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Fed up with digestive discomfort? Four steps to gut health

You don’t have to live with digestive discomfort, acid reflux or GERD, bloating, or always needing to know where the toilet is or being constipated for days.

I’ve talked about before how it is possible to find the root causes of IBS. In this article, I’ll explore what a process to find out what is going on and then heal your gut might look.

There are four logical steps to work through to regain gut health. It is possible to do this on your own, and Dr Ruscio offers a good protocol in his book. However, I would suggest working with a Functional Medicine practitioner such as myself, to provide expert guidance and support which can be invaluable during this process.

1) Remove

In this phase, we remove everything that may be stressing your gut and causing inflammation. But to begin with, we need to know what your personal stressors are …

If it’s suspected that you have a parasite or overgrowth, such as Candida, a bacterial or protozoa overgrowth, Helicopter Pylori, or a virus, I recommend the GI Map test offered by Nutripath in Australia. It’s a stool test that can be done from the comfort of your home. It uses the DNA of the microbes in your stool and so is very precise. It also analyses markers for leaky gut, IBD, and gut inflammation, making it a very complete test. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) testing may also be appropriate.

When working with a practitioner, lab testing isn’t always necessary or within budget. In which case, the approach is based can be based on clinical symptoms, history, and treatment response.

If parasites are found or are likely, then there are a number of options including herbal anti-microbials, specific probiotics, and antibiotics. I work with the first two options but you always have the option of talking to your GP about the antibiotic option once we’ve identified the issue through testing.

Particular foods can also be a stressor for some people. This can include trigger foods such as gluten, dairy, added sugar, oxalates or histamine containing foods. When working with a client, I often start with dietary change. Ensuring enough digestive enzymes and stomach acid production is also important to ensure our food is digested properly.

I find the Low FODMAP diet helps many people with IBS. The first phase of the diet removes high FODMAP foods which may be causing your gut symptoms. After two to six weeks, we systematically re-introduce these foods. This allows us to identify your trigger foods which can be selectively avoided in the future. 

2) Repair

When there’s inflammation in the gut, you can also expect there to be increased intestinal permeability, commonly known as Leaky Gut. A leaky gut allows toxins, larger food molecules, unwanted bacteria, and viruses to enter the bloodstream. Lining the gut, we have the mucosal system which protects us from these threats. Any gut healing protocol needs to also support this immune system to see results!

When foreign substances pass through the gut barrier, the immune system is called into action to defend us from the invaders and inflammation results. This is bad news and has been linked to a diverse range of symptoms such as food sensitivities, fatigue, brain fog, nutrient malabsorption, and has been linked to a diseases in remote organs in the body e.g. kidney, lungs, liver.

To heal a leaky gut, you also need to consider your lifestyle such as stress levels, making time for yourself, and getting enough sleep. Getting the nutrients you need to support the immune system lining our gut, as well as repairing the gut wall are important. Foods, which contain these nutrients include bone broth, stewed apples, as well as polyphenol-rich foods such as blueberries, blackberries, purple sweet potatoes, purple carrots. The choice of supplements varies from person to person but could include such as Colostrum, L_Glutamine, and Zinc, probiotics such as Sacchromyces Boulardi or Lactobacillus GG. 

3) Reseed

This phase is all about encouraging a diverse range of ‘good’ gut bacteria. This is vital as, without it, your gut issues are likely to return. Time needs to be spent fixing your gut microbiome. It’s a necessity for ongoing gut health!

We can reseed our guts through probiotics, fermented foods, and also soluble fibres known as prebiotics. Our gut bugs love fibre rich veggies and whole grains such as flax seed, chia seed, buckwheat and other non-gluten containing grains.

By this stage, you should be able to handle more prebiotics than you could in stage 1. Healthy high FODMAP foods and resistant starches can be introduced to feed your ‘good’ gut bacteria. Remember high FODMAP foods are often healthy foods and we want to be able to eat them without problems.

For probiotics, there a number of options including a Lactobacillus / Bifidobacterium blend, Saccharomyces Boulardii, and soil-based probiotics. Different types of probiotics work for different people, and I urge you to experiment with a different type if you are not responding to a particular one. For instance, if you are not responding to a Lactobacillus / Bifidobacterium blend after a 4-6 week trial, then try a soil based probiotic. When trialing a probiotic like this, you are looking for a reduction in your personal symptoms, and noticing how it makes you feel.

Saccharomyces Boulardii and Lactobacillus GG have also been found to combat Candida and pathogenic bacterial overgrowth.

4) Rebalance

This final stage is all about preserving the gains from the previous stages. We pay particular attention to lifestyle choices such as sleep, exercise, and stress.

Of particular interest is that when we eat, as well as what we eat. Nowadays, we tend to eat all day (16 hours) and fast for just 8 hours overnight. It’s during this fasting period that the gut lining repairs itself and the body can clear out unprocessed foods and bacteria from the small intestine. This helps prevent small bacteria overgrowth or SIBO through a process known as the ‘migrating motor complex’.

Spending longer periods without food, say 12 or even 16 hours overnight, and reducing snacking, may help your gut health, improve your overall health and prevent chronic diseases.

Everyone is different

These four steps provide a framework for regaining gut health. But that doesn’t mean everyone should follow exactly the same steps, and that’s where the experience and training of a practitioner can be invaluable.

If you have any questions, I’m always happy to help so please get in touch. To know more about how you can work with me, you can find out more here.

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Stephen Ward (MSc) is trained in assessing the root cause of chronic health issues through Functional Medicine.

He uses nutrition, lifestyle changes, and nutraceuticals (targeted supplements) to help you achieve your goals and improve your health.