How (and why) to Improve Your Gut Health

Oct. 1, 2018The internet is abuzz with talk about gut health, and it has a lot of legit authorities stepping up and offering their two cents on the subject. Evidence is piling up that what we eat doesn’t just affect our gastrointestinal system, but everything, from the clarity of our skin, to our allergies, to lifelong autoimmune diseases. It’s all being inextricably linked together, with one common outlier: Crappy, processed diets are the root of an alarming number of chronic health problems.



 

What Is Gut Health?

In times long left to the history books, the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, said, “All disease begins in the gut.”

Gut health isn’t necessarily about losing weight or detoxing, but rather about our bodies’ relationship with our gut, and the role our digestive system plays in the core functionality of every major biological system we have.

What started as anecdotal evidence among health coaches and dietitians has evolved into an international conversation and scientific study about the body’s relationship between gut health and systemic function.

Gut health is related to what we eat and the overall state of our stomach and digestive system. At the risk of putting it too simply, it’s a delicate balance of having enough good bacteria around, limiting sugars that feed the bad stuff, and limiting your exposure to autoimmune triggers and toxins.

The 411 On Leaky Gut Syndrome

To understand gut health, you first need to understand that your gut it not a sealed environment — it’s a permeable organ.

A healthy gut has solid barriers that keep toxins from passing through the walls of your stomach and intestinal tract and entering your bloodstream. It does what it’s supposed to, because it’s not overwhelmed. Waste is processed efficiently, nothing noxious passed through the walls of your gut, and your body is content, healthy.

A leaky gut is a gut that is overwhelmed with toxins. A combination of too much strain on your system coupled with a poor bacterial balance lead to leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome can manifest itself in a number of different ways, but typically triggers a chronic state of inflammation, and sometimes autoimmune reactions.

A normal part of your immune response that serves to fight infections and diseases winds up over-performing, leading to chronic inflammation, which is at the root of most diseases.

 

Causes of Leaky Gut Syndrome

Typically, there isn’t one single cause to leaky gut syndrome, just like there isn’t typically one symptom. Poor diet is most often the catalyst, putting strain on your digestive system and creating a bacterial imbalance.

As your body struggles to regulate, environmental and dietary toxins exacerbate the problem. Things found in polluted air, water, pesticide residue on produce, and many ingredients in manufactured products like processed foods and cosmetics, overwhelm your system and create strings of seemingly unrelated symptoms.

 

The Link Between Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Dysfunction

Autoimmune dysfunction is a state in which your body has just HAD IT with toxic overload. It kicks into a state of hypervigilance, trying to kick the bad guys out, and as a result, winds up attacking anything and everything — including healthy systems and cells.

When they’re not passing but chronic, the dysfunction becomes a disease that, for many, is lifelong. Drug therapies and dietary restrictions sometimes help, but many people never find relief.

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Rheumatoid arthritis

Lupus

Inflammatory bowel disease

Type 1 diabetes

Psoriasis

Vasculitis

Inflammatory bowel disease

The link between leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune disease is still being studied. While leaky gut hasn’t been proven to cause these diseases, studies do currently show that people who have these diseases are significantly more likely to also have a leaky gut.

Science is still catching up, but many doctors are jumping on board with the logic — there appears to be a really, really solid link between autoimmune disease and dysfunction and gut health.

The trouble is, a leaky gut can throw an entire body out of whack, and the result is a menagerie of symptoms that are seemingly unrelated, like nutrient deficiencies, food allergies, skin problems, emotional health issues, asthma, allergies, and respiratory health issues.

How to Improve Your Gut Health

If there’s one thing I am comfortable about hanging my hat on here, it’s that a balanced, less-toxic diet and lifestyle can’t possible be a bad thing.

If you suspect your gut health could use some work, talk to your doctor, run some tests, and then discuss making a few of these changes.

 

#1 — Eat Organic Foods

Pesticides have been linked repeatedly to autoimmune disease. Buy organic produce, eat cleaner foods, and always remember that pesticide use doesn’t end with your food — your mattress and clothing are worth buying organic as well.

 

#2 — Know Your Heavy Metals

Heavy metal toxicity is a common trigger of autoimmune dysfunction, and they can hide just about anywhere. Go through your home and evaluate everything you and your family are exposed to for possible heavy metals (especially those cosmetics):

Cosmetics and personal care products

Water

Air pollution

Pesticides and lawn care products

#3 — Minimize Trigger Foods

Just like with migraines and diabetic episodes, autoimmune dysfunction and leaky gut can be triggered by certain foods. While there is no hard and fast set of dietary guidelines for good gut health, you’ll want to watch your intake of these foods:

Processed foods

Gluten

Refined sugar (sorry, cupcakes)

Artificial flavors and colors

Artificial preservatives

 

#4 — Consider a Detox

Okay, so let’s get this out in the open right now: Detoxing is no joke. Don’t do it without talking to your doctor, and definitely don’t do it if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

The thing is, it works, and that means that you get those toxins out of your tissues, and need to do so in a way that helps your body eliminate them as waste — not reabsorb them all at once.

Always detox slow and gently with the guidance of a physician. Start with detox foods, and talk to your doctor about getting onto a protocol, like the one Amy Myers MD offers.

 

#5 — Gobble Up the Good Bacteria

Finally, the good news: eating is totally good for gut health. Namely, eating up all of those awesome, super beneficial bacterium. Stock up on these pantry essentials, and let them worm their funky flavor into every meal you make (because anything fermented is a winner in my book):

Sprouted grains

Kefir

Fermented foods (hellllllo kimchi)

Apple cider vinegar

Raw dairy products

Bone broth

Fresh herbs and spices

Aquatic veggies

 

Have you reversed or cured your autoimmune dysfunction with gut health? We’d love to hear your story! Tell us what happened on Facebook or Instagram, and tag us in the post @Avocadomattress

 

Destiny Hagest

By Destiny Hagest

 —  Destiny is a freelance writer with a background in sustainability and natural health. She lives in the mountains of central Montana with her husband and young son. When she's not writing or chasing her toddler, you can find her wandering the quiet wilderness in search of wild herbs and antler sheds.

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