Your tummy is a mysterious thing. Temperamental. Sensitive.
This is old news if you’ve ever dealt with bloating, indigestion, heartburn, constipation, even brain fog or fatigue after consuming certain foods, due to the intimate interaction between your brain and your gut. Digestive issues not only disrupt your day, they can mess up your whole body. Your gastrointestinal tract and the bacteria therein affect your body’s nutrient absorption, vitamin production, hormone regulation, immune response, detoxification systems, skin health and overall mental wellness. And the fact is, there are a vast array of gut assailants that can disrupt the delicate machinery that is your digestive system.
Clearly, taking care of your gastrointestinal tract should be a top priority.
If you abuse or neglect your gut, a part of your body that is in some ways more exposed to external compounds than your skin, you’re setting yourself up for subpar performance in all areas of life. After all, the energy and nutrients you consume support every body system and a messed up gut means you're likely not absorbing all that you're putting into your body.
If you want to spend less time on the toilet, if you want to be done with embarrassing and uncomfortable gas and bloating, if you want to get rid of cravings and mood issues that seem closely related to food, you’ll find answers to your questions here.
There are three common things that fly under the radar, but that contribute to a lot of the gut problems you might be wrestling with. You’ll find out what they are here, and how to eliminate them. You’ll also discover one proven, game-changing tip that will dramatically improve your digestion and gut health.
What Happens When Digestion Goes Awry
You’re not alone if you think of your gut as one long, twisting garden hose that extends from your mouth to your butt. Heck, even the classic Gray’s Anatomy – a go-to manual for every aspiring medical student – describes the gut as:
“A musculo-membranous tube, about thirty feet in length, extending from your mouth to the anus, and lined throughout its entire extent by mucous membrane.”
But the truth is, the gut is way more complex than that makes it sound. For example, your gut is tied to your brain and mood. This is called the brain-gut connection. Dr. Jordan Rubin describes the relationship quite well in his book Patient, Heal Thyself:
“Early in our embryogenesis, a collection of tissue called the ‘neural crest’ appears and divides during fetal development. One part turns into the central nervous system, and the other migrates to become the enteric nervous system. Both ‘thinking machines’ form simultaneously and independently of one another until a later stage of development… Then the two nervous systems link through a neural cable called the ‘vagus nerve,’ the longest of all cranial nerves. The vagus nerve ‘wanders’ from the brain stem through the organs in the neck and thorax and finally terminates in the abdomen. This is your vital brain-gut connection.”
This connection explains why:
- You get butterflies in your stomach before going on stage.
- You can get nervous or get stomach cramps before a hard workout or race.
- Antidepressants cause nausea and stomach upset, and stomach upset can depress you.
- Particular foods cause brain fog or sleepiness.
- Why food intolerances or gut inflammation can cause serious behavioral issues…
- Why overeating when you’re anxious helps you produce extra “feel good” chemicals…
- And much more.
Poor gut health has been linked to many chronic bowel diseases, obesity, type 2 diabetes, immune dysregulation, mental health problems and much more.
From your mouth to your esophagus, gallbladder, stomach, small intestine, and colon, there are endless possibilities for what can go wrong inside your thirty-foot long tube.
3 Common Gut Issues & How To Fix Them
The world of gut problems is vast, so here you'll find three common causes of gut issues and the ways in which you can restore your gut health.
1) Bacterial Imbalances
Your gut is very much alive and crawling with critters: five hundred species, over 100 trillion cells and three pounds of bacteria in your digestive tract form a giant ecosystem often called the gut microbiome that helps digest food, regulate hormones, excrete toxins, and produce vitamins and other healing compounds that keep your gut and body healthy.
The problems arise when bacterial imbalances occur, the good bacteria are unable to flourish, and bad bacteria runs rampant. For example, there are chemicals that can be absorbed through your skin that will destroy your good bacteria. Triclosan is one example. It’s used in a lot of common household items, like toothpaste, soap, detergent, even toys, and it’s a known antimicrobial that will destroy your friendly bacteria. Prescribed antibiotics, as well as those found in factory farmed animals, can rapidly alter the gut bacteria and cause opportunistic pathogens to take over, leading to acute disease and long-term gut dysbiosis (imbalance).
