*Note from A Chronic Voice: Did you know that up to 70% of our immune system resides in our gut? For those of us with autoimmune diseases, a lot of what our medications do is to suppress our immune system as a whole. While this may control painful inflammation, they weaken our immunity at the same time. As such, I have been taking more interest in gut health of late. I admit to not being the most disciplined of eaters out there, but I need to get off my lazy ass and make eating well part of my lifestyle.
We’re honoured to have Katie of “Elysium Health Solutions” with us today! She is a qualified naturopath, and shares some important knowledge about gut health here:
If you are struggling with health and managing a chronic condition, you need to be making your gut health a priority…like yesterday! I’m sure you’ve heard about gut health and leaky gut. It seems like everyone is talking about it these days, and maybe you’re thinking it’s just the latest craze with no merit behind it. Well, the truth is that the science is finally catching up with what us naturopaths have been saying about health all along.
“All disease begins in the gut.” Hippocrates
Genetic coding plays an integral role in what diseases we are predisposed to. But the integrity of our gut, exposure to stress, inflammation, and our nutritional status underlines these disease processes. In some cases, it ‘switches them on’. There are many factors that play a key role in the progression of our disease, flares, and how comfortable we feel in our entire body. Some of these are: healing and sealing, managing fluctuating stress hormones, reducing chronic, systemic low-grade inflammation, and supporting our body’s nutritional status.
Why is Gut Health so Important?
Think about your skin and how it creates a seal between your internal and external environment. When this seal is broken, things can penetrate into our body that we don’t want there, such as microbes, bacteria and foreign objects. This triggers our immune system, which comes to deal with this threat, to heal and seal the skin. Our gut lining is the same. It seals our external environment from our internal one, but it is more porous because it has to let some things through (like nutrients from our food). We also can’t see it, and so the only way we know there is potentially some degree of break down in our gut is during cases of chronic low grade inflammation. As with the skin, if things are getting through the gut that shouldn’t be, the immune system will be alerted and try to repair the leaks.
With our current lifestyle and food choices, you would be hard pressed finding someone who doesn’t have some degree of gut permeability. This is actually an integral reason for autoimmune conditions and food allergies. It is also a triggering factor in most disease flare ups. So healing and sealing your gut, and maintaining the integrity of the gut wall, is one of the most important things to do when managing and optimising your health.
What Breaks Down the Gut Lining?
- Microbial imbalances in the gut.
- Pesticides, herbicides and chemicals in our food.
- Gluten increases the permeability of the gut wall, acting on a protein called zonulin. If you have an autoimmune condition, I strongly suggest removing all grains from your diet and getting your microbiome tested for any pathogenic microbes.
- A diet high in refined foods, with added chemicals and preservatives, and any food allergies.
- Chronic, ongoing stress (even when you think you are ‘managing stress’ as we said earlier, there is a cascade of hormone imbalances and immune down regulation. This will affect your physical body or meat suit).
- Some medications.
- Nutritional deficiencies.
- Inflammation (this can be a chicken or the egg scenario. What came first – the inflammation or the condition? Either way they go hand in hand. As with your disease process, inflammation drives gut permeability. This is why addressing gut permeability is first and foremost in all treatment protocols – because inflammation drives disease and gut permeability drives inflammation).
What Can I Do About Gut Permeability?
Remove aggravating factors from your diet and environment. Where possible reduce the factors listed above. This is going to come down to what you can do in your current circumstances. It may not always be possible to avoid all these things and this is ok; awareness is the key. If you have to expose your gut to these things, just clean up afterwards. For example if you have a course of antibiotics, make sure you do a gut healing protocol, and supplement with probiotics afterwards. Or if you notice your inflammation peaking, do include some natural anti-inflammatories in your meals. If there are some medications you need to take, make sure you understand the full effects they have on your body, and not just the treatment effects. Support your body’s natural metabolism with naturally detoxifying foods like greens, beetroot and artichoke.
Correct nutritional deficiencies. Like your skin, you gut is a membrane which is a combination of tightly formed cells that create a barrier. These cells need certain nutritional factors to form the membrane, like building blocks of a wall. You can’t make a sturdy wall if you are missing an ingredient like cement or bricks; it just won’t hold together the way you want it to.
The tricky thing with gut issues is that you will typically also experience malnutrition, because you aren’t digesting and absorbing your food properly. Important nutrients include: quercetin (an antioxidant that reduces inflammation and histamine responses), turmeric, zinc, glutamine, ginger and prebiotics fiber like inulin.
Heal and seal the gut. Healing and sealing the gut is kind of those first two points combined. To heal and seal the gut we need to remove what is breaking down the integrity of the gut in the first place. Then we need to ensure that the body is getting adequate nutrition to repair the mucous membranes. Bone broth and fermented foods should be included into your diet daily at the very least; in every meal if you can during the first few weeks of treatment. There are also some fantastic herbs that have a positive effect on supporting the healing of your gut wall, like licorice, aloe vera, marshmallow and slippery elm. To get a specific treatment protocol catered specifically for your needs, I would advise working with a naturopath.
Feed a healthy microbiome (the ecosystem of microbes in your gut). By now you probably know what probiotics are, but do you know what prebiotics are? Those bacteria are nothing without something to eat, and prebiotics are the food that feed the bacteria. What we eat drives what colonises in our gut. The healthy, cooperative bacteria we want in our body eats fiber. If we have a diet high in sugar or some types of fats and even starches, we can drive pathogenic levels of bacteria that cause illness in our body. This is why testing your microbiota can be so helpful. We can pinpoint any pathogenic bacteria that is driving your disease and inflammatory processes.
So the take home point is: while this can be a huge and overwhelming topic if you haven’t been introduced to it before, your gut health needs to be a priority if your health is a priority.
*Note: This article is meant for educational purposes only, and shouldn’t be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your doctor first before changing protocols. Thank you once again to Katie for taking the time to share her naturopathic knowledge and thoughts with us!
If you suffer from IBD, IBS, Crohn’s Disease, Celiac Disease, or another gut-related disorder, Tayler Silfverduk is a Dietetic Technician Registered (DTR) and her website has many tasty, gluten-free recipes you can try out. Jenna of “A Balanced Belly” is another chronic illness blogger who dishes out many ‘free from’ recipes. Sara Russell of “Build Nurture Restore” is a Nutritional Therapist (NTP), with a focus on nutrition within your family.
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For More Insight:
- Probiotics and diet: learning the facts about gut health (article on Mayo Clinic): https://goo.gl/XkQMXy
- What a hunter-gatherer diet does to the body in just three days (article on CNN): https://goo.gl/NEsVCw
- Gut microbes closely linked to proper immune function, other health issues (article on Science Daily): https://goo.gl/YzYvXk
- The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity (article on ncbi.nlm.nih.gov): https://goo.gl/tGC2cZ
- The gut microbiome shapes intestinal immune responses during health and disease (article on ncbi.nlm.nih.gov): https://goo.gl/wYBYYM