02 Sep building a better foundation
Gut health information is everywhere. Leaky gut, dysbiosis, probiotics, microbiome. What does this all mean? And why should you care?
I focus on gut health a lot in my practice because it is foundational to how we feel each day. And I’m not just talking about reflux or bloating. I am talking holistically about how we feel. Each. Day. When your foundation is not strong, other areas begin to give. It may result in anxiety, brain fog, fatigue, food sensitivities, or other symptoms. Repairing and rebuilding the foundation, your gut, can make a huge impact in all areas of your overall health.
We all know that our digestive tract stretches from your mouth to your rear end. And we have some supporting organs along the way like the pancreas, gall bladder, and liver. For a very long time, it was believed that this basic system broke down the nutrients and calories from food, absorbed what we needed, and expelled everything else. Pretty simple. I mean, what could go wrong?
Over the past decade, we have just begun to learn more about the intricacies of our complicated & perfectly designed digestive system. First, the surface area of our small and large intestine alone is much greater than our skin. Therefore, our digestive tract is the largest surface of our body that comes into contact with the outside world. And one of it’s primary functions is to protect us from foreign invaders.
Knowing this, it makes sense that 70%-80% of our immune system and function is in our digestive tract. If you tend to catch everything during cold & flu season, that can be a clue that your gut needs some support. Our digestive tract is very sophisticated and is watching everything that comes in. This includes beverages, foods, pesticides, medications, water, bacteria, supplements, etc. to determine friend or foe – and respond accordingly.
This is crucial to understand because it is the basis of discovering that food is information. What we put into our bodies isn’t just calories. It provides our system with critical information about how to respond next. It brings to life the phrase, “you are what you eat.”
We have also discovered what many are now calling the “forgotten organ,” the microbiome. This community of microbes lives on the surface of our skin, and all along the digestive tract. It’s primary home, however, is in the large intestine. The last stop in our digestive tract. Here, the microbes help to further digest foods like fiber. They also help the body create key vitamins, like B12. (If you have ever felt low on energy, someone has likely mentioned B12. It’s important for both energy metabolism and detoxification – so it’s really important!)
Many factors influence what makes up your personal microbiome:
- What you eat. This includes everything from the amount of plants & fiber you eat each day, organic vs. conventional produce & meat(s), and processed foods vs. whole foods diet.
- Stress! Includes chronic daily stress, trauma, surgeries, infections, accidents, food poisoning, sleep deficits, and consistent blood sugar imbalances.
- Your delivery as a baby: C-section or vaginal birth.
- Breastfed vs Formula-fed as a baby.
- The microbiome of others in your home, including pets.
- Medications, including antibiotics use personally and through the foods you eat (ex. conventional dairy & meat products).
- Your body’s ability to produce enough stomach acid which is impacted by chronic stress, age, the amount of certain foods in your diet including animal proteins, and medications such as PPI’s and antibiotics.
The good news is, you can begin to impact your microbiome in as little as 3 days! It evolves with us. So as our habits and environment change, we influence our microbiome. And our microbiome influences us.
It’s a fancy word for when your microbiome needs some rebalancing. Indicators that you have dysbiosis include constipation, diarrhea, feeling gassy or bloated, low energy, undigested food in your stool (look at your poop, people – it’s important!) and other symptoms. Sometimes you won’t experience any symptoms at all. If you do suspect something is off, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Like I said, it’s something you can impact using food-based and lifestyle solutions.
understanding the stress factor
This is a BIG one. Sometimes we focus so much on food we forget the giant elephant in the room. And that elephant is stress. Chronic daily stress influences both our bodies ability to create stomach acid (hydrochloric acid). It also influences the microbes that flourish in our gut. Double whammy. Therefore, lifestyle factors to reduce stress are just as important to building a strong foundation for health.
the big picture
Okay, so how does all of this influence your overall health? We know that our digestive tract is the primary way our bodies interact with the outside world. It is our greatest protective barrier and home of our immune system to keep dangerous pathogens and bacteria out. Our gut is where our bodies process information from the foods we eat and digest the nutrients that allow our bodies to function. We also know we are the home to trillions of microbes that aid in all of these processes above. So, when any piece of this process is off, it can have a major impact on all other areas of the body. It’s a big deal.
It is also more like a tangled web then a domino effect. When one area is effected, such as dysbiosis or low stomach acid, it impacts several areas not just the “next in line.” These effects include increased inflammation, malabsorption (not getting the nutrients from the food you eat), fatigue, anxiety, brain fog, SIBO, Candida, and more.
ok, so now what?
Just like the cause isn’t one dimensional, neither is the solution. It requires what I call the 5 R’s:
- Remove foods that cause inflammation, food sensitivities, and reducing toxins including glyphosate from non-organic foods.
- Replace in your diet the foods that help our bodies heal and detoxify. This includes a colorful, varied diet focused on lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes and lots of water.
- Repair your gut and stimulate your body’s production of stomach acid with specific foods and vitamins/minerals to help your body repair itself as quickly as possible.
- Rebalance your life to include many complimentary lifestyle solutions to address stress reduction and coping, improve sleep, create a supportive exercise practice, and more. Options may include meditation, yoga, breathing practices, gratitude, or other self-care practices.
- Reinoculate your body with good bacteria & microbes. Spend time outdoors, garden, eat fresh fruit & vegetables from a trusted organic or regenerative farmer, or better yet, from your back yard. Other solutions are outlined in this blog post.
For each person, this will look slightly different because each individual will need require more work in some of the R’s and less in others. However, for everyone, if you just focus on one of the 5 R’s you will likely be addressing just one piece of the web. To build a lasting, strong foundation, it requires a big picture approach to healing. All 5 Rs.
Food and lifestyle are a powerful medicine that can truly transform your health. And for many symptoms and conditions, the past to healing starts with the gut.