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Gut health issues – fad or not fad?
Ten years ago, I would have told you that I thought this “gut health” fad was just that – a fad. (And I could absolutely not accept that everyone was suddenly coming down with “celiac” disease. As we advance medically, diseases should become less rampant, not more – right?)
And then my husband started having stomach aches every night and every morning. He started sleeping ALL THE TIME when he was at home. He was sort of… permanently unhappy. Not really depressed, but not himself either. He was too tired to do anything fun ever, and he was always sore all over (muscles/joints ect).
I really thought it must be stress from his job – I remember saying to him, “You can’t possibly have a stomach ache ALL THE TIME!” Eventually, it got so bad that he went to see a doctor. (And then I believed that it must be bad.)
And he got a diagnosis of Colitis – an inflammatory bowl disease.
Essentially, the doctor said, the intestinal villi were worn down in the lining of his gut, causing inflammation and ulcers. Even worse, in the long run though, was that the villi are supposed to absorb nutrients from your food.
Wrecked villi = wrecked nutrient absorption.
Wrecked nutrient absorption = nutritional deficiency = your body is getting weaker everyday.
Basically, the doctor said, unhealthy guts = unhealthy people. It’s not like having a broken wrist. The gut affects the entire body.
And what was the cause of this gut damage? Probably Grains. With their gluten. Maybe Antibiotics had thrown off his internal chemistry. Maybe getting E-coli (when we visited peru) had done some long term damage. A western diet high in processed foods and low in veggies could be to blame.
The fact was that it didn’t matter how his gut got damaged. A sick gut was making him sick. He wasn’t JUST having stomach aches, it was affecting his whole body.
So how come EVERYONE suddenly has gut health issues? (This was my question to the doctor.) And is it possible to heal your gut?
A LOT of things have changed in the last couple hundred years
What are just a few of the things we do now (that we didn’t do hundreds of years ago) that are damaging our intestines?
– Antibiotics are a big one. They’re an amazing medical advancement. Thousands of lives are saved every day thanks to them. But antibiotics can’t differentiate between the good bacteria in our bodies and the bad bacteria. They attack all the bacteria. The natural state of our guts are thrown violently off with even one course of antibiotics.
– Chlorinated drinking water is another. Chlorine also kills all bacteria, not just good bacteria.
– We are exposed to far more chemicals now than ever before – pesticides, medications, and even household cleaning products could be responsible for gut damage.
– We eat an excessive amount of processed foods. Pasteurized foods no longer contain bad bacteria – OR good bacteria. Studies are suggesting that our huge intake of saturated fats can mess with our internal flora and cause inflammatory bowl diseases (source). Bad bacteria feeds on our high sugar diets and flourishes in our guts.
– We eat genetically modified food. For some, the jury is out as to if this is affecting our digestive system, but I don’t see why there couldn’t be a relationship between GMO foods and the increasing incidence of gut disease.
There are other possible causes for our current gut health struggles, like excess alcohol intake, excess stress, a sedentary lifestyle or even past surgeries that caused damage to our intestines. Regardless of the cause of your unhealthy gut, you need to fix it if you want to feel good.
If you suspect you have a damaged gut, What can you do to fix it?
(Of course you should see your doctor and get a proper diagnosis, and talk to him about your issues.) But there are lots of things you can do at home to heal a damaged gut / imbalanced intestinal flora.
First of all, remember that if your gut is damaged you probably aren’t absorbing the nutrients from your food – even if you’re eating GREAT food! So switching cold turkey to a diet of salads and raw veggies isn’t even always the answer for healing your gut. Some raw veggies are actually really hard for a damaged gut to digest. Educating yourself on gut health is one of the most life changing things you can do.
5 things you can do at home to help heal your gut
Replenish the good bacteria in your gut
You can supplement with high quality (preferably human strain) probiotic supplements (this is the brand my husband is taking re doctors orders). You can also help to populate good bacteria in your gut with foods that naturally contain good bacteria – fermented foods. Home made milk kefir (or water kefir). RAW apple cider vinegar, Kombucha, sauerkraut ect- but don’t cook them! Heating the fermented food kills the bacteria.
Cut back on sugar
Sugar feeds the bad bacteria in our bodies, and starving them out will only help you! It also increases inflammation, and inflammation is never good. Other “bad” things that generally weaken your body – like alcohol or saturated fats, are also detrimental to your gut. Cut WAY back on these.
Cut out difficult to digest foods
Allow internal sores to heal. Steam broccoli, cauliflower, carrots ect before eating, leave grains (including corn) out all together (phytic acid – found in grains – can irritate an already suffering gut even more), and limit red meats. These changes don’t necessarily HAVE to be forever. But you do want to let yourself heal.
Take good quality nutritional supplements
…until your body is able to absorb vitamins and minerals from food. Your body needs these nutrients to heal, but struggles to get them from food if your digestive system is really badly damaged. This has been the most expensive part of healing G’s gut – but it’s also made a huge difference in his energy levels and general body soreness.
He takes a liquid B vitamin, a liquid magnesium, a liquid mineral supplement, and L-glutamine. (Those links are to the specific brands that we use in our home.) L-glutamine, an amino acid, is especially powerful in helping to heal the gut. Studies have shown that it is essential to repairing damage in the intestines (source). It also has some other pretty awesome benefits, like muscle growth promotion, curbing cravings for sugar and alcohol, improving blood sugar and fighting cancer, just to name a few.
Try bone broth and aloe vera juice to sooth & heal
Neither one is necessarily going to be your favorite food – but these two things are incredibly soothing and healing to a digestive system that needs some love. Bone broth is packed full of healing, good for you things (- like collagen, proline, glycine, glutamine, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur, chondroitin sulfate, and glucosamine, according to Dr. Axe). Make your own bone broth at home to ensure that you’re not getting any nasty MSG or other additives in it. Here’s a fantastic article on how to make your own bone broth (and why you should) by Jessica @ The Real Food Dietitians.
Aloe vera juice is the other one – particularly good for bad stomach ache caused by IBS, Crones, Colitis ect. It’s very soothing, but it also has a host of other benefits – it’s a natural anti-inflammatory (if your gut is damaged, you can bet that inflammation is a problem for you), it encourages the growth of good bacteria, and it helps to keep you regular (something you REALLY want while healing your gut – or anytime. Having food just hanging around in your digestive tract fermenting is NEVER GOOD!).
Have you tried any of these methods to heal your gut? What else have you found that works for you?? While G is on his way to recovery – almost no stomachaches anymore – we are still diligent when it comes to what we eat and what we don’t, and at this point we still think the supplements he takes are a worth while investment. Life’s too short to feel crappy all the time, and I’m SO excited that we’ve managed to find the cause of his issues and take steps to fix them.