Laura B. was no stranger to gastrointestinal upset. She was a pretty woman plagued by the most unglamorous of complaints: abdominal pain and cramping, embarrassing gas, and bouts of constipation interspersed with stretches of explosive diarrhoea. She had been to her primary health care physician and a gastroenterologist. A diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome had been rendered and medications prescribed. The day she could not make it home fast enough and had to pull to the side of the road to relieve another explosive onslaught, she knew she needed a different approach.
The doctors Laura had been seeing were treating her IBS symptoms, but were not addressing the underlying cause. They missed the dysbiosis, or imbalance within her gut flora, and the leaky gut that it had progressed into. As you may recall from Part I of this series, Leaky Gut Syndrome is often the first step in the development of chronic inflammatory and auto-immune diseases. Luckily, Laura was not only open to learning about gut health; she was also motivated to take the necessary steps towards attaining it.
The Four R’s Program: Remove, Repair, Replace, Restore
This first step involved in restoring gut health is to remove the offending foods and toxins that are aggravating your GI tract, yet how would you know which ones were the culprits? Well, some are givens like sugar, especially in the form of high fructose corn syrup; bad fats from fried, packaged and fast foods; and alcohol in excess. Others may be specific to the individual such as caffeine, gluten, eggs, dairy, soy and corn. In those cases, an elimination diet is followed for about a month, and these foods are added back slowly, one at a time, to see what symptoms they may generate. For example, during Laura’s elimination diet, adding back cheese caused her cramping and gas to return with a vengeance.
To restore gut health, pathogenic bacteria, yeasts and parasites also have to be removed. A Comprehensive Digestive & Stool Analysis (CDSA) revealed that Laura had none of these nasties to contend with, so it was on to the next R.
The next step is to repair the damage to the GI tract caused by years of unhealthy eating habits, alcohol, chronic stress, birth control pills, antibiotics and over-the-counter medications. Sometimes just removing certain foods and getting a handle on stress is enough to relieve overt symptoms, but it is still essential to heal the injured intestinal lining and quell the inflammation.
One of the most effective nutrients for healing the gut is L-glutamine, a natural amino acid, usually taken as a powder mixed with water. Other helpful nutrients include omega-3-fatty acids, zinc, antioxidants like Vitamins C, E and A, and plant-derived substances like quercetin, turmeric and aloe vera.
Laura now had her arsenal of nutrients, but a new twist arose. She revealed that marital strife was causing emotional stress and “inflammatory thoughts”. How insightful of her to consider the mind-body connection in relation to her IBS. In addition to repairing her gut, she started working with her husband on repairing their marriage.
Once the gut is healed, it is crucial to replace the nutrients that are required for optimal digestion, and first on the list is HCl, or hydrochloric acid. Commonly referred to as stomach acid, HCL naturally decreases with age. As many as 60% of people over 50 have insufficient levels of HCl and they have the gas, bloating and indigestion to prove it! Taking a supplement, referred to as Betaine HCL, provides the necessary acid to thoroughly digest food rather than let it sit and rot in the intestines, emitting toxins that the body will ultimately reabsorb.
Also decreasing with age are the digestive enzymes normally produced by the stomach, pancreas and small intestine, and they too must be replaced. At 35 years of age, Laura didn’t need an enzyme supplement as much as she needed to modify some of her eating habits. For instance, Laura typically gobbled down her food without adequately chewing it first. This made her enzymes work harder than they were designed to. She also drank a large amount of liquid while eating, diluting and further weakening her digestive enzymes.
Determined to conquer her IBS once and for all, Laura agreed to eat more slowly and chew her foods almost to a liquid before swallowing. She also waited to enjoy her beverages between meals rather than with them. Before long, she had a feeling she just might be able to win this battle.
It is imperative to restore the bacterial population back to an optimal level; that is, if it was ever optimal to begin with. Interestingly, a mother’s protective microflora is transferred, in part, to her baby by breastfeeding. Formula fed babies end up with an impoverished flora that predisposes them to disease, making it crucial to establish a balanced flora as soon as possible. The same holds true every time a round of antibiotics is taken, your diet has gone down the tubes, or you’ve experienced a stressful life crisis. Starting with being bottle fed, Laura scored 4 out of 4!
In order to restore and maintain a healthy GI tract, probiotics, which are good bacteria, can be taken as a supplement or derived from specific foods. Not one to eat fermented foods like sauerkraut, homemade yogurt, pickles, kimchee, kefir and kombucha, Laura needed a probiotic supplement ASAP! Perhaps you do too. Why are probiotics so important?
Top 10 Reasons to Take Probiotics
- They maximize digestion, the most vital of life processes. Because they help us break down and absorb our food, their presence sets the stage for a lifetime of health while their absence condemns us to the development of disease.
- They generate special nutrients required for optimal health such as Vitamin B-12 for energy production and nerve health; biotin for hair and nail growth; and Vitamin K for blood clotting and bone building.
- They keep our immune system in tip top shape. They do this primarily by producing an antibody called secretary IgA, which protects the mucous lining of your GI tract. Mucus may sound icky, but it actually prevents bad bacteria from migrating to other parts of your body.
- They metabolize hormones, especially estrogen. In the presence of good bacteria, oestrogen breaks down into cancer-inhibiting compounds. In the presence of harmful bacteria, it can form strong cancer-promoting compounds. Taking probiotics helps tip the scale in favor of a beneficial bacterial population, lowering the risk for breast, colon and other cancers.
- They maintain a normal flora of good bacteria within the vagina. Antibiotics wipe out these beneficial organisms along with the bad, setting the stage for “Yeasts Gone Wild” and recurrent urinary tract infections.
- They help prevent post-operative infections. Beneficial bacteria are the wardens that prevent bad bacteria from escaping into the general circulation where they can easily spread to other organs, including the brain.
- They prevent problems within the oral cavity like tooth decay and gum disease. Just like the colon and vagina, the mouth needs a balance of beneficial bacteria in order for it to remain infection-free and healthy.
- They reduce inflammation in the colon to ward off Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
- They help prevent colon cancer, the third most common cancer affecting both men and women. Probiotics do this by reducing inflammation, by encouraging normal bowel movements and by binding potential carcinogens in the diet so they can be readily excreted.
- They produce an extra-special, anti-cancer compound by the name of N-butyrate (pronounced almost like beautiful: beau-ti-rate). This natural chemical provides energy and nourishment to the cells that line the entire gastro-intestinal tract.
Within three and a half months of beginning the 4 R’s Program, Laura’s Irritable Bowel Syndrome cleared up entirely and for good. She had demonstrated motivation, tenacity and compliance seldom seen in clinical practice, and her results inspired many others to make the necessary effort to heal their guts, and their life.
Nothing you put in your mouth is neutral: it is either pro-inflammatory, like junk food, or anti-inflammatory, like fruits and vegetables. There is no single food you can eat or pill you can swallow that will change the ecology of your gut. It takes a long time for dysbiosis to develop, and it takes time and work to set it right. Go ahead and take a high quality probiotic supplement, but do so along with a nutritious diet and strict avoidance of offending foods and substances. You can heal Leaky Gut Syndrome and, hopefully, bypass the degenerative and auto-immune conditions it invites. The best strategy is to treat your gut flora as an organ onto itself, and give it the attention and care it rightly deserves.
Join us next time for Part 3 of Your Gut is the Key to Your Health so you can discover the role your gut plays in influencing your emotional well-being. Truly fascinating!