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6 Ways to Improve Gut Health Naturally

By Jessica Wilhelm, CN, July 11, 2019

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1. REDUCE: Sugar and Processed White Flour: 

  • Feeds pathogenic yeast (candida) in the gut. Everyone has yeast in their gut, but an overgrowth creates problems. An overgrowth of yeast can occur after antibiotic use, a prolonged diet high in sugar and refined white flour as well as long-term stress. Over time the imbalance in gut flora can damage the lining of the GI tract and lead to intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut.  Common symptoms of candida overgrowth include gas and bloating, cravings for sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods, fatigue, skin rashes, yeast infections, thrush and weight gain. 
  • Increases inflammation: A high sugar diet or high carbohydrate diet causes extreme blood sugar swings. When blood sugar levels rise it generates more free radicals that stimulate an immune response resulting in an increase in inflammation. 
  • Suppresses the immune system: Sugar competes for absorption with Vitamin C in immune cells.  The more sugar we eat the fewer the binding sites available for Vitamin C and therefore a dampened immune response.  

Solution: opt for low sugar fruits whenever possible such as apples, pears, grapefruit and berries. Limit desserts and added sugar. When making desserts replace white sugar in recipes with raw honey, maple syrup, applesauce or raw dates. Utilize the herb stevia and the fruit monk fruit (Luo Han Guo) to sweeten treats without sugar. 

2. REDUCE: Stress

  • Stress can disrupt the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut, which is crucial for healthy digestion and immune system function. More than 75% of the immune system resides in the GI tract, which might explain why people who experience chronic stress are more likely to get sick and experience gas, bloating, heartburn, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Solution: Avoid stressful situations whenever possible. Incorporate stress-reducing activities such as meditation, yoga, epsom salt baths and/or daily exercise into your daily routine.  

3. REDUCE the use of alcohol and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) 

  • Alcohol taxes the liver, disrupts the gut microbiome and steals nutrients from the gut. In the gut alcohol promotes the growth of gram-negative bacteria such as E.Coli, Citrobacter, and Klebsiella that when in abundance produce toxins. Gut cells metabolize alcohol into the toxic compound acetaldehyde.  The combination of these factors increases inflammation and damages the lining of the GI tract.
     
  • Studies show that long-term use (more than 3 months) of NSAIDs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen can damage the lining of the gastrointestinal tract which can lead to intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut. Leaky gut describes the unregulated passing of potentially harmful substances through the cells lining the gut wall, into the bloodstream where the body initiates immune-related responses. 

Solution: Consider incorporating acupuncture and supplementation with Omega-3 and turmeric to help support a healthy inflammation response. Reduce alcohol by opting for low sugar kombucha (also a rich source of probiotics) and sparkling water with lemon or limes.  

4. REMOVE: Artificial Colors, Artificial Sweeteners and Preservatives 

  • Artificial colors, preservatives (BHA, BHT, sodium nitrate/nitrite, sulfur dioxide, potassium bromate) and sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, saccharin). Flavor enhancers such as monosodium glutamate, in addition to high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils (trans fat). 

Solution: Eat a whole-foods based diet (see below) and avoid preservatives whenever possible in your diet. Sweeten foods with naturally sugar-free alternatives to artificial sweeteners such as the herb stevia and the fruit monk fruit (Luo Han Guo) which is derived from a sub-tropical melon. 

5. ENHANCE-RESTORE-BALANCE

Eat 80% whole foods. The body needs the components in real, fresh food to repair damage and rebuild healthy new tissue. Whole foods are full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, plus enzymes the GI tract needs to heal.

  • Consume a wide variety of vegetables but limit starchy vegetables such as corn and white potatoes. Consume less sweet fruits such as berries, apples, and pears.  Tropical fruit such as bananas and pineapple contain more sugar and should be limited. 
  • Get 3-4 servings of lean protein each day.  It is best to consume pasture-raised, grass-fed and grass-finished meat. Make sure to rotate protein sources so you get a wide variety of amino acids.
  • Eat plenty of healthy, whole-food fats like extra virgin olive and coconut oil, ghee, avocados, raw walnuts and pumpkin seeds.  

Fiber. As your GI tract repairs, it will get rid of toxins and unhealthy byproducts through your large intestine. You’ll need adequate fiber to eliminate the toxic waste material as quickly and efficiently as possible. A whole-food diet full of an array of fruits and vegetables will help to provide the body with fiber. Diets that are low in fiber are correlated with lower amounts of beneficial flora (probiotics). Beneficial flora ferment fiber that produce beneficial fatty acids that provide an energy source for intestinal cells, but also support the mucosal lining, a protective barrier in the gut. The best high-fiber foods are colorful vegetables, berries, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole-kernel grains. 

  • Adults should get 25-30 grams of fiber each day
  • For children 3-18 years use the “age+5” rule (10 years + 5 = 15g of fiber)

Water.  Drink at least half your body weight in water each day. This will ensure you are detoxifying and eliminating properly. 

Digestive enzymes. The gastrointestinal tract is lined with millions of villi and microvilli which are finger-like projections covered with digestive enzymes that help us digest foods and absorb nutrients.  These enzymes are what the body needs to break foods down so the nutrients, carbohydrates, fats and proteins can be used by our cells.  Taking supplemental enzymes before you eat gives the GI tract a jump-start on digestion, making food easier to break down and nutrients easier to absorb. Symptoms such as heartburn, belching, gas and bloating are signals the bodies digestive capacity has declined and digestive enzymes can help restore gut function.  

Glutamine. The most plentiful free amino acid in the body that supports immunity and digestion by fueling the cells that line the small intestine.

Probiotic. Recolonize a healthy layer of good bacteria — flora that help protect the GI tract and assist with digestion.  Probiotic therapy rejuvenates and replenishes a microbiome damaged by antibiotics or a poor diet.

By colonizing a healthy layer of beneficial bacteria it can strengthen the immune system, improve metabolism and digestion, help your body make vitamins (B and K), and aid in the absorption of nutrients. The two most important groups of probiotics are Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium.

It is important to include a probiotic that contains a variety of healthy bacteria to colonize the different parts of the small and large intestine.  Look for probiotics supplements that include the bifidobacterium species infantis, longum, bifidum as well as the lactobacillus species reuteri, plantarum, and acidophilus.  Remember to rotate your probiotic supplement every 3 months.  This will ensure the intestinal tract gets a variety of healthy bacteria.  To get your good probiotic bugs to stick around, eat daily servings of prebiotic- and probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut, tempeh, and kombucha. 

Contact our Wellnicity Clinical Nutritionists to develop a customized supplement plan that includes a probiotic, digestive enzymes, fiber and/or glutamine to support GI health.