Recently, I’ve been getting a surge of DMs on Instagram about Gut Health. It’s important to state the obvious - I am not a doctor, but I have done extensive research into gut healing and have many friends who work in functional medicine so they’re often teaching me stuff too. Your best bet would be to speak with a Functional Medicine Doctor or a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner in your area but if you wanted a quick run down of all things gut health related to get you on your healing journey, this blog post should help. I wanted to have a post I could share with people that was a one-stop shop where they could read everything I know about gut health to help them on their journey, so here we go.
Gut Health Basics
Your gut houses about 80% of our immune system, so if you’re someone who is constantly getting sick, healing your gut is extremely important. A health and balanced gut microbiome is vital for proper digestion and absorption of the nutrients in our diet. You could eat perfectly all day long, but if your gut is out of whack, you won’t be able to properly break down the good food you’re eating. A healthy gut can also help balance hormones, so if you’re someone who suffers from hormone-related issues, this may be important. A healthy gut also helps regulate our moods and emotions, so if you’re someone who deals with anxiety, depression, brain fog, mood swings, or PMS, healing your gut may help to reduce or dissipate these symptoms.
How does our gut get thrown off in the first place?
We have a certain microbiome in the gut when we are born (vaginally birthed babies generally have a healthier gut microbiota than c-sections. I was a c-section baby). And we get our “gut starter kit” from our mother, which is why it’s important to really take care of yourself when you’re pregnant. Then, whatever we are fed impacts our gut. If you grew up with a whole foods diet, that’s great. If you grew up eating a lot of processed foods or sugary foods, that will tax your gut a bit. From there, you look at lifestyle. If you’re someone who played outside a lot as a kid (or as an adult you do a lot of gardening or are around pets), then that adds to a balanced microbiota in the gut. (A great book is Eat Dirt, which is explains why it’s so important to play in the dirt.) If you grew up in an overly sanitized environment, that can negatively impact your gut health. Then, look at medications. Any time you take any pill at all (anything from The Pill to an Aleve to antibiotics) you are taxing your liver and your gut. This is not to say that you shouldn’t take medication (clearly, there are times when you do need antibiotics, for example), but just for you to be aware and make sure you do some gut healing after the meds are finished - and also to just be aware of the fact that so many doctors overprescribe antibiotics. Then, finally, you look at emotions. Eating on the run aggravates your gut health because your body isn’t in a parasympathetic state which is the “Rest and Digest” state you want to be in so your body can best break down and absorb the nutrients from the food. If you’re eating when you’re angry, sad or stressed out, your hormone levels will be thrown off and you won’t be able to optimally digest your food. Then lastly, you look at your actual food and the micronutrients of the foods. You might eat a “clean” diet, but if you’re eating the exact same things for breakfast, or the exact same few meals each week, you aren’t diversifying your micronutrient intake. Aim to have as much variety as you possibly can, and aim to cut down or eliminate super processed foods (even things like granola bars! There is so much sugar in them!). Be careful about foods that seem healthy but actually are really tough on the digestive tract like nuts (for optimal absorption, you’ll want to only eat sprouted nuts) - with legumes, you will want to soak them overnight to help break them down a bit and make them easier to digest.
How do you know if you’re suffering from poor gut health?
Well, you know what your diet has been like for the last however many years. If you’ve been eating low quality or processed foods, that may mean your gut is off. You know what types of medications you’ve had since you were a child - did you have a lot of rounds of antibiotics? Have you been on birth control for a while? These are things that can throw off your gut health. Most importantly: How do you feel? The following issues, according to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, author of the GAPS book, may be improved or completely reversed through gut healing:
brain fog, mood swings, stress, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, ADD, autism
Gas, IBS, Crohn’s disease, chronic constipation or chronic diarrhea
constant fatigue or low energy
unexpected weight gain or stubborn weight loss
How to Repair the Gut?
I cannot recommend the book Gut and Psychology Syndrome enough. The first half is very technical and scientific. It’s a little dry, but it is VITAL to your health to read it. It explains everything you need to know about proper digestion. It is written by a doctor who realized that pretty much every patient she had benefitted in some way from the GAPS diet. The GAPS diet is a short term healing diet (maximum two years). The idea is to heal and seal the gut lining with foods like bone broth, and well cooked veggies and meats - nothing raw or processed, and then repopulate the gut with good bacteria like homemade yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and other probiotic foods for a healthy, balanced gut. Then, you reintroduce foods off the diet and see how you handle them. Usually, symptoms dissipate or disappear completely now that the gut has healed. I did the full two year diet in the aftermath of being on longterm antibiotics, and to heal from the years of destroying my gut through a vegan/vegetarian diet (you can read all about there here). You can read about my experience with the GAPS diet after 1 year and 2 years.
Everyone responds differently because we all have a different gut microbiome, but I realized I needed continuing healing after reading the book The Micronutrient Miracle. The first half the book is excellent and explains why micronutrients are important, and how if you have an imbalance of micronutrients, it can lead to various deficiencies which can trigger things like sleep issues, hormonal imbalances, acne, migraines, stubborn weight gain, etc. The second half of the book I found a bit salesy (they want you to buy their multivitamin, but I just feel like if your gut is healthy and you are eating high quality foods, you shouldn’t need a multivitamin - but that’s just my personal opinion).
All the aforementioned books
The Gut and Pyschology book has recipes for gut healing foods including broths, but if you need high quality broths in a pinch, I like Broth Masters (use code yogabycandace for $15 off).
Find a good Functional Medicine doctor - they look at the WHOLE body, lifestyle, and are open to incorporating both western meds and eastern meds
Work with a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner like Fairy Gutmother who can hep develop a protocol specifically for you
I hope this was helpful! Let me know if you have any questions down in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer.