Catchy headlines poke fun at the gluten-free ‘fad’, and many GPs still do not believe non-celiac gluten sensitivity could be affecting their patients. But many people are finding that they feel better when they avoid gluten. So what does the research tell us? In case you didn’t know, gluten is a family of proteins found […]
Health and Vitality begins in the Gut
Being healthy arguably starts in the digestive tract. Your gut contains a complex eco-system of bacteria, viruses and yeast that affect everything from food cravings to your mood and your thinking i.e. they shape how you experience the world around you.
When there is imbalance in this ecosystem, your body may develop signs of imbalance such as digestive problems, brain fog, food sensitivities, hormonal issues such as a disrupted menstrual cycle, auto-immunity, fatigue and insomnia.
The good news is that we can treat the gut effectively using an anti-inflammatory diet, supplements, and stress-management techniques.
The most obvious signs of a disturbance in your gastro-intestinal system are digestive issues such as reflux, indigestion, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation, and food sensitivities.
Over time, these disturbances also affect the functioning of the gut. This may limit nutrient absorption, and promote inflammation which can dysregulate the immune system across your entire body causing a wide range of symptoms.
Related symptoms that may develop outside of the gut include
- Anxiety and depression
- Skin conditions including acne, psoriasis, and eczema
- Brain fog
- Joint pain
- Female hormone imbalances such as PCOS, PMS, abnormal cycle length or flow
- Male hormone imbalances such as low libido, erectile dysfunction, and related metabolic dysregulation
- Autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s and MS
- Histamine intolerance and/or sinus congestion
Whether you are struggling with digestive issues or a seemingly unrelated health issue, improving your gut health should be one of the first things you consider.
The 6R Plan for Gut Restoration
In our practice we use our 6R plan for gut restoration. This plan addresses the deep connection between the gut and ill health. It provides a step by step approach to heal your gut, stabilises mental health and improves your overall wellness.
These steps are normally worked through in order, moving on to the next step if your gut hasn’t improved. If you work with a practitioner, these steps may be adjusted and personalised to best suit your needs and circumstances.
- Reset your diet and manage your stress
- Replace gut bacteria and optimise your digestion
- Remove any bacterial or yeast overgrowths
- Repopulate your beneficial gut bacteria through prebiotics and probiotics
- Repair leaky gut
- Rebalance your gut for life-long gut health
Reset and Replace
Following these first two steps of the plan can result in great improvements in gut health for many people. The first place to start is with diet:
Improving your Diet
At this stage of the plan, eating to reduce inflammation in your gut may prove more helpful than eating to feed your gut bugs. Your way of eating should
- Reduce inflammation by removing inflammatory foods such as processed foods, dairy, gluten and refined vegetable oils
- Balance blood sugar
- Provide the right amount of carbohydrates and prebiotic fibre to feed your gut bacteria but not cause bacterial to over-grow
The paleo diet ticks all these boxes as it is low in allergens and inflammatory foods.
If you aren’t seeing good improvements on the paleo diet in 2 to 3 weeks, it may be that you have an overgrowth of bacteria that is feeding on the fermentable short-chain carbohydrates in your diet. This is particularly likely if you have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
These short-chain carbs are collectively known as FODMAPs (Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, Polyols). Recent research found up to 86 percent of people with IBS saw improvements in their symptoms while on a low FODMAP diet.
A diet low in FODMAPs can reduce inflammation in your gut, which in turn, may improve neurological symptoms such as insomnia and brain fog.
Managing Your Stress
Many people notice that they are more likely to have a flare of their symptoms if they are stressed. Any attempts to treat SIBO, or IBS may not be effective or their effectiveness short-lived with symptoms soon returning.
Stress raises cortisol and other stress hormones which can contribute to leaky gut. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce stress and how you handle it. Some suggestions include:
- Make sleep a priority. 7 hours at the very minimum is needed for your body to functional well
- Take time-out for yourself in nature
- Breathwork including 4-7-8 breathing
- Work on the psychological root cause of stress
- Get support to work through past traumas
- Get centered hypno-therapy
If after a few weeks of your diet reset and working to manage your stress levels, you aren’t seeing results, it’s time to try some evidence based supplements to support your gut bacterial ecosystem and digestive function.
