“The road to health is paved by good intestines”- Sherry A. Rogers
When I started to delve into some of my long standing health issues by changing my diet and lifestyle during the tail end of 2010, I didn’t quite realize that perhaps all of the issues that had cropped up over the years were all connected. As is in the model presented to us by Modern Conventional Medicine, I figured that skin issues required a dermatologist, digestion issues a gastroenterologist, and female issues a OB-GYN and so on. Specialization is key in conventional medicine, but not nearly as much so in functional medicine. In functional medicine the main goal is to find the root problem that may be manifesting in a variety of symptoms.
After doing lots of research I have come to the conclusion that a whole lot of health related issues seem to have some connection to the health of a person’s gut (i.e. intestines) and this makes sense when 80 % of our immune system cells take up residence there. The gut has been labelled a “second brain” because of the approximate 100 million nerves that can be found in your gut lining, making up the ENS (Enteric nervous system). It is also the place where at least 400 -1000 species of bacteria live. The balance of these bacteria is of utmost importance. It is not such a big deal to have “bad” bacteria along with the “good” bacteria, it is when the “bad” bacteria come to overpower the “good” bacteria that we come into some trouble better known as, gut dysbiosis.
I had heard of gut dysbiosis many times but never really considered it worth looking into because I mistakenly assumed that it only had to do with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or GI (gastrointestinal) type symptoms, and since learning I was Celiac and getting rid of all the gluten in my life, I hadn’t experienced any negative GI issues in quite some time. Boy was I wrong! Later, while clearly expressing symptoms of estrogen dominance (read more about this here) I came across research that linked it back to having gut dysbiosis or overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut. When I read that people who had been on antibiotics or the birth control pill for uninterrupted long periods of time (at least a decade in my case) were more likely to have gut dysbiosis the lightbulb started to come on. Other causes of gut dysbiosis include: Using antacids frequently, past bacterial or parasitic infections, excessive alcohol usage, low-fiber diet, toxins in the environment, chronic stress, and diets with regular use of refined sugar, processed foods, trans fats and hydrogenated fats.
Some of the most common symptoms of gut dysbiosis include: joint pain, conditions of the skin (eczema, acne, psoriasis), chronic fatigue, being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, allergies or sensitivities to foods, repeated infections such as yeast or fungal, depression, acid reflux, diarrhea or constipation, anxiety, IBD/IBS, halitosis, having trouble losing weight, unexplained weight gain, and brain fog. If you have some of these on-going symptoms it could be worth looking into the health of your gut flora.
As I learned more about the gut I started to think, by changing the balance of bacteria in my gut I could potentially balance my hormones to make my monthly periods less painful and heavy, decrease PMS and moodiness, and get rid of chronic eczema and dermatitis? It seemed to good to be true, but I was willing to give it a try even though it sounded a little daunting. Along with gut dysbiosis, and likely because of it, I also had Intestinal Permeability (Leaky Gut Syndrome) which is where the lining of my small intestines was permeable and letting undigested food particles into the bloodstream. This is very problematic, as the gut lining is meant to act as a barrier against such a thing happening. Often times having gut dysbiosis can lead to Intestinal Permeability. You can read more about how I healed my leaky gut here.
For those suffering from gut dysbiosis, the best treatment can be found right at the grocery store in natural whole foods. In order to get the regrowth of the good bacteria going, you’ll need to focus on nutrient density (getting the best bang for your caloric buck) and reducing inflammation. Some good foods to help with this are: Grass fed meats, Grass fed bone broth (see recipe in this post), vegetables (especially pre-biotic ones), wild caught fatty fish, healthy fats like coconut and avocado, and fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, kimchi, beet kvass, and sauerkraut. Another way to help with regrowth of good bacteria is taking a pro-biotic supplement. Pro-biotics help immensely to repopulate the gut with the good bacteria you may be missing.
Now for the harder part… the stuff that will hinder regrowth and potentially make your gut dysbiosis worse: sugar and gluten. Sugar is what yeast and other bad bacteria really like to consume, so it is really best to do your best to avoid all refined sugars (cane sugar, table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, glucose) and even stay away from things like honey, maple syrup and even sugar substitutes like aspartame while you are trying to address the dysbiosis. Gluten is an issue because it makes drastic changes in the gut flora which then results in a predisposition to infection. Gluten also is a major culprit in the intestinal lining becoming permeated (leaky gut) which you want to avoid at all costs.
It took awhile (about a year) , but eventually, with the help of diet (Autoimmune Protocol), lifestyle, and pro-biotic use I managed to balance my gut flora, heal the intestinal lining and enjoy great relief from all the symptoms I had been experiencing for many years.