All disease begins in the gut.
Nearly 2400 years ago, Hippocrates made this statement. Only in the last 15-20 years, however, are we understanding its accuracy. During this time, Clinical Research has determined that gut health is critical to overall health. Accordingly, an unhealthy gut contributes to a wide range of diseases including obesity, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, autism spectrum disorder, and even depression. This can only make sense as every week we are ingesting pounds and pounds of various foods containing a myriad of different ingredients – not all of them can be beneficial to the body. Only in the last few decades have we understood the concept that what you eat will, quite literally, go to your Gut which will then disperse it through this system you call the human body – if it is healthy the system works better and vice versa. In a healthy system, the Gut has the tremendous responsibility of sorting out what food it wants to absorb and turn into fuel as well as what toxins it wants to repel.
To understand Gut Health, you must understand the two most critical related concepts: the intestinal microbiota (gut flora), and the gut barrier.
There are approximately 100 trillion (100,000,000,000,000) microorganisms that reside in a normal human gut. To put it in perspective, this is 10 times more bacteria than all the cells in the human body. This massive population is comprised of over 400 diverse bacterial species.
For such an abundant and diverse universe of living things within our bodies, we have only recently begun to comprehend how important the gut flora is in overall human health and disease.
The gut flora plays a critical role in several areas:
- the promotion of normal gastrointestinal functions
- comprises more than 75% of our immune system
- protects from infection
- regulates metabolism
Dysregulated gut flora has also been linked to a wide range of diseases:
- autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s,
- inflammatory bowel disease
- type 1 diabetes
Research has determined the common denominators in the “Modern Lifestyle” that have directly contributed to unhealthy gut flora:
- Medications like birth control
- Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Chronic stress
- Chronic infections
- Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, and processed foods
- Diets low in fermentable fibers
- Dietary toxins like wheat
- Industrial seed oils that cause leaky gut
Antibiotics are particularly harmful to gut flora because they are engineered to kill bacteria. The problem is not that they kill the harmful bacteria but that they kill the beneficial bacteria as well. Several recent studies demonstrate the use of antibiotics has a profoundly negative impact on the gut flora diversity as well as an actual shift in its composition. Without intervention, this diversity is not recovered.
Two key factors that can influence infant health is whether the child was breastfed and whether she was born to a mother with bad gut flora. In those circumstances, the infant is more likely to develop unhealthy gut bacteria. These early diﬀerences in gut flora may predict future obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases like eczema/psoriasis, depression and other health problems.
THE GUT BARRIER:
The gut is a hollow tube that passes from the mouth to the anus. Anything that is swallowed in the mouth and isn’t digested will be excreted out the other end. This is one of the most important functions of the gut: to prevent harmful foreign substances from entering the body. Leaky Gut Syndrome is a condition when the intestinal barrier becomes permeable and large protein molecules escape into the bloodstream. Since these proteins don’t belong outside of the gut, the body reacts by triggering an immune response and attacks them. Research indicates these attacks are an important consideration in the development of autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s and other diseases like type 1 diabetes. There is growing evidence that increased intestinal permeability plays a pathogenic role in various autoimmune diseases including [celiac disease] and [type 1 diabetes]. Therefore, we hypothesize that besides genetic and environmental factors, loss of intestinal barrier function is necessary to develop autoimmunity.
The phrase itself, “leaky gut”, used to be confined to the outer fringes of medicine With Conventional researchers and doctors originally scoﬀing at the idea that a leaky gut contributes to autoimmune problems. They have since changed their tunes. It has been repeatedly demonstrated in several well-designed studies that the integrity of the intestinal barrier is a critical factor in autoimmune disease. This new theory maintains that the intestinal barrier is the most important determinant whether we tolerate or react to toxic environmental substances we ingest. The breach of the intestinal barrier (which is only possible with a “leaky gut”) by food toxins (gluten) and chemicals (like arsenic or BPA) causes an immune response which aﬀects not only the gut itself but also other organs and tissues including the skeletal system, the pancreas, the kidney, the liver, and the brain.
LEAKY GUT = INFLAMED, FATIGUED AND DEPRESSED
The result is that Leaky gut and bad gut flora are common because of the modern and often called “Western Lifestyle”. These conditions often occur simultaneously: If you have a leaky gut, you probably have bad gut flora and vice versa. And when your gut flora and gut barrier are impaired, you will be inflamed because your body is in battle mode against the intruding food and/or chemical toxins your gut barrier was supposed to block. This systemic inflammatory response then leads to the development of autoimmunity. And while leaky gut and bad gut flora may manifest as digestive trouble, in many people it does not. Rather, it manifests as cross-system problems such as heart failure, depression, and brain fog; skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis; metabolic problems like obesity and diabetes; and allergies, asthma, and other autoimmune diseases.
Before you can address these conditions, you must, first, rebuild healthy gut flora and restore the integrity of your intestinal barrier. This remain true especially if you have developed any kind of autoimmune disease, whether you’re experiencing digestive issues or not.
HOW TO RESTORE AND MAINTAIN A HEALTHY GUT
The most obvious first step in maintaining a healthy gut is the avoidance of all of the aforementioned harmful environmental factors that destroy gut flora and damage the intestinal barrier. That’s not always possible, especially in the case of chronic stress and infections. We also did not have any control over whether we were breast-fed as newborns or whether our mothers had healthy guts when they gave birth to us.
If you’ve been exposed to some of these factors, there are still steps you can take to restore your gut flora which are some of the things we address in our Lifestyle Detox Program:
- Remove all food toxins from your diet
- Maximize your digestive capacity using supplemental acid and enzymes
- Eat plenty of fermentable fibers (starches like sweet potato, yam, yucca, etc.)
- Eat fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc., and/or take a high- quality, multi-species probiotic
- Treat any intestinal pathogens (such as parasites) that may be present
- Take steps to manage your stress