Did you know that your body contains more bacterial cells than it does actual human cells? The majority of these bacteria live within your gastrointestinal tract and are known as the gut microbiota. This bacterial ecosystem begins to form immediately at birth and will determine your resistance to disease, allergens, pathogens, food poisoning and the incidence of mental health issues throughout your life.
The intestinal flora plays a number of important roles within the body, the chief being the regulation of the immune system. The gut flora and mucosal lining together are also responsible for breaking down food, absorbing nutrients, producing neurotransmitter and for synthesising and activating specific vitamins.
Indications that your gut health is compromised include digestive symptoms such as constipation, bloating, gas, reflux and diarrhoea. Other seemingly unlinked diseases can actually stem from gut problems. Allergies, arthritis, chronic fatigue, acne and heart disease can all result from poor gut health.
Even if your gut did not have a great start in life there are steps you can take to strengthen your gastrointestinal tract and increase your resistance to disease.
Consuming foods that you are allergic to trigger an inflammatory response within the gut that can damage the intestinal mucosal lining. A food allergy test can help narrow down specific foods that you are sensitive to, or you could undertake an elimination diet. Start by completely removing common allergens such as gluten, dairy, corn, yeasts, soy and genetically modified foods. After two weeks monitor your gut and allergic symptoms and see what happens when you add these back in one by one. If symptoms reoccur then you should consider permanently avoiding those foods.
Even if you have never travelled overseas, your gut could still be harbouring parasites. Laboratory testing can help to determine a parasitic infection, or you can look out for common symptoms including fatigue, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, and unexplained weight loss. Speak to your naturopath about how you can safely eliminate these parasites without further damaging the gut mucosa.
Correct your diet
A diet high in sugar and deficient in nutrients encourages the overgrowth of certain bacteria and yeast. Candida albicans is a good example of naturally occurring yeast that in excess can cause thrush and bloating. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth should also be tested for and addressed.
Antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, steroids and antacids
These can damage the gut wall and disrupt digestive function. Conventional meat products also contain antibiotics so ensure that you choose meat that is hormone and antibiotic free. Grass fed is also best as it contains less arachidonic acid, which can promote inflammation within the gut.
Detox from mercury and other toxins
Mercury from amalgam fillings can damage the cells of the intestinal walls allowing larger toxins or food molecules to pass through the gut wall. This causes inflammation throughout the body in a condition called ‘leaky gut’. The removal of these fillings should only be addressed by a biological dentist who follows specific safety protocols. A detoxification program would be beneficial before and after amalgam removal to prepare the eliminating organs of the body and to ensure mercury is mobilised and safely removed from the tissues. Mould contamination in your house can also pose an issue for gut microbiota.
Reduce stress levels
Supporting a balanced stress response is critical for maintaining intestinal health. The expression “I feel sick to my stomach” is an accurate description of what occurs when we experience stress. Chronic stress upsets the balance of intestinal microbiota and alters the gut nervous system, which can lead to damage to the intestinal wall. Adequate sleep and exercise are crucial for reducing stress levels. Additional support with adaptogenic herbs found in products like Living Valley Body Guard can help support your adrenal glands and your body’s response to stress.
Consume foods that encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria
Prebiotics are foods that are high in insoluble fibre and provide the fuel that feeds the ‘friendly’ bacteria of the gut. While probiotics increase the number ‘friendly’ bacteria in the gut and crowd out the ‘bad’ bacteria, prebiotics help to maintain healthy bacteria colonies once they have been introduced. Prebiotic foods include brown rice, bananas, lentils, garlic, chickpeas, sweet potato, leeks, artichoke and onion. Raw cultured dairy is a great probiotic food and coconut kefir is a great alternative if you have a dairy intolerance. Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi and kvass are also fantastic probiotic foods and can assist to balance intestinal pH levels.
Chronic stress, zinc deficiency and acid-lowering medications can reduce digestive enzyme function. As enzymes, stomach acid and bile salts are all necessary for proper digestion of food and for keeping opportunistic bacteria at bay, your body may need additional support while your gut is healing. You can take supplemental digestive enzyme support and increase foods that contain digestive enzymes like papain from pawpaw and bromelain from pineapple.
Gut healing substances
Bone broth is a superfood for gut health that should be consumed daily. It is rich in collagen and the amino acids proline and glycine that help repair the mucosal cells in your gut lining. The amino acid L-glutamine is also essential for healing the gut wall by reducing intestinal inflammation and acting as a coating over the intestinal walls protecting the mucosal cells from irritants. L-glutamine can be taken in supplement form.
For a more thorough investigation of how your gut could be compromising your health speak to one of the Living Valley naturopaths or book into any of our retreat programs. Contact us today to see how we can help.
You can also take a look at our range of naturopathically designed health products, including Breakfast Boost.