This post on how to improve gut health naturally is a culmination after years of struggling with digestive issues, acne and anxiety, only to find out I was actually dealing with small intestinal bowel overgrowth and leaky gut. You may have digestive issues and your doc called it IBS. I hope this information will help empower you to start the conversation and ask the questions.
Gut Health is So 2019
Gut health is all the rage these days, and for good reason. According to Medical News Today, there are more than 100 trillion microorganisms that make up our microbiome, and keeping an equal balance plays a key role in a number of functions in our body outside of digestive including our mental health, immunity, and overall wellness. That balance can be tilted for a number of reasons including diet, medications (it was birth control for me), stress (I have lots of that), past antibiotic use and others.
Disordered gut health can manifest in a bunch of different ways. Here are the ones that showed up for me:
- Gas and Bloating
- Poor Nutrient Absorption
- Constipation (or Diarrhea as well)
- Acne or Other Skin Conditions
- Seasonal Allergies
- Hashimoto’s Disease (or any Other Autoimmune Disease)
Fixing gut issues can be tricky, but learning how to improve gut health naturally is the first step in shifting things in the right direction.
The Gut – Brain Connection
A lot has been said about the gut – brain connection, and not only is there science to back it up, I’ve also experienced it firsthand.
At 18 years old I started experiencing severe panic attacks. I became very moody, cried a lot, and rarely wanted to leave the house. This came on suddenly, and even though I can contribute it to the fact that I just graduated high school, it hit me like a wrecking ball.
Allow me to rewind a few years before this happened. In my early teens I started experiencing horrible, painful periods. My doctor recommended that I get on birth control (mind year this was many, MANY years before I even started having sex). I also experienced severe acne as well, so of course I went through rounds of Accutane and antibiotics to clear that up, not really knowing that was doing more harm than good.
So needless to say, it’s not much of a surprise that at 18 years old my gut became a mess. At that time though, the gut – brain connection was not much of a topic, so I was placed on antidepressants as many others are.
According to this article by functional medical pioneer Chris Kresser, there are numerous studies showing higher rates of mental health issues in those with compromised gut health than in those without.
How to Improve Gut Health Naturally
One of the most common protocols for improving gut health naturally is what is called the 4 R’s of gut healing: remove, repair, replace and rebuild.
You want to start out by removing all potentially problematic irritants to give your gut the opportunity to heal. This can be in the form of foods such as gluten, grains, legumes, dairy, refined seed oils and sugars. It can also be in the form of alcohol, or medications such as NSAIDs.
At this point you also want to remove any potential infections you may have going on. My doctor suggested that I get tested for SIBO (small intestinal bowel overgrowth) and the test came back positive. The test is pretty easy, you drink a sugary substance and blow into these little tubes for three hours to measure the levels of gases created in your body from the drink. SIBO is basically the good bacteria in your large intestine makes its way into your small intestine, where it’s not supposed to be. I have been on a 12 – week microbial treatment.
Once the irritants have been removed, you want to begin repairing the gut. What I’ve been doing so far is collagen and bone broth (Soup recipes here and here) as well as avoiding refined sugars, gluten and dairy. I also take L-Glutamine supplements first thing in the morning before eating. Stress management is also key. Stress can also come in the form of nutritional deficiencies, so make sure to work with a qualified practitioner. Avoid exercises that will stress you out even more. I did HIIT classes that completely wiped me out for the entire day.
I also take apple cider vinegar pills before eating to help with digestive juices to help my gut break down the foods I am eating. One thing I learned in this entire process is that stress can actually decrease your stomach acid, leaving the door open for infections like SIBO. Making sure to support that process with apple cider vinegar, lemon water or digestive bitters is important.
The next step is to start repopulating the gut with all the beneficial bacteria it needs to thrive. I am slowly incorporating beneficial bacteria in the form of coconut yogurt at this point. It’s important to work with a qualified practitioner during this process in order to not overwhelm the system. Your gut has just been through a lot.
You can start reintroducing a lot of the beneficial foods slowly like sauerkraut, fermented veggies and kombacha and seeing how they do. It’s important to get different strains from foods, as probiotic supplements may only contain a certain strand that you can’t get from just the pills alone. Finding a good probiotic is important to help rebuild the beneficial bacteria in the gut. There’s a lot of conflict on whether a refrigerated or shelf stable probiotic is better, so work with your practitioner to find the right brand and dose that works for you.