In the pursuit of optimal health, the significance of the digestive system cannot be overstated. A healthy gut plays a crucial role in digestion and influences a myriad of factors, including weight loss, mental well-being, and the risk for chronic disease. Millions of research dollars have been poured into studies that examine the link between gut health and overall health for good reason – it is perhaps the most important link to the root causes of disease we have come across in medicine, as it influences the function of practically every system of the body. While there is still much to understand about the microscope world of our digestive system, experts agree on a few fundamental steps to optimize gut health through lifestyle changes, supplementation, and specialty clinical testing that can help improve and even optimize overall health.
How Optimal Gut Health Promotes Overall Health
First, let’s explore how health is supported by an optimally functioning gut. A healthy gut is typically packed with a diversity of beneficial bacteria that aid nutrient absorption and support immune system function. Billions of tiny microbes produce essential vitamins, combat harmful pathogens, and keep our digestive system running smoothly. They protect the one-cell barrier between the outside world and the bloodstream, keeping harmful substances out and allowing helpful substances in. However, poor diet, environmental toxins, and certain medications, among other factors, can cause an imbalance in this microbiota and a disruption of optimal function. Many assume symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation make up a majority of gut health issues, however, downstream systemic symptoms and chronic conditions can stem from an unhealthy gut and are incredibly common.
Examples of symptoms that may indicate poor gut health include:
- Persistent digestive issues: bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, or heartburn.
- Frequent infections or weakened immune system response.
- Chronic fatigue or unexplained tiredness.
- Skin problems like eczema, rosacea, or frequent breakouts.
- Autoimmune diseases or increased inflammation throughout the body.
- Difficulty concentrating, brain fog, or frequent headaches.
- Unexplained weight gain or weight loss.
- Bad breath or dental issues.
- Food allergies or sensitivities.
- Frequent sugar cravings or yeast infections.
Luckily, there are concrete and validated steps you can take to avoid downstream symptoms and possible chronic conditions that are associated with gut health under the guidance of a functional medicine provider. These steps are largely the protocol we provide to our patients following the recommendations from the Immune Reboot by Robert Silverman, DPM, to help them heal the gut after a comprehensive assessment indicates gut imbalances by our experts.
Step 1: Reset
The journey to optimal gut health begins with a rest. This involves re-evaluating and adjusting daily habits, from dietary choices to stress management. By eliminating processed foods, reducing sugar intake, and incorporating relaxation techniques, the body is primed to heal and rejuvenate. This paves the way for a harmonious gut environment and sets the stage for subsequent interventions and supplements.
Lifestyle changes to incorporate into your “reset” phase:
- Reduce intake of processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Increase intake of fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol.
- Engage in regular physical activity, whether it’s walking, yoga, or more intense workouts.
- Prioritize sleep, aiming for 7-9 hours of quality sleep nightly.
- Manage stress through mindfulness practices like meditation or deep breathing exercises.
- Avoid smoking and limit exposure to environmental toxins.
- Establish a consistent eating schedule, avoiding late-night snacking.
- Seek balance in your diet, ensuring a mix of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.
Step 2: Remove
The next step in optimizing gut health is the removal of harmful agents or ingredients that disrupt the gut’s delicate balance. This involves identifying (through thorough clinical testing) and eliminating foods and substances that cause adverse reactions in the body (i.e. food sensitivities). Systematically removing these irritants can significantly reduce inflammation and give the gut a chance to heal. This “cleansing” phase is essential for laying the groundwork for a healthier gut ecosystem.
Schedule for Removal:
- 4 months: substances that induce severe reactions.
- 3 months: substances that induce high reactions.
- 2 months: substances that induce moderate reactions.
- 1 month: substances that induce mild reactions.
Step 3: Replace
After removing the harmful agents, you must replenish the gut with beneficial substances. This step introduces specific supplements that aid digestion and restore gut integrity. From enzymes that facilitate nutrient breakdown to compounds that bolster the gut lining, the replacement phase is all about fortifying the digestive system. Doing so ensures that the gut is well-equipped to absorb nutrients and maintain its protective barrier effectively.
Targeted supplements that are personalized to your situation can be prescribed on a temporary basis to reintroduce healthy bacteria to the gut and promote balance. Candibactin, SBI Protect and Ortho Digestzyme are among the supplements we often recommend. (NOTE: These are included as examples only. Please speak to a healthcare provider to understand what supplementation and dosing may be right for you.)
Step 4: Regenerate
Regeneration focuses on healing and revitalizing the gut lining. This step incorporates specific supplements known for their reparative properties, such as anti-inflammatory agents and compounds that support tissue repair. By fostering an environment conducive to cellular regeneration, this phase aids in restoring the integrity of the gut barrier, ensuring it effectively separates and protects the internal environment from potentially harmful substances. Examples of recommended supplementation can include Pro-Resolve by Pure Encapsulations, Resolve by Biotics Research, Curcumin capsules, and collagen protein powder. (NOTE: These are included as examples only. Please speak to a healthcare provider to understand what supplementation and dosing may be right for you.)
Step 5: Reinoculated
Reinoculation is the process of reintroducing beneficial bacteria to the gut, fortifying its microbial diversity. A balanced gut microbiome is essential for optimal digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune function. This step includes introducing specific probiotics and prebiotics to cultivate a thriving ecosystem of good bacteria. These beneficial microbes enhance digestive health and ward off pathogens while supporting overall well-being. Supplements we often suggest include MegaPre Dairy Free Capsules by Microbiome Labs, MegaSporeBiotic by Microbiome Labs, and Butyrate Sodium by Body Bio, for example. (NOTE: These are included as examples only. Please speak to a healthcare provider to understand what supplementation and dosing may be right for you.)
Step 6: Reintroduce and Retest
The final step involves cautiously reintroducing previously eliminated foods and monitoring the body’s response. This systematic approach helps identify specific triggers and sensitivities. After a set duration, based on the severity of the initial reaction, foods are reintroduced one at a time. If symptoms re-emerge, it’s a clear indicator of intolerance. Periodic retesting ensures the gut remains balanced and responsive, paving the way for long-term health and vitality.
Pave the Way for Optimal Gut Health
Your body is a complex machine, and gut health is tied to almost every system of that machine. While lifestyle changes are a great way to start improving gut health, a more aggressive and personalized approach may be warranted to even further promote healing and optimal gut function. Understanding your unique health conditions and introducing strategic changes with the help of professionals can provide long-lasting relief from localized and systemic symptoms associated with gut health. Our providers are experts in diagnosing gut health issues in patients through comprehensive and specialized testing, providing targeted solutions, and helping optimize health and longevity for life. If you feel you could benefit from speaking to an expert in gut health, schedule a Meet & Greet with our team today.