More than 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut”. Modern medicine often ignores this organ that is central to our health. Conditions associated with poor gut health include not only common gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) but also diseases that manifest outside of the gut. These include conditions such as osteoporosis; autoimmune diseases; cancer; allergies and asthma; skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, acne; neurological conditions such as autism, ADD, dementia, and depression; and nonspecific symptoms such as headaches, joint pain and fatigue. Working towards healing the gut can often improve and sometimes even cure these conditions.
Proper gastrointestinal function is a complex process that requires a multitude of hormones, neurotransmitters, digestive and pancreatic enzymes, cofactors, fiber and good bacteria. The gut is central to good health and provides more functions than most people realize:
- Most people appreciate that digestion and absorption take place in the gut, allowing for breaking down and absorption of nutrients that are essential to life.
- Few people realize that 70% of our immunity, our ability to fight infection, lies in the gut. The trillions of “good” bacteria that normally live in our gastrointestinal tract help control the “bad guys” such as bacteria, parasites, and viruses from causing disease.
- The gut is integral in detoxification and elimination of the many toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis including preservatives, pesticides, hormone-like substances, and heavy metals. If the gut is not healthy and bowel movements are not regular, then this detoxification process will be hampered.
- The gut has been referred to as “the second brain” because the gut contains more nerve cells than the spinal cord and has a nervous system that functions independently from the brain. The gut contains as many neurotransmitters as the brain and 95% of our serotonin which gives us our sense of well-being. This explains the strong link between health of the gut and mood, memory and attention disorders.
Six Simple Steps to a Healthy Gut:
1. Avoid high sugar foods and refined carbohydrates. These foods do not promote a growth of friendly bacteria.
2. If possible, avoid medications that damage the environment of the gut, such as anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, acid blockers, and steroids. Always consult your doctor before stopping medications. Work on healing the gut first then consider tapering off medications under the supervision of your physician.
3. Lower your stress with relaxation techniques and/or controlled breathing. Stress can damage the lining of the gut and cause an imbalance of the good bacteria.
4. Eliminate foods which can damage the gut. The most common food allergies/sensitivities are wheat (gluten), soy, tree nuts, corn and dairy. Cut these foods out for 4 weeks then bring them back into your diet every 3 days to see if these foods cause a problem.
5. Eat a diet high in fiber: veggies, fruits, beans, nuts/seeds, and whole grains which promote regular elimination and growth of good bacteria.
6. Certain supplements such as probiotics, Omega-3 fatty acids, digestive enzymes, zinc, glutamine and herbs can be used to promote the health of the GI tract.
If you have any of the conditions listed above, consider consulting a physician specializing in Functional or Integrative Medicine. Go to Institute for Functional Medicine or American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine for a list of physicians.