It seems these days, that either everyone is talking about their gut health, or not talking about it all. My concern is probably more for those people who still don't realise how critical your gut is to your overall wellbeing.
Our gut is literally our second brain, and when it's not happy, nobody's happy! When you suffer with gut dysfunction, it can affect you in several different ways. You could be struggling with symptoms like poor digestion, bloating, heartburn, constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain or IBS, which in itself is bad enough and can often lead to a significant negative impact on your quality of life. However, your problem may be far more serious than that and we will look at this in a minute.
When you suffer with gut dysfuntion, you may also unknowingly be suffering with the secondary fallout thereof, ie gut-brain dysfunction, gut-heart dysfunction, or gut-immune dysfunction, and this is where things get a lot more complicated. Your gut health can affect your mood and there is increasing new evidence that shows a strong correlation between gut issues and symptoms such as anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. It has also been shown that individuals who suffer with autism, ADHD and other behavioural issues, often suffer from significant dysbiosis and overgrowth of very specific strains of pathogenic bacteria. The gut microbiome has been shown to play an enormous role in the modulation and secretion of neuro-transmitters (the chemical signals that talk to your brain) and thus the regulation of your mood, amongst other things.
What is dysbiosis? It is an imbalance between your good and bad bacteria in your gut, where the good guys may have been wiped out by antiobiotics, or are simply outnumbered by the bad guys. You could have parasites, candida, or other pathogens colonising your gut and manipulating the food you supply for their own benefit.
Your good bacteria produce SCFAs, or short chain fatty acids, which include acetate, propionate and butyrate. They are produced by the fermentation of insoluble fibers from dietary plant matter. When these little SCFAs are in abundance, they basically speak to your immune system and tell it that all is well.
When you have the wrong kind of bacteria, their waste and byproducts like lipopolysaccharides and endotoxins can further disrupt and antagonise your immune system. If your immune system is upregulated due to chronic exposure to a variety of stressors, both dietary and environmental, or you are affected by leaky gut, you can run into troubles with auto-immune disease, like Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, Hashimoto's, MS and a multitude of others. You can also start noticing food intolerances which you may not have had in the past.
One of the key issues to address when tackling auto-immune disease, is addressing diet and removing foods that are known to inflame the gut and break down the tight gut junctions. Gluten and gliadin (present in wheat and other grains), are the most well-known of these substances, as it is known to affect zonulin, which is the protein that modulates the permeability of the tight junctions in the gut. When these tight junctions are broken down, we start suffering with what is otherwise known as "leaky gut". By removing inflammatory foods from your diet, it gives the gut time to heal and repair those tight gut junctions.
This process can be supported by eating nutrient dense and fermented foods, taking digestive enzymes, pre-biotics (resistant starches that you can't digest, but that feed your good bacteria), probiotics (good bacteria that can reseed the gut, or stimulate your own good bacteria to produce more SCFAs) and amino acids like glutamine, which help heal the gut lining. Other natural remedies that can help heal and soothe the gut, are things like slippery elm and apple pectin.
For some patients, simply doing the above won't be enough - we may need to further screen for food intolerances and remove these from the diet, as well as possibly look at a comprehensive digestive stool analysis, which screens for dysbiosis, pathogenic gut bacteria and also for commensals - bacteria that are not necessarily bad, but that are not in good balance with the good bacteria. In certain instances, some of these pathogenic bacteria may need to be treated with antibiotics or herbal antimicrobials. A CDSA also tests for more specific things like tumour markers, digestive function and other properties of good gut function.
As you can see, there is far more to the gut than meets the eye. It is affected not only by genetics, but also by your environment, stressors, cortisol, toxins, the food you eat and lifestyle.
Some symptoms which have not been mentioned yet, but which may also indicate gut dysfunction, may include the following: coated tongue, halitosis (bad breath), fatigue, brain fog, unexplained food sensitivities, new onset of allergies, etc.
If you are struggling with your gut, or other matters which you may not have attributed to your gut, but could be related, come and see us for help.