The gut is the new frontier of health. People are finding out that many problems go back to the microbiome of their gut being imbalanced. Not only is our physical health a reflection of our gut health, but our mental health is also affected dramatically. This makes sense, since bacteria outnumber human cells 1.3 :1. We are almost equal parts human to bacteria, with bacteria edging us out just the slightest.
When we are constantly exposed to modern lifestyle factors that alter our gut bacteria, unintended consequences can happen. All of us have probably been exposed to the following:
- High Carbohydrate, sugary foods
- Periods of inactivity
- Rounds of Antibiotics
- Chronic Stress
- Chronic Inflammation
- Seed Oils
Many people are dealing with most of these variables on a daily basis. Antibiotics in particular change are gut biome in profound ways. Often people are not educated post-use and their gut bacteria are harmed for a long time, or until steps are taken to heal the gut.
A big topic being discussed lately is Leaky Gut Syndrome. This is when the intestinal tract become permeable, allowing large proteins to flow into the bloodstream, where they can wreak havoc by provoking an immune response from our body. This study actually took liver biopsies from those with the autoimmune disorder lupus and compared them with liver samples from healthy adults. The common factor in the lupus sample was E. gallinarum, a microbe that belongs in the gut, showing that gut permeability allowed bacteria to escape and cause an immune response.. Gut health is critical to the rest of the body. Here are a few things that have been shown to be affected by having leaky gut.
A modern epidemic. Lifestyle changes like exercise have not been enough to control it. One of the hallmarks of obesity has been shown to be a chronic state of inflammation. What can cause chronic inflammation? Leaky gut. This review examines how changes in our gut microbiome and levels of intestinal permeability can affect the likelihood of obesity.
This is one of the most common symptoms of poor gut health. I use the term allergy broadly, as it could mean anything from a serious reaction to peanuts, to mild digestive distress after eating some spinach. The fact of the matter is that we don’t have to react to food in these ways. The root cause of most allergies is the gut letting molecules of undigested food into the bloodstream, causing an immune response of varying severity. Eventually it can get so bad that any food starts to bother the system. This study shows the link between a leaky gut and immune responses to food.
This is a common disorder that affects approximately 20% of the population. Characterized most notably by pain and diarrhea whenever most food is ingested, it is a debilitating condition. Until recently, the underling cause of IBS has not been understood, and has mostly been treated with medications or vain attempts at diet change (usually adding massive amounts of fiber). It used to be thought of as a malfunction of the colon, but new evidence shows a large percentage of people with IBS have increased intestinal permeability.
Not the first thing most think of when gut health is brought up. However, due to the discovery of the gut-brain axis, we now know how deeply involved in each others processes the gut and brain are. When pro-inflammatory compounds cytokines are released to deal with food molecules leaking through the gut, that inflammation directly affects our brain. This review underscores just how much mood disorders like bi-polar, depression, and anxiety are affected and perhaps caused by leaky gut.
Possible Ways To Heal The Gut
Now that we’ve focused on all of the bad, lets look at some ways in which to heal the gut and perhaps alleviate symptoms of Leaky Gut Syndrome. This is something that IS possible to fix. Many times we accept our current state of health with a shrug. “What happens happens”. The reality is that we do have control over our body. Here are a few things to consider trying out.
Gluten is public enemy number 1 on our gut. Even though gluten-free may be the hippest thing to slap on any food label, there is absolute validity to omitting gluten from your diet when trying to heal the gut.
This study shows how gluten signals a release in zonulin, a potent antagonist of the intestinal wall. Even in those who are not celiac(gluten intolerant), zonulin is released and creates holes in the gut barrier. This isn’t an excuse to go buying every candy bar and rice flour bun that is labeled gluten-free. Just cut out the wheat and bread in general.
Stress and Sleep
Stress is a biggie in our gut health. It’s a vicious cycle. Not only does stress increase anxiety and depression, but these mental states are made worse because of the gut-brain axis connecting physiological changes stress makes to our gut and our brain. This study found the following effects resulting from stress.
“The major effects of stress on gut physiology include: 1) alterations in gastrointestinal motility; 2) increase in visceral perception; 3) changes in gastrointestinal secretion; 4) increase in intestinal permeability; 5) negative effects on regenerative capacity of gastrointestinal mucosa and mucosal blood flow; and 6) negative effects on intestinal microbiota.”
So stress has an immediate effect on our gut and general health. Try some stress reduction techniques like the ones i listed in this article.
A lack of sleep has effects similar to those of stress. It has been shown to exacerbate the symptoms of those with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, IBS, and other chronic illness like Colon Cancer and Autoimmune Disease.
As a society we are generally lacking in sleep, with 40% of adults getting less sleep than they need. Make an effort to get a solid 7 or 8. I like to have a cutoff time for electronics, around 8:30 or 9. That, along with only using dim red light after dark ensures that melatonin can be secreted and i’m not being blasted by blue light from wall lights and electronics. You will pass out when the stimuli aren’t there to keep you up.
Probiotics are living microbes that we inject to create a balanced gut microbiome. They make sense in theory, but how do they work in practice. Pretty effectively it turns out.
This study sums it up nicely. Supplementation with a spore based probiotic reduced symptoms associated with leaky gut syndrom.
Supplementation with Lactobacillus helveticus decreased feelings of anger, depression, and anxiety, in a French clinical trial.
Eat some fermented foods! This is basically the whole food form of taking a probiotic supplement. Foods like kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi are all rich sauces of probiotics. This review looks at kefir (fermented milk drink) and it’s gut health boosting, cardiovascular disease lowering, insulin resistance improving effects.
Get Sunlight/Vitamin D
Getting adequate sunlight is absolutely essential for most bodily functions, including the regulation of our gut biome. Vitamin D has been shown to regulate any imbalance in our gut, and protect from Inflammatory Bowel Disease symptoms. Considering how much time we spend inside, it’s no wonder why most people are vitamin D deficient. Make an effort to get a good 20 minutes of sun exposure a day. In the winter months or in northern areas, get a good vitamin D3 supplement to make up for the lack of full spectrum sun exposure.
Limit Alcohol and NSAIDS
Alcohol has been shown to cause bacterial overgrowth, bacterial dysbiosis, and intestinal permeability. Limit those drinks to a couple of times a week.
NSAIDS is a term for drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen. These are anti-inflammatoryy in the short-term , but cause intestinal permeability and inflammation in the long-term with chronic use. Avoid them except when absolutely necessary.
This is just a short list of the effects our gut biome has on our health and some of the ways we can go about resolving it. It certainly deserves a deeper dive, and its one i will get into more in the future. Thanks for reading, and leave any questions or comments below!