb different strains of bacteria throughout our lifetimes, which in turn affects our state of health in the present moment. Yes, the dirt you ate as a toddler and the ice cream you ate as a teenager still are a part of you and your biology, for better or for worse.
When we are trying to heal, whether that’s from a simple cold virus or a chronic autoimmune condition, many of us don’t think to look for answers in our digestive tract. However, digestive and gut-related disorders are at an all-time high in our society, with IBS, Crohn’s disease, gluten-intolerance, Candidiasis, Celiac disease, and small-intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) topping the list as the most common afflictions. I think the uptick in these diseases is irrevocably linked to our declining health as a whole, and when you factor in things like nutrition, stress, and environmental toxins, it’s not hard to see how. Whether you have one of these illnesses or not, it is worth the look into your gut and focus some of your healing efforts there.
The fact is, you most likely have some form of gut dysfunction and may not even know it. As many doctors in holistic and functional medicine have long suspected, complex maladies like CFS, MS, fibromyalgia, lupus, and clinical depression may be linked to something going awry at the digestive level. Even so-called “common” ailments like occasional bloating and diarrhea, general fatigue, dull skin, and body odor can be traced back to a GI origin. The problem is, there are not many accurate and available diagnostic tests to confirm these suspicions, so healing the gut is usually done on your own, or under a doctor-supervised program (when you can find a doctor specializing in this relatively new field, that is).
If you really want to get to the root of your illness and tackle your healing in a well-rounded and deep way, it’s time to examine your gut. The most common way to dig in and begin this type of therapy is by using the 4 R’s: remove, replace, repair, restore. And be aware that this type of healing is intensive and must be done correctly in order to have lasting (often lifelong) results- things may seem extreme to you, but I suppose so is living the rest of your life in pain and illness! So let’s walk through your plan to dramatically improve your state of wellbeing using the power of your gut.
Yep, let’s just get the hard stuff over and done with right off the bat! First, you need to remove things from your diet that stress the environment of your GI tract, like pro-inflammatory foods and chemical irritants. If you aren’t sure what you react negatively to, this is a great place to start, or you may back up a step and do a thorough elimination diet, although this is not absolutely necessary when following the 4 R’s. The removal phase generally eliminates common allergens like wheat (all grains for those with autoimmune disease), dairy, eggs, peanuts, corn and soy for several weeks, along with abstaining from alcohol and caffeine. Also during this time, artificial sweeteners, dyes, and additives should be avoided. This allows your immune system to chill out and bad bacteria to die off.
I know it doesn’t necessarily sound like much fun, but if you commit to doing the removal phase 100%, you probably won’t have to do it again! This is a huge step in identifying your food triggers, breaking your additions to coffee and booze (if you have them), and reducing inflammation throughout your whole system. You can also incorporate a natural or herbal anti-fungal and anti-bacterial during this phase if you have serious GI symptoms.
You’ve cleaned up your diet, eliminated lots of digestive trigger foods, and flushed out the overload of bad bacteria and yeast. So now it’s time to replace some of the good things back into your body and regain a sense of balance in your system. Build back a good stomach pH with things like Betaine HCL, pepsin, or a combo of digestive herbs and enzymes. You may also need to add in other enzymes, if you have had trouble digesting fats or your lab work has shown unusual organ functioning in your pancreas or liver. If you’ve struggled with acid reflux or similar issues, this is the step where you really need to step up your game. Now is the time to flood your system with the building blocks it needs for healthy digestion and absorption.
I’d also advise not to “push it” with new foods or challenging foods to digest during this phase (remember it’s only temporary- you’re not giving up those enchiladas forever), as you want to find some balance and strength first. Nourish your cells with extra easy foods right now, and add in some extras like bone broth, avocados, red beets, and supplements like rice bran oil, fermented cod liver oil, and antioxidants.
Now that you’ve got a handle on your inflammation, it’s time to heal and repair the gut lining. Nutrition is a key component here, as your body is crying out for lots of nourishment, so load up on your leafy greens, healthy fats, organic proteins, and lots of fresh produce. Drink extra water and refrain from any foods that irritate you, which you learned in the first step, and cut down on your sugar intake. This is also a great time to add in some extra supplements like super antioxidants, omega-3s, turmeric, aloe vera, and L-glutamine, which will help regenerate healthy tissue and replenish any damage that has been done from years of unhealthy diet or heavy medication use.
Take extra good care of yourself during this phase, because now is when you’re laying the groundwork for your future healthy gut. In addition to good nutrition, make sure you get plenty of sleep and manage your stress. Now is not the time to do a late-night Netflix binge or tackle a strenuous new project. You can even send your gut extra love through focused meditation, reiki, and crystal healing therapy if you’d like.
This phase, also called the “re-inoculation” phase, is when you reintroduce good bacteria to your gut environment and try to populate your GI tract with as much of the beneficial stuff as possible. You’ve eliminated problem foods and spend time repairing the cells and lining of your intestines, so now it’s time to bring in the big guns! This includes the addition of a high-quality probiotic (with several different strains and preferably 30 billion CFU or higher), and other pre- and pro-biotic foods like kombucha, kimchi, yogurt (dairy or non-dairy, depending on your body), miso, and kefir. Also, if you were taking an herbal anti-bacterial or anti-fungal, stop before you get to this step, otherwise you risk killing off the good guys you’re trying to grow.
If you find that you can tolerate it, you can add in a bit more fiber and naturally-occurring sugars during this phase, as this is what bacteria feed off of. But only a little! Go on a 3-day donut bender and you might risk undoing all the hard work you’ve already accomplished. I’d recommend just a little fresh fruit or raw honey for sweetness, and loading up your plate with more fibrous veggies like cabbage, asparagus, root vegetables, and Brussels sprouts.
I highly recommend recruiting a friend or family member to be your buddy through the 4 R program- it’s so much easier to see it through to the end when you have someone to be accountable to.
So, friends- what do you think? Have you tried this before? Are you thinking to yourself, “hell no”? Give me your thoughts! And as always…
~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~