Hippocrates, thousands of years ago, said that “all disease begins in the gut.” The more that I get into human optimization and functional medicine, the more I realize that this quote is true. The gut is our biggest interaction with the outside world and it is exposed to things regularly throughout the day. If we continually expose it to things that cause inflammation and dysfunction, then our gut will erode and with it will go nutrient absorption and proper immune function. If we can eliminate the things causing inflammation and give our gut what it needs to heal, then our body is capable of healing amazing things.
The microbiome in our intestine is a collection of trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. When we are healthy, there is a symbiotic relationship with all of these bugs where we get immune system training and improved nutrition (i.e. B vitamin production by the bacteria) and they get a home. If we aren’t healthy, then they are capable of taking over, causing inflammation that eventually results in disease throughout the body.
The first step in healing your gut is eliminating the foods high in plant lectins, plant pesticides, oxalates, fiber, and other plant compounds that can be difficult for your gut to digest. This is mostly found in the roots, stems, nuts, seeds, and leaves of the plant. This is the part of the plant that doesn’t want to be eaten and thus has the highest quantity of compounds to deter you from eating it. Plants have no way of defending themselves other than producing chemicals that interfere with our hormones, gut function, and immune system and thus eliminating the parts of the plant high in these chemicals can be immensely beneficial, at least in the short term. Notice that I didn’t say fruit as this is the part of the plant that wants to be eaten and thus has the lowest levels of these compounds.
Another big aspect of gut health is glyphosate exposure. Glyphosate has been shown to have antibiotic properties, essentially wiping out much of our healthy flora as well as having a paralytic effect on the gut, linking it to constipation. If you look at the prevalence of inflammatory bowel disease and death from intestinal infections, it has increased in lockstep with glyphosate exposure. It has also been shown that glyphosate up regulates a protein called zonulin. This protein is involved in gut barrier and when production is increased your gut is more leaky. This allows your immune system to interact with everything you eat in ways that wouldn’t normally happen and can lead to the development of autoimmune disease. Finally, it raises the intestinal pH, which decreases the amount of butyrate and other short chain fatty acids, which supply our intestine with energy. In essence, eating organic food free from glyphosate and other pesticides is a big step in the right direction as far as our gut health is concerned.
Third, we need to add in beneficial bacteria. This is can be in the form of being outside in the dirt, eating food with dirt on it, eating yogurt or other fermented foods, and probiotic supplements. I am a big fan of the first 3 and only use supplements in certain circumstances. Yogurt is my personal favorite way of doing this and I use Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus gasseri, Bacillus coagulans, and Bifidobacteria infantis to make my yogurt. L. reuteri has been shown to make smoother skin, accelerate healing, and improve muscle. L. gasseri has been shown to improve IBS, reduce oxalates, and protect against SIBO. B. coagulans reduces symptoms of IBS and also accelerates recovery. B. inantis is essential for a healthy developing gut and should be included in a yogurt for anyone pregnant. This combination promotes overall gut health and is something I try to get in twice per day. If I use a probiotic, I will recommend Megaspore by Microbiome Labs and/or Seed probiotic. However, I always prefer to get these from food if possible.
How do you know if these interventions have worked? There really isn’t great testing for the gut so we rely on symptoms. Are you having well formed bowel movements without having to wipe much? Are you having minimal gas and bloating? Are your autoimmune, metabolic, neurologic, etc. symptoms improving? If yes to the above, then its likely your gut is getting better.
Now go out and try some of the above interventions and see how you do!