If there’s one area of healthcare that should get the most attention, it’s the gut health. Why? Because the gut affects nearly every other body system. A healthy gut will most often lead to healthy digestion, heart, mental health, and metabolism.
Unfortunately, most Americans are dealing with imbalances and inflammation in the gut. The consequences of gut imbalance stretch far beyond an upset stomach or an extra trip to the bathroom. We consistently see patients who complain of chronic symptoms that their old doctor was unable to treat. After a few tests, we determine that these long-term symptoms are rooted in an unbalanced gut.
Dealing with a persistent chronic illness? Improving gut health may be the key to recovery.
Let’s talk about the dangers of poor gut health, what causes poor gut health, and how to improve gut health naturally.
The Dangers of Poor Gut Health
The effects of an unhealthy gut don’t stop with gastrointestinal problems. Healthy or not, the gut microbiome impacts all areas of the body.
When the gut is unbalanced, many patients experience severe constipation or diarrhea. Also, acid reflux has been linked to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) in the gut. These symptoms are a serious red flag indicating the gut is out of balance.
The gut microbiome may also play a role in how you lose and gain weight. Bacterial imbalances have been shown to contribute to obesity, while adequate levels of the bacteria Lactobacillus rhamnosus help promote healthy weight loss.
An unhealthy gut also affects inflammation levels in the body. The immune system is housed in the gut, and inflammation and gut imbalances have been linked to various health conditions and autoimmune diseases. An unhealthy gut also means you’re going to get sick more often. Studies also suggest a link between heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and various bacteria located in the gut microbiome.
Finally, gut health is directly linked to mental health. The brain and gut are linked via the gut-brain axis, referred to as the body’s “second brain.” The gut controls the production of melatonin and serotonin, chemicals that contribute to our mood and mental health. When the gut is off-kilter, mental health is directly affected.
Causes of an Unhealthy Gut
When it comes to improving gut health, it’s important to first understand the factors that contributed to an unhealthy gut in the first place. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single cause of poor gut health—but these are several areas to keep in mind.
Diet is perhaps the contributor to poor gut health, and our society doesn’t make nutrition a priority. When we eat highly processed foods, fungi and bacteria will consume the resulting sugars. When we consume processed foods in excess, elevating blood sugar levels, it’s easy for these bacteria to feed, multiply, and shift the microbiome balance.
Also, some individuals have allergies and sensitivities to seemingly “harmless” foods, which can trigger inflammation in the gut. For many people, grains are a big culprit. Even those who choose a gluten-free diet may experience sensitivities to grains.
Imbalanced hormones—especially cortisol, thyroid, estrogen, and testosterone—have been linked to “leaky gut” syndrome, which prevents the gut from healing. A leaky gut means that the digestive lining breaks down, allowing toxins and bacteria to enter the body through the bloodstream. While an unhealthy gut contributes to chronic autoimmune diseases, the reverse is true also: inflammation leads to a breakdown of the gut lining.
Thanks to the gut-brain axis, our mental health levels also impact gut health. These days, stress levels are high, and poor gut health is an unexpected—but very serious—result of chronic stress.
Finally, many medications kill healthy gut bacteria and stop the body from maintaining a mucus protection against harmful stomach acids. Over half of individuals who regularly take prescription medications have gut inflammation.
Heal Your Gut the Natural Way
So, what’s to be done about poor gut health? The good news is, there are many ways to heal an unhealthy gut and find relief from symptoms. If you’re wondering how to improve gut health, here are some holistic ways to get started:
Your diet will make an incredible impact on gut health, especially when you work with a functional medicine doctor. To find a diet that works for you, we recommend an elimination diet. With an elimination diet, you will slowly cut back on different foods. If you start feeling better after cutting out a food, you’ll be able to identify what triggers inflammation and what foods your body is sensitive to.
It’s a good idea to focus on eating less processed foods and more on whole foods with a healthy balance of carbs, protein, and fats. When consuming foods such as rice, quinoa, almonds, or cashews, it’s important to soak raw materials for easier digestion. Doctors may recommend adding bone broth and fermented foods such as kefir or sauerkraut to give the gut a boost.
Patients may be advised to take additional supplements—such as magnesium, enzymes, or L-glutamine—to help restore healthy gut bacteria. Probiotics and prebiotics in particular are essential for healing the gut.
Besides diet and getting proper nutrients, patients should address other health factors. Exercise, adequate rest, proper hydration, and stress management all contribute to general health, happiness, and a healed gut. Your functional medicine doctor will also address these areas to help you feel your best inside and out.
Improve Gut Health with Functional Medicine
If you’re looking for an expert to teach you how to improve gut health naturally, Five Journeys is here to help. As functional medicine doctors, we get to know you as a patient, assess your unique lifestyle and health needs, and address the root cause of health issues. At Five Journeys, gone are the days of one-size-fits-all healthcare!
Want to see if we’d be a good fit? Book a FREE 15-minute Discovery Call or contact us on our website.