The symptoms of a gut bacteria imbalance are vast and may include gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, frequent sickness, skin problems, brain fog, fatigue, weight gain, undigested food in stool, thyroid issues, autoimmune diseases, and so much more.
A three-day comprehensive stool panel allows you to determine the types of gut bacteria, yeast, fungus, and parasites living in your gut, and if you have digestive inflammation, all of which can then be used to determine the need for certain probiotics, treatments to eliminate things like small intestinal bacteria growth (SIBO) and Candida, whether you need to avoid fermentable substances such as simple sugars and starches, and more.
If you have symptoms like bloating, abdominal cramping, food intolerances, gas, diarrhea, and constipation, you might also have an overgrowth that a lot of physicians aren’t even aware of. It’s called SIBO, or “small intestine bacterial overgrowth”. SIBO occurs when certain bacteria, which are normally found in your colon and large intestine, mobilize and move up towards your small intestine. Once established there, the bacteria feed on the food passing through your small intestine which can lead to poor nutrient absorption, particularly that of fat-soluble vitamins and iron. The feasting bacteria produce gases that contribute to SIBO symptoms like abdominal pain and bloating.
SIBO is often treated with antibiotics, but this treatment has a high recurrence rate and often with even worse symptoms. Fortunately, herbal remedies have been found to be equally as effective at treating SIBO as compared to the antibiotic rifaximin.
Oregano oil is one such herbal remedy often used in the treatment of SIBO and other conditions. It has potent antimicrobial and antifungal activity, including antifungal activity against Candida. Candida is a fungus that is normally present in the human body, but candida overgrowth poses several health issues and many of the same symptoms as SIBO. Berberine and grapefruit seed extract are two other potent, natural antimicrobial agents that are useful in the treatment of SIBO.
Other strategies to help combat SIBO include supplement support for low stomach acid such as betaine HCL, consuming digestive enzymes, and limiting fermentable carbohydrates such as fructose, lactose, and many grains and beans.
How do you find out if you have SIBO?
In addition to experiencing the symptoms listed above, when you have SIBO, you may actually react pretty poorly when you consume fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kombucha, and symptoms can even get worse from consuming probiotics. This is because you're adding more bacteria to a place already overgrown with bacteria that shouldn't' be there. This goes against the usual gut health advice, but this is a case in which probiotic bacteria may not be good for you. After SIBO clears up, then you can work on re-colonizing your gut flora.
You can also order an at-home breath test that measures the amount of gas produced by bacteria that indicates the presence of SIBO. A good one is the Quintron Breath Test at BreathTests.com.
2) Leaky Gut
It’s exactly what it sounds like: holes get poked in the walls of the intestinal lining, allowing things to pass through it that shouldn’t and don’t in a healthy gut. When your digestive tract gets damaged and these bigger holes develop, undesirable things are let into the bloodstream like gluten and other proteins, bad bacteria, undigested food particles, and toxic waste. This can lead to chronic inflammation, nutrient malabsorption, food intolerances, autoimmunity, thyroid problems, gas and bloating.
But possibly the number one offender is a common component found on plants, wheat, soy, corn, anything that’s been grown commercially and sprayed down. It’s called glyphosate. It’s used to kill weeds and insects. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But once it winds up in your digestive tract, nothing’s gonna stop it from doing what it does best: killing living tissue. And not only can it destroy your gastrointestinal lining, but it will also disrupt the microbiome of healthy bacteria living inside of you. So the next time you’re thinking of getting a box of cereal, or a dozen donuts, maybe even “market fresh” fruits and veggies or meat from animals that have been fed on any of these things, think about where exactly it came from. That way, you know you’re not taking the edible equivalent of a wrecking ball to your stomach.
To seal up a leaky gut, introduce compounds into your body that help the gut to heal, and be careful to avoid things that cause inflammation or punch holes in the lining of the digestive tract.
Add bone broth into your diet, whether homemade or purchased, to provide gut-healing gelatin, glycine, and glutamine, along with a whole host of other beneficial compounds. If you decide to make your own bone broth, go with the knuckle, patella, femur, or feet bones. Those bones contain the highest concentration of white and red stem-cell marrow, and the highest levels of collagen, one of bone broth’s major benefits.
