Digestive complaints like GERD/acid reflux, gas, bloating, nausea, constipation, and diarrhea are becoming more common. It’s always important to see your GI doctor to rule out things like celiac disease, SIBO, ulcers, gallbladder disease or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). However, at the root of a lot of these conditions is poor gut and digestive capacity from your stomach to your colon. Knowing what disrupts a heathy microbiome is the first step to right track gut function and calm inflammation.
We can all agree that GI distress can be at best uncomfortable and at worst, painful, embarrassing and even debilitating. Many of these complaints can be linked to a disrupted microbiome (called dysbiosis), poor digestive capacity (in the stomach or small intestine), a leaky gut lining (called intestinal permeability), and even eating the wrong foods (or not eating the right ones)!
What Is Your Microbiome?
The microbiome is the collection of commensal bacteria that lives in your digestive tract. While you have varying levels of bacteria all through your GI system, the biggest collection lies in your colon and is known as your microbiome. These bacteria offer a wide range of benefits to the host (YOU!) including:
- Synthesis of B vitamins, folic acid and vitamin K
- Breakdown of fiber to create SCFAs that reduce inflammation, aid in blood sugar control and support metabolism/weight loss
- Synthesis of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine
- Immune systen modulation
- Help to keep mucosal lining of GI tract intact/protects against leaky gut
- Support normal bowel habits
- Keep fungi (like yeast) and other pathogenic bacterial strains in check
- Metabolize estrogens
- Convert 20% of thyroid hormone to its active form
What are some things that disrupt the microbiome and digestive function?
- Birth control
- Processed/Low Fiber Diets
- NSAID Use
- Low Stomach Acid
- Gluten/Food Sensitivities
- Environmental toxins
What can you do to improve gut function?
- DITCH THE GLUTEN – While this is the topic of ongoing research, removing gluten containing grains (wheat, barley, rye, and spelt) may help restore gut health. A 2015 ex-vivo study found that gliadin, a component of gluten, causes intestinal permeability in those who are sensitive to gluten to some degree, whether it be non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) or celiac disease. Increased intestinal permeability can cause an endotoxin called LPS and other undigested food particles to enter the bloodstream. They are pegged as foreign by the immune system which sparks inflammation and future food sensitivities. Some experts such as Dr. David Perlmutter, a well respected neurologist, are now thinking that it’s possible we are all sensitive to gluten because of its potential role in increased intestinal permeability, neurological disease and autoimmunity. Whether we experience negative symptoms from eating gluten or not, silent inflammation may be affecting our gut health, and consequently our brains through the gut-brain connection, increasing our risk of neurological diseases down the road. If you suspect a sensitivity to gluten, you can talk to your doctor about getting a test, or simply eliminate it from your diet for 4-6 weeks and assess your symptoms upon reintroduction.
- IDENTIFY FOOD SENSITIVITIES – Certain foods may irritate the linking of the intestine leaky gut, which opens you up for chronic widespread immune activation and inflammation. Avoiding gluten is a good first step if you struggle with digestive health, but it’s also important to discern if you have other food triggers as well. This is done either through an elimination diet (which eliminates common triggers such as gluten, dairy, soy, red meat, eggs and corn) or through food sensitivity testing like the MRT testing that we offer. Some find that after following a protocol to heal their gut lining that they can tolerate certain foods again, while others may need to avoid a certain food long term.
- AVOID ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS – We are exposed to countless toxins in today’s modern world that can disrupt our gut microbiome. Our water and food supply, plastics, cleaning supplies, personal care products and cookware can all contribute to this burden. Read our blog about environmental toxins here to learn more about reducing your total toxic burden.
- EAT FERMENTED FOODS – Fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, yogurt and miso provide probiotics (live active cultures) and postbiotics (by products of microbial fermentation) which confer benefits to the flora living in our colon, known as your microbiome. The term postbiotics is relatively new on the scene of gut health. It used to be widely accepted that fermented foods contained probiotics, live active cultures that helped to colonize the gut. However, research is starting to show that fermented foods’ benefit may be due in large part to postbiotics instead. While probiotics are live active cultures, postbiotics are technically a waste product created by microbial organisms as they ferment their food (Think of postbiotics as the end result of probiotics doing their work). They are important for gut health because they keep pathogenic bacterial strains in check, support your commensal bacteria and help to modulate the immune system as well as gut barrier function. Aim for at least one serving per day. Note: Work with a healthcare provider to make sure yeast overgrowth/candida is not an issue for you, as intake of fermented foods can worsen symptoms.
- EAT LOTS OF FIBER – Prebiotic fiber, like that found in Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, garlic, onions, asparagus, and dandelion greens, serve as fuel for the beneficial bacteria in our gut. Prebiotic fiber is fermented by the bacteria in our microbiome into short chain fatty acids (SCFA) like butyrate which serve as fuel for our colonocytes (colon cells) and help reduce the risk of colon cancer and leaky gut. If we don’t feed our good bacteria, they will start breaking down the mucosal lining of the gut leading to inflammation and leaky gut.
- SAY GOODBYE TO STRESS – Cortisol is our main stress hormone, released by the adrenal glands when our body perceives a stressor. Whether a physical or a psychosocial stressor, our body reacts the same way. Cortisol has been shown to disrupt the balance of bacteria in our large intestine, contribute to leaky gut, and down regulate the turnover of mucosal cells lining the intestine. Finding a good social network, deep breathing and meditation, enjoying time in nature and taking probiotics may all help to mitigate the stress response.
- SLOW DOWN – Digestion starts in our mouth. In fact, it starts when we smell food! Our salivary glands secrete digestive enzymes that start working in our mouth. If we eat quickly or don’t chew our food well, that can set us up for bloating, acid reflux and indigestion. Next time you eat a meal, try to slow down when you’re eating, making a conscious effort to chew your food well before swallowing. It’s a good rule of thumb to make your meals last at least 20 minutes!
- FAST BETWEEN MEALS FOR AT LEAST 4-5 HOURS-we have a built in system known as the Migrating Motor Complex that serves a a vacuum to help clean the stomach and small intestines during fasting. It happens about 3-5 hours between meals and the purpose is to clean out undigested foods and excess bacteria. If we do not ever give our gut a break from eating, then this system does not get to do its job.
- TAKE GUT HEALING NUTRIENTS – Always work with a health professional before starting any kind of supplement. Here are some of our favorite nutrients that help repair the gut lining, support digestion and recondition the microbiome:
- Probiotics/Prebiotic Fiber
- Vitamin A
- Zinc Carnosine
- Digestive Enzymes/Betaine Hcl/Ox Bile
- Demulcents (Slippery elm, Marshmallow Root, DGL)
- DON’T GUESS, TAKE A TEST– Gut health affects EVERYTHING. A functional stool test is key to understanding how your gut health may be affecting your health. A stool test is designed to assess your microbiome with attention to bacterial, parasitic and viral pathogens that can cause disease, disrupt the normal microbial balance and contribute to chronic illness. Identifying gut imbalances presents an opportunity for the healing journey to begin, helping you to feel better and support your overall health! For more information about how to order a stool test, contact us today!
There are many factors that impact the health of our GI tract, and many are still being researched. A healthy diet rich in healthy fats and fiber and low in processed grains and sugars is also very important to restoring a healthy gut lining and keeping our microbiome happy. Got questions? Let us know. We are here to help you on our gut health journey!