Welcome back to part 2 of the “Help your digestion” blog series!
Is there anything more fun than talking digestive processes, poop, gas, reflux, bloating and tummy troubles?
My job is awesome.
Digestion is a “North to South process” which means you have to consider the Northernmost issues before tackling anything in the South. (Does that make any sense whatsoever? If not, just take my word for it and read Part 1 first.)
Ok, you’re back. Phew.
Now we’re ready to dive into what happens after our food leaves the stomach and moves into our small intestine, or gut, and how this can go very wrong. Specifically, how the syndrome of leaky gut can really mess with our bodies’ ability to do their thang.
What is leaky gut?
I gave a brief description of leaky gut in this blog post about healing autoimmune disease, but I think I'll go into a bit more detail in this one. Don't worry...no technical jargon is coming your way. I'll keep this easy to understand:
Leaky gut is another name for increased intestinal permeability. The lining of our intestines (gut) is designed to be selectively permeable, which means that the smallest molecules of our food, after being properly broken down, are able to be transferred through the lining and into our bloodstream for use in the body. Makes sense, right?
When the permeability is increased (leaky gut), it means that the gut lining is perforated and allowing larger pieces of undigested food and pathogens to pass through, which causes an immune response and chronic inflammation. This is seriously no bueno.
Leaky gut can result in food sensitivities, allergies, autoimmune disease, adrenal fatigue, digestive issues and even mood disorders like depression and anxiety. (More about that in a bit.)
Feeling overwhelmed? Don't be! There's a cheatsheet coming your way that you can download to help!
What happens during digestion literally affects every single part of the body:
Have you ever heard your gut referred to as "the second brain"? Well, it's for good reason.
(I had a gut feeling that you would know where I was going with this...)
A well-functioning digestive tract along with a good crop of various microbes is a contributing factor to the production of neurotransmitters, and the lack of either one can contribute to significant mental health distress. All the more reason to get that digestion on track, if you ask me!
In fact, I heard a presenter in a nutrition class (can't remember which one) say that if he had the option, he would invade every nursing home in the country and dose every occupant with hydrochloric acid pills (stomach acid) to improve their digestion and thusly restore their mental faculties. Dementia and Alzheimer's are confusing and complex diseases, but the thought that we are starting to understand how to use nutritional prevention makes me hopeful.
When pathogens enter the body through large "holes" in the gut lining, it incites an immune response and histamine release. Over time, if leaky gut is present (and for most of us in this day and age it is) the body ends up regarding more and more substances as invaders, and the list of allergies increases. It shouldn't be surprising for adults to develop allergies later on in their lives but didn't suffer from them when they were younger.
It's actually the overgrowth of candida, which is a family of yeast, that is responsible for these conditions as well as jock itch, athlete's foot, and oral thrush, but said overgrowth also causes leaky gut (and therefore they go hand-in-hand). This happens commonly due to a few factors like taking broad-spectrum antibiotics and oral contraceptives.
Taking broad-spectrum antibiotics, which most of us have done on numerous occasions, kills the bacteria that we need in our digestive tract to help digest food, create vitamins and nutrients and keep the numbers of problematic microorganisms under control. Yeast like candida, which isn't affected by antibiotics, is allowed to multiply like crazy under those conditions because a good majority of the beneficial strains of bacteria have been killed.
Candida, by nature, colonizes by corkscrewing into the lining of the gut and perforating it. NOOOO!!!!! Yes.
The candida (yeast) overgrowth situation is then perpetuated by a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar and low in resistant starches found in vegetables, because that's what candida eats. Are you getting the picture on this? Our Standard American Diet of uber-palatable but nutritionally-void foods are feeding the thriving candida after we killed off the good guys that are in there trying to help, and when it's all said and done you get a month-long yeast infection to remind you of the state of affairs in your guts.
Let me just clarify that I'm not a complete nut job that doesn't value modern medicine and our ability to save lives with antibiotics.
I am truly grateful for both of those things; I just believe that in conjunction with life-saving treatments, there should be a greater understanding about the systemic implications of their use and some education on how to re-populate the good guys in our guts after a course of antibiotics.
Now you're wondering if all of this, compounded together, is why you have pretty crappy digestion. (The answer is yes.)
SO ARE WE ON THE SAME PAGE THAT ADDRESSING DIGESTION AND SEALING LEAKY GUT IS A TOP PRIORITY FOR A WHOLE BUNCH OF REASONS?
(Friendly reminder: You MUST address your stomach acid production first, because that affects every part of digestion that occurs afterwards like a domino effect. Get yourself over to this post for the first steps.)
5 ways to address leaky gut: (The 5 R’s)
The first step to heal + seal the gut lining is to remove inflammatory foods or anything that you are sensitive or allergic to. Repeated exposure to inflammatory agents and sensitivities makes it pretty much impossible to seal leaky gut. It is quite common for people to have unknown food sensitivities to things that they eat all the time and not even know it, so a good practice is to take out the most commonly inflammatory foods like dairy, gluten, soy, corn, sugar and eggs and then re-introduce them one by one later on while testing for a reaction. (I teach how to do this at home (for free!) in my paid courses.)
Bonus: Removing sugar, and refined grains will starve off the overgrowth of candida that you might be experiencing!
Remember how I said that food sensitivities are usually to things you eat all the time? Well, that's because the more you're exposed to something and it squeezes through the leaky intestinal lining, the more likely it is to be perceived as an invader by your immune system. A good practice is to always rotate your foods and try to get as much variety as possible from day to day.
The good news is that our gut lining regenerates crazy fast, so once you have removed the inflammatory foods and given yourself more variety, progress can usually be made more quickly than you would expect. With that being said, there are some specific nutrients that speed up said healing. (Get those in the free cheatsheet download below.)
Finally! It's time to re-colonize your gut biome with a diverse crop of probiotics! Raw and fermented foods like kimchi, raw sauerkraut, raw kombucha and raw apple cider vinegar are all wonderful to include in your (vastly diverse) diet in addition to probiotic supplements. When choosing a good probiotic, more expensive doesn't always mean better; you need to experiment and see what makes you feel the best. (While you're at it, get a good probiotic for your kiddos! My favorite is doTERRA's pixie-stick option that is sugar free and really is like a pixie stick! You can get your grown-up option there, too...don't worry!)
After a period of healing, which ideally would be a month or more, it's time to re-introduce any foods that you feel you might be reactive to. It's important to only re-introduce one at a time and watch for digestive, mood, or skin reactions over the course of 3 days following your exposure. (Food sensitivities are so sneaky and can take days to reveal themselves.)
ARE YOU READY TO GIVE IT A TRY?
The benefits of optimizing your digestion and healing your gut are greater than almost anything else you can do for your body, and even if you just tackle a few strategies at a time and take it slowly, your body will thank you.
Let me emphasize that one more time: Progress, not perfection, you little star student, you. 🤓
BONUS PRO TIP: Bad breath can be caused by bacterial overgrowth in the gut
Check out the bonus Tuesday Tip video below all about it