Glutamine is an amino acid that supports intestinal and whole body growth that is important for restoring and maintaining your intestinal barrier integrity. Your body is actually capable of producing it with one study suggesting that you can actually stimulate the natural, homeostatic release of glutamine from skeletal muscle to help repair the gut and restore immunologic responses to full capacity. However, the study also concluded that “severe injury or prolonged glutamine deficits do not adequately support intestinal recovery and allow this cycle to become self-perpetuating.” Which means that you might need to turn to supplementation. The addition of glutamine to your diet will help prevent deterioration of gut permeability and preserve the mucosal structure, which is basically the lining of your gut.
Colostrum, which you’ll find in raw milk or as a supplement, can also help. It’s produced by all mammals (including humans) in the first few days after giving birth, which is why it’s also known as “first milk”. Essentially, what colostrum does is inhibit zonulin proteins from binding to what are called zonulin receptors in your intestinal cells. Once the proteins bind to the receptors, your intestinal wall loosens and opens up, so by preventing that, colostrum helps to prevent leaky gut. Colostrum also encourages the growth of probiotics so they may better colonize your gut, rather than pass right through your digestive tract.
The solution to leaky gut is fairly simple in theory, but patience and persistence are definitely necessary when healing the gut.
3) Natural Gut Irritants
A lot of plants have defense mechanisms. For example, one of the milkweed plant’s defenses is to secrete a sort of latex that coats the head of any insect that happens to bite into a leaf’s vein, drowning the unfortunate herbivore. But insects aren’t the only ones that need to be careful around plants.
Take quinoa, a perfect example of a grain that is somewhat healthy, high in amino acids, and full of essential minerals. Quinoa is coated with what are called saponins. It’s pretty much an indigestible soapy coating that helps protect the quinoa as it passes through a mammal’s digestive tract so that it will be excreted intact and thus be spread and planted. It’s also found on other products like soybeans. One study suggests that soya saponins may induce an inflammatory reaction in the intestine, and thus increase intestinal permeability. Another article, which studied four different saponins and their effects on intestinal nutrient transport, concluded that some saponins do increase intestinal permeability and thus inhibit normal active nutrient transport while facilitating the uptake of other materials that the gut would normally be impermeable to.
So what’s a quinoa-lover to do? As already mentioned, quinoa does have health benefits, so if you want to get past the soapy covering, just put the quinoa in a strainer and rinse it with water, put it in a mason jar with more water, soak it overnight, wake up, pour out the water, rinse in a strainer again, and repeat. Perform this cycle of rinsing and soaking a few times, in the same way that our ancestors would have done it, and your quinoa will be far more digestible and leave you with fewer stomach problems.
The same can be said for fermenting wheat, dairy, and soy, or soaking and sprouting certain foods like legumes and lentils. All of these plants have built-in defense mechanisms, but humans are smarter than plants, so it’s not an issue of avoiding things like legumes and beans and grains and quinoa, it’s just a matter of treating them properly.
Caring For Your Gut
To make sure all of these unpleasantries don’t happen to you, the most important thing to do is support a healthy, balanced gut microbiome by eating a wide variety of good bacteria. This includes fermented foods, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, raw yogurts and milk, some cheeses, and plants grown in healthy soil. These foods should supplement a diet consisting of a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods (learn how to determine the perfect diet for you, here). It is best to avoid refined sugars and carbohydrates that feed the bad bacteria and limit pro-inflammatory vegetable oils like canola, corn, and soy oil.
Summary & A Quick Tip For Improving Digestion
Your gut wants to take care of you, but it’s delicate, so you have to return the favor. Feed and support your digestive bacteria, pay attention to leaky gut issues, and be aware of hidden weaponry and armor of some of the otherwise healthy foods that you eat.
And finally, here's a simple tip for improving your digestion today:
For every meal that you eat, starting right now, chew every bite of food twenty-five times. Yes, twenty-five. Your mouth, like your stomach, is full of digestive enzymes like salivary alpha-amylase, so by taking your time and chewing properly, you’re giving those enzymes the chance to do their job. This will also activate hormones that will make you feel fuller faster, stimulate hydrochloric acid to begin breaking down proteins, and much more. All sorts of cool things happen when you slow down and chew your food, including a deeper appreciation for what's supporting your wellness.