Acne sucks. Having health issues sucks. It’s hard, it’s emotional, and it can really suck the life out of you sometimes. I’ve always known gut health was important, but when my skin started to worsen, I knew I needed to devote more attention to my gut. When I first started healing, I was very focused on just my skin. I was always researching foods for clear skin, how to have clear skin, products for clear skin, skin skin skin!! It wasn’t until I shifted my focus to the organs that were actually causing my skin to breakout in the first place, that I really noticed improvement. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn much about healing your gut in my undergraduate nutrition classes. So eventually, I studied holistic nutrition, did lots of my own research, and met with Naturopathