Why Is the Gut So Important?
The gut is home to approximately thirty trillion microorganisms. These microorganisms are approximately the equivalent to the total number of cells in the entire human body! On average, you walk around with three to four pounds of bacteria in your gut.
In a healthy gut, there’s a symbiotic and harmonious relationship with bacteria in the small and large intestine called the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome regulates your gut and has a systemic influence on the body. The research is teeming with evidence of the gut microbiome impacting allergies, hormones, the skin, the immune system and the brain.
There’s a constant fluctuation of bacteria. The gut is trying to maintain a balance of “good guys over the bad guys”. When the bad guys are winning the battle, this shift creates an imbalance referred to as dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis may lead to symptoms such as room clearing farts, constipation, diarrhea, excessive belching and the dreaded preggo look. There are non-digestive symptoms that are impacted too. Skin conditions such as eczema and acne can be a symptom of bacteria imbalance. Fatigue and brain fog are common symptoms of gut issues. Long term dysbiosis can proliferate the above mentioned symptoms and damage the gut lining. This can have far reaching effects on the gut and entire body.
So how does one begin to heal the gut? Resolving your gut issues is much more than taking a probiotic. Re-populating the gut is part of the process.
The 4R program created by the Institute for Functional Medicine is a principle based program that I use to heal the gut. It’s based on the following 4R’s: REMOVE, REPLACE, REPOPULATE AND REPAIR.
4R Program for Healing the Gut
The remove phase is critical to eliminate possible irritants to the gut.
Titus Lucretius Carus, a Roman philosopher, said:
“one man’s food is another man’s poison”
This is especially true concerning food sensitivities. If you continue to eat foods that irritate the gut and immune system, your gut will never heal. Testing for food sensitivities through bloodwork is an avenue to determine your precise sensitivities.
Pathogen overgrowth is another potential irritant. These critters may include yeast, parasites and bacteria or all three. Remember, we all have parasites, yeast and opportunistic bacteria that live in our bodies. The problem arises when these critters have overgrown and are not kept in check by the good guys. When the gut microbiome is disrupted, these critters can proliferate and release toxins that further irritate the gut.
The go to solution is taking antibiotics to kill off the bad guys but it’s part of the solution and problem. The antibiotics do kill off the bad guys but there’s collateral damage. The good guys are killed in the process. At this point, there’s no check and balance system within the gut and pathogens can wreak havoc on your digestive tract.
You can’t assume that it’s bacteria overgrowth or candida overgrowth. Stool testing is imperative to determine what critter has overgrown so a proper detox can be implemented to reduce the number of the bad guys and restore balance to the gut microbiome.
The replace phase is addressing certain acids and enzymes missing during the cascade of digestion. As you eat food, hydrochloric acid (HCL) is produced in the stomach. This has two purposes. One, to sterilize the gut just in case you swallow a parasite or bacteria. The other purpose is to further breakdown your food and help your body absorb protein, B vitamins and key minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
Once HCL is mixed in the stomach this creates a mixture of semi-digested food referred to as chyme. The acidic chyme is passed on to the small intestine, which sends a signal to the pancreas to dump digestive enzymes in the small intestine for further digestion.
Unfortunately, HCL and digestive enzyme production declines as a person ages and with chronic stress. The digestive process is compromised by chronic stress. In times of stress, a signal is sent to the brain that it’s being chased by a tiger! This “fight or flight” situation diverts blood and nutrients to the extremities and away from the stomach. For this reason, HCL and/or digestive enzymes may need to be taken with meals for optimal digestion.
The re-populate phase is the re-introduction of the “good guys”. Probiotics are these good guys. This is one way to maintain balance in the gut microbiome. For some people, probiotics are a miracle worker for bloating, constipation and diarrhea but for others it’s a nightmare. If a person has a pathogen overgrowth such as small intestinal bowel overgrowth (SIBO), taking probiotics is like pouring gasoline over a fire. Probiotics are not bad, it’s just bad timing. In cases of SIBO, the removal phase is the priority then re-populating the gut is necessary at a later stage. Re-population of the gut may require the use of probiotic supplementation and/or whole food probiotics such as fermented vegetables.
The repair phase is one of the most important phases that’s not addressed enough. In the midst of pathogen overgrowth, food sensitivities, medications, alcohol and stress, damage to the gut is inevitable. The repair phase is necessary at some point in the healing process. Although repair is the fourth step, it doesn’t mean it’s the last phase. In some cases, the repair phase may coincide with the removal or re-populate phase. It is crucial you work with a qualified functional medicine practitioner to help you navigate the appropriate steps. The healing phase entails providing the gut what it needs to heal. These nutrients can range from amino acids, herbs and essential fatty acids that help reduce inflammation and heal the gut.
It’s easy to look up your symptoms and think you know what you have. Dr. Google does a good job of confirming your worst fears. The preggo look you’re struggling with or skin breakout is just your body’s way of crying out for help. Gut health is of utmost importance to resolve many of these issues. Since the gut can be affected by several factors, it’s important to properly assess the gut with appropriate laboratory tests.
Laboratory tests allows a proper evaluation of gut health. This evaluation process is necessary to ensure an individualized therapeutic support plan which will strategically heal the gut and ultimately heal your body.