One of the health topics that interests me most is gut health. I love love love learning how our microbiome contributes to health in ways we never imagined 20 years ago.
I also love love love seeing my patients’ health change when we optimize their gut health! Fatigue resolves. Skin conditions subside. Weight shifts. Joint pain disappears. UTI”s and interstital cystitis are gone. Seasonal allergies improve or subside completely. Chronic anemia’s resolve. Moods improve. Nutrient testing improves.
It’s very individual but the sky is the limit and I’ve seen amazing things happen.
So today, let’s talk about what NOT to do!
Disease Begins in the Gut
The Big Seven – How to Ruin Your Digestive Tract
- Eat the Standard American Diet (SAD) including:
- Gluten – largely an indigestible, inflammatory, source of protein. It’s not the gluten your grandma ate! Granted, not everyone has Celiac disease or is gluten sensitive, but gluten is in everything from food to lipstick so if you’re an average consumer, you’re ingesting it on a daily basis! It increases the risk of developing an allergy or intolerance because we have daily opportunities for the immune system to make a mistake. And it’s typically proteins that our immune system reacts to and this gluten is a large protein molecule.
- Dairy – which contains casein, a pro inflammatory protein. In case you didn’t know, dairy is one of the most common food allergens in the USA. Remember, inflammation is at the root of most any chronic disease.
- Sugar – including processed sugar but also too much “natural” sugar like too many servings of fruit a day. Sure we’re supposed to eat fruits & veggies but your veggie intake should surpass your fruit intake. Sugar in any form still provides fuel to Candida Albicans. Sugar also alters pH and thus our body pulls minerals from our bones to neutralize it. And last but not least, we as Americans tend to eat too many carbs in general which then alters insulin sensitivity.
- Processed, nutrient poor, fiber-poor, food – which really offers nothing in terms of fueling your mitochondria or feeding your microbiome. By processed dead food, I mean most anything with a shelf life longer than 7-14 days. If it’s been in your cupboard for months or years, it’s hard to imagine there’s a lot of nutritional value in it. Of course there are exceptions like real natural sauerkraut which is supposed to be an aged food. But all those aisles of frozen meals, and all those canned and boxed foods are largely processed, nutrient poor, fiber-poor, foods.
- Hydrogenated fats – which are worse for you than any saturated fat. These are the man made ones and were developed to extend shelf life. If you have any source of margarine around, or see “partially hydrogenated xyz” on a food label, you are eating hydrogenated fats. Partially hydrogenated fats are often found in baked, and processed foods like cookies, crackers, chips and some frozen items too.
- Use Antacids and PPI’s (proton pump inhibitors) on a regular basis. We need hydrochloric acid (HCl) which neutralizes bacteria like E Coli or Salmonella when we eat food that might be spoiled or contaminated. We also need HCl to break down protein, fat, and carbohydrates as we eat. HCl also cleaves the minerals from our food so that we can absorb them. Who can live without zinc, calcium, magnesium, selenium and the rest of the bunch?? Chronic use of antacids comes with side effects like SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth) and long term use is associated with hip fractures as mineral absorption is impaired day after day. If you used an antacid 0-3 times a year, I wouldn’t bark. But beyond that, you need to be thinking about root causes and WHY you might have some acid reflux happening.
- Eat fast. Digestion starts in the mouth and relies on saliva to initiate the process downstream in your stomach and then intestines. If you are eating quickly, you are short circuiting the signals your body needs to secrete valuable digestive enzymes and thus risking the ability to fully digest your nutrient dense organic food.
- Mismanage stress and let it dominate your life. When we are stressed, blood is shunted from our digestive tract to our brain, arms & legs so that we can think and run from whatever the threat is. Our bodies truly can not differentiate between stress due to family situations or a work environment vs stress due to a dog chasing you down the block or the saber toothed tiger. Evan vacations are stressful right? Stress is stress to our body and it absolutely impairs optimal digestion.
- Use Antibiotics, Antifungals, or Steroids more than a few times in your entire life. Perhaps you had acne as a kid and the solution was long term antibiotics. Maybe you were sick a lot with ear infections and again, the solution at the time was antibiotics. Maybe you have an auto-immune disease or skin condition and the doctor prescribed steroids. Did you know there are “good” and “bad” strains of E Coli? There are. Granted we don’t want the species (o157 h7) that gives us diarrhea and kidney failure but that doesn’t mean an antibiotic should wipe out the whole species. Chronic use of antibiotics opens the door to SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth) as well as other health conditions. Some antibiotics are “bacteriocidal” and do wipe out entire strains (Cipro); if you have a choice and must take an antibiotic, choose one from the class of bacteriostatic which keeps them from multiplying. Steroids alter blood sugar as well as suck minerals from your bones. They are masking a deep problem but not helping to solve it at its root.
- Overuse NSAID’s – Non Steroid Anti Inflammatory Drugs. We’re talking Advil, Aspirin, Motrin, Aleve, Vioxx, Celebrex, and others. NSAID’s disrupt the epithelial lining and contribute to that leaky gut (hyper intestinal permeability) we discussed above. Overuse would be defined as once a week or more in my book. I hope you might only need an NSAID once or twice a year for an acute situation though.
- Drink too much alcohol at one time or chronic daily use. Alcohol thins the mucous membrane lining our digestive tract. A social drink here and there is one thing but even a daily drink adds to the wear & tear on our digestive tract. I realize that flies in the face of hearing that red wine is GOOD for us but we have to look at the big picture. Many people don’t have the liver function it takes to metabolize alcohol well. For some, it contributes to cognitive decline. Beer contains gluten. If you want your resveratrol and think red wine is the only way to get it, you’re dead wrong and a drink a day isn’t really in your best interest IMO.
- Drink Chlorinated water. Chlorine is added to the water to kill potentially pathogenic bacteria right? What do you think that chlorine does to the bacteria in your gut? Yup. Kills em. Just like antibiotics do but more like slow poison.
All of these things above either
- Disrupt the gut barrier
- Negatively affect your microbiome (gut bacteria)
- and/or Impair optimal digestion & absorption
The gut barrier is supposed to keep our food in the intestinal tract, NOT let it out into the blood stream where it can initiate an immune response. I realize that Madison Avenue marketers would have you believe otherwise, but if you were to sit down and have a cup of organic tea with a healthy person and really investigate how he/she is living, it’s not this stuff.
Stay tunes for the upcoming posts on how to resolve both constipation and diarrhea as you work on optimizing your own GI health!