The health of your gut plays a central role in your overall health. It is involved in detoxification, digestion, nutrient & hormone synthesis, mental health, and immunity. In fact, 70-80% of your immune system is located in the gut! The importance of this lies in the fact the majority of diseases involve some form of immune dysfunction. From the cold & flu, to depression & anxiety, to diabetes and thyroid disorders, the immune system plays a significant role in their pathogenesis. I imagine most of you think of the immune system as only being active during a cold, infection or fever. However, it actually interacts with our environment on a daily basis in an attempt to keep our body in homeostasis and free from foreign invaders & substances that cause both acute and chronic illnesses. There are several organs that play a role in our immunity, however, our skin and our Gastrointestinal tract (which is essentially an extension of our skin) are the two major players. In fact, they form a protective barriers that separates our insides from the outside world. It is therefore crucial that we keep them intact and functioning properly. In particular, because our gut plays such a diverse and critical role in our overall health, ensuring its function and integrity is preserved is one of the most impactful things we can do for our health.
Let me give you a quick example of how this all plays out. Let’s say you’ve been under chronic stress be it from work, family, relationship, money, etc. Because of the perceived "threat" your body diverts precious resources (such as blood) form your gut to other more important areas of the body such as the heart, lungs and muscles as part of a survival mode instinct (as if we are running from saber tooth tiger). In doing so, the ability of your gut to digest food properly is compromised. Eventually you begin to experience symptoms such as acid reflux, bloating, gas, stomach pain, and constipation or diarrhea. What is happening here is that, among many pathological processes, food is not broken down properly & therefore cannot be absorbed. Instead it remains in the gut & is fermented (eaten) by certain populations of your gut bacteria. When fermentation happens in your gut it produces gas, which causes the symptoms of flatulence and bloating. Further, by feeding certain populations of bacteria in your gut the delicate balance (that is essential for good gut health) is thrown off which further perpetuates other digestive problems including diarrhea, pain, and constipation. Eventually these changes lead to a breakdown of your gut lining (aka. Leaky Gut), which triggers your immune system (since our body is desperately trying to protect us). Once the immune system is triggered, this is when we begin to experience symptoms outside of the gut including headaches, skin problems (rashes, acne, eczema), depression/anxiety, joint pain, thyroid problems, sleep disturbances, etc.
As a Naturopathic Doctor I use a framework when addressing gut issues, which serves a backbone for almost all healing protocols. It is called The 4 R’s of Gut Healing, and here’s how it goes:
This involves removing anything that may be impeding function, disturbing microbial balance or destroying the gut lining. By doing so, we aim to put out the fire so we can create a foundation upon which we build & restore healthy function.
Some of the common offenders are:
During the initial stages of gut healing it is often necessary to provide the body with digestive enzymes and HCl (hydrochloric acid, aka. stomach acid) to replace what may be deficient.
It is important to establish a balanced microbial population in the gut, the lack of which is often a major culprit in digestive disturbances. This often involves a combination of consuming fermented foods and a probiotic daily.
This is oftenthe last phase of gut healing since repair only happens once the fire is out (ie. Once we have removed the gut destroyers). Repairing is process of both soothing and helping to initiate the “closing” of the leaky gut lining. We do this by feeding the epithelial cells of the GI tract with nutrients such as l-carnosine, zinc, l-glutamine and prebiotic fiber. Other important nutrients include anti-inflammatories such as MSM, chondroitin sulfate, curcumin, boswellia and ginger.
Soothing an inflamed gut involves helping to promote the regeneration of the mucous lining and can be done with the use of slippery elm, marshmallow, chamomile, etc.
Health problems can be complex as there is often several factors at play, however, using a framework like the one above provides structure around how to take steps towards improving your gut health. At the very least, it’s an excellent place to start! I have seen time and time again with my patients that by simply beginning with step 1, removing the barriers to health, we make drastic improvements. The reason lies in the inherent load we take off the gut in dealing with irritating or immune provoking substances. Think of an inflamed gut as burning embers, that in order to burn-out need to be free of any spark, gasoline or flame that have the ability to reignite the fire. So give it a try! Just don't be discouraged if you hit a stand still in your symptom resolution, sometimes that’s an indication that we need to do some more investigative work (to uncover the root cause), which is often a good time to engage the help of a health professional.
Dr. Rachael Lovink is a licensed Naturopathic Physician in Victoria, BC. She has a passion for helping you uncover the root cause of your illness. Her special interest is in the treatment of mental illnesses (such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc) with the use of non-pharmaceutical intervention such as targeted supplements, dietary intervention, IV nutrients/injections and lifestyle counselling.
The Information provided by Dr. Rachael Lovink is intended solely for educational purposes, and is not a substitute for the medical advice provided by another physician or healthcare professional. You must never disregard professional medical advice, or delay seeking medical advice because you are accessing and using the information provided by Dr. Rachael Lovink. The Information cannot be used for the purpose of diagnosing, treating, or in any way mitigating a specific health issue or disease. It can also not be used with the intention of prescribing a medication or other modality of treatment. You must always speak with your physician before starting any new approach to managing your health, including vitamins and minerals, exercise and other therapeutic modalities. Further, you should seek medical advice immediately if you suspect that you have a medical problem regardless of using the information provided through the website.