“Ugh sun... go away.”, you mumble as you wake up. The sun is up, birds are singing, you’re cozy in bed, but you feel like a wreck. You still feel bloated and gassy from last night’s dinner. You try to pass a bowel motion, but nothing happens. After the rush of getting ready and getting yourself to work, you finally sit in your office chair and a wave of tiredness hits you. You’ve been feeling congested, phlegmy and achy for months now! You think to yourself, “When will this stop?”.
It’s time for lunch and you feel overwhelmed because you know it’s a chore to find food that won’t make you feel off. You know you react to some foods, but can’t pinpoint which ones exactly, so you pray and choose a healthy-looking veggie wrap. Immediately after the first bite, you feel how you normally feel when you eat out, very bloated, gassy, pain in your stomach and very frustrated.
If you resonate with this story, then you need to give more attention and care to your gut health. Your gut is connected to many body systems, like your nervous system through the gut-brain axis, your immune system through gut bacteria and immune cell communication, integumentary (skin) system and of course, your digestive system. In this blog you will learn how to create a healthy gut and a resilient immune system. So, let’s take a look into how your immune system is influenced by your gut.
The immune system is made, not born. You can develop it as you grow up if you give it the right input and expose it to different bacteria and other bugs in a variety of environments. Gut bacteria are the key educators of the immune system. When gut bacteria eat prebiotics, they create a type of postbiotic called Short Chain Fatty Acids. SCFAs directly bind to immune cells and they educate them to not react to the foods that you eat.
Now that you know this, you may be wondering, “What can I do to improve my gut health?”
You may be familiar with the terms “gut microbiome, probiotics and prebiotics”. The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms and their genetic material present in the intestinal tract. Probiotics are a combination of live beneficial bacteria and yeasts that naturally live in the gut. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibres that feed beneficial bacteria in the gut. We have a large variety of beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria in our gut. The good bacteria eat prebiotics, or fibre, and the bad bacteria thrive off of high animal protein diets and highly refined sugars.
The first step to begin healing your gut is to reduce inflammation. These are the two most common causes of inflammation:
- Eating foods that you are sensitive or intolerant to. Every time you consume a food or drink that makes you feel bloated, gassy, burpy, go to the toilet with urgency, have flare ups of IBS, eczema, sinusitis, arthritis or joint pain, you’re causing inflammation in your gut and eventually throughout your whole body.
- Chronic stress and anxiety. Stress activates the fight or flight response in your central nervous system, which negatively impacts your digestion and increases gut permeability. This makes it possible for bacteria and undigested food to move into the bloodstream, which causes the immune system to react and create systemic inflammation. Chronic stress also exacerbates gastrointestinal disorders like IBS, IBD, GERD and peptic ulcers.
Let’s address the first one. How can you identify which foods you’re sensitive or intolerant to? You need to track what you eat and how you feel after eating. The most common foods that people tend to react to are gluten, dairy, FODMAP foods, alcohol, caffeine, refined sugar, nuts and soy. Once you identify the foods that don’t make you feel great, then you need to find similar tasting alternatives that you can digest well. If you replace foods rather than eliminate them, it will be more enjoyable to go through your gut healing journey. It will be easier for you to only eat foods that you can digest well and feel like you’re not missing out while you give your gut the time it needs to heal.
What do you do next? It’s very likely that there is an imbalance of beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria in your gut and that you have an increased gut permeability, so you need to address these issues. You can take practitioner-only probiotics from your registered nutritionist or naturopath, so they can help change the environment in your gut. Probiotics don’t stay in your gut, they exert their effect of facilitating diversity in your gut bacteria as they go through you. Another bonus of taking good quality probiotics, is that they can reduce inflammation, benefit your mood and skin and lessen the stress response when taken before a stressful event.
You can also consume probiotics through fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, and water kefir. If you don’t have these foods regularly, then eat small amounts at first and gradually increase the amount, so it’s easier on your digestion. Fermented foods are high in histamines, so if you are sensitive to histamines consume probiotics instead of fermented foods.
If probiotics help balance your gut bacteria, then how do you heal your gut lining and reduce gut permeability? Supplements like L-glutamine, Omega-3 and slippery elm can help strengthen and protect the gut lining and reduce inflammation. You can ask your nutritionist or naturopath for practitioner-only brands of these supplements. Additionally, by eating high-fibre foods, you will help your beneficial gut bacteria produce the SCFA butyrate, which strengthens the gut lining and mucosal immunity.
By this point, you have reduced inflammation in your gut by only eating foods you can digest well and make you feel great; you have taken probiotics to increase the population of beneficial gut bacteria, you have healed your gut lining with key supplements. Now, it’s time to re-introduce fibre-rich foods that you may have taken out at the start of your gut healing journey because you were reacting negatively to them.
Fibre is found in the skin of vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains. Fibre-rich foods feed beneficial gut bacteria that are in charge of improving your immune function, reducing inflammation and the risk of developing a chronic disease, and even helping regulate your mood. You can re-introduce a small amount of one high-fibre food at a time and track how you feel after eating it. If you didn't react negatively to that food, then eat a little bit more of it next time. Repeat this process with all the high-fibre foods that you removed from your diet at the start of your gut healing journey.
If you give yourself 6, or ideally 12 months, to follow the steps outlined in this blog, then it is very likely that you will successfully heal your gut. Yes, it is a long journey, however, it’s worth it because your present and future health starts in your gut. It would be better if you did this with the support and guidance of a registered nutritionist or naturopath because accountability and consistency are key for your success.
If you want to learn more about how to put this into practice, then join us at the next Serotonin Series on Thursday, July the 1st of 2021.
July 1st - Create a healthy gut and resilient immune system
You will learn how to strengthen your immune system by first taking care of your gut health. If you get recurrent colds and infections or you have digestive issues like uncomfortable bloating, gas, reflux, indigestion, constipation, then you might need to pay more attention to your gut health. We will teach you how to correct nutritional deficiencies that impact your immune system, how to identify the right foods for YOU and how to heal your gut and improve your digestion.
Author: Tais Sardinas - Nutritionist