High quality research has confirmed the effectiveness of probiotics as a foundation for gut treatment.
There are three main categories of probiotic supplements:
- A blend of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria
- Saccharomyces Boulardii (a healthy yeast)
- Soil-based probiotics
A person may be more suited to a particular type, but most often, the biggest benefit is seen from taking a combination of all 3 types of probiotics. This can lead to a substantially better result than using one category of probiotic alone.
If you don’t notice any improvements in your symptoms taking the probiotics for 3-4 weeks, you can discontinue with the probiotics until later in your treatment, knowing that you have explored this avenue thoroughly.
Digesting your Food
It’s vital that you digest your food well in order to prevent an imbalance in your gut bacteria and other gut issues.
There are some simple things you can do to support digestion that can have a dramatic impact on your gut health. Chewing your food well, and eating in a relaxed state, away from our desk, help to support a healthy gut and are foundational first steps that everyone should consider. Simple but essential.
If you still aren’t seeing significant improvements, you need to look at how your body is producing digestive enzymes and stomach acid.
Digestive enzymes which are needed to break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Some people don’t make enough of these enzymes and may notice bloating, gas, reflux, abdominal pain or bowel movement changes. By supplementing with digestive enzymes, these symptoms may improve.
Other people may have low stomach acid, and may benefit from supplementing with Betaine HCL. This can help with digestion, nutrition absorption, and also help prevent bacterial overgrowth.
When taking these supplements, look for improvements or worsening of symptoms. If things get worse, you may need to first focus on improving the integrity of the gut lining using food and supplements (see the Repair phase).
Remove and Repopulate
If you do not see improvements following Step 1: Reset, and Step 2: Replace, your gut may have a microbial imbalance, commonly bacteria and yeast, that needs to removed. Stool and breath testing can reveal specific imbalances in your gut, and allow for more precise interventions and speed up the course of treatment somewhat.
Microbial imbalances in your gut can include:
- Candida (yeast)
- A bacterial or protozoa overgrowth in the large intestine
- Small Intestinal Bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Helicopter Pylori
These imbalances can drive inflammation throughout the body through a permeable intestinal barrier (leaky gut).
If there is a microbial overgrowth, then there are a number of options including the use of herbal anti-microbials, and antibiotics. I work with the herbal option; antibiotics may be available through your GP, although they have more of an impact on beneficial gut bacteria.
Once the microbial balance has been removed, the gut is repopulated with the help of prebiotic dietary fibres and probiotics.
Repair Leaky Gut
When there’s inflammation in the gut, you can 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.
When foreign substances pass through the gut barrier, the immune system launches an inflammatory response to defend the body. The associated inflammation has been linked to a diverse range of symptoms such as food sensitivities, fatigue, brain fog, nutrient malabsorption, and has been linked to diseases of the kidney, lungs, and liver.
Calming the intestinal immune system, and repair the gut lining is therefore an essential step in regaining gut health.
Foods, which contain nutrients to support this repair, include bone broth, stewed apples, cabbage juice as well as polyphenol-rich foods such as blueberries, blackberries, purple sweet potatoes, purple carrots. Supplements can include Colostrum, L_Glutamine, Zinc Carnosine, immunoglobulins, and Quercetin.
Rebalance for the long-term
Once your gut is healed, and you are most likely feeling a lot better, we want you to stay feeling that way. A way of living that supports gut health means you pay attention to your sleep, stress, and exercise, as well as your diet. When you notice that something is triggering your gut again, it’s a reminder to pay attention and change what you are doing. That way, you can keep your gut healthy..
This Six R plan provides a framework for regaining gut health, but you may need some extra help, particularly if yours is a trickier case or if you have had digestive issues for several years.
A practitioner, like myself, can be your expert guide through the process, providing all the support you need. They can adapt the treatment plan to what works for you, as well as making use of appropriate lab testing.
You can arrange a free call to get some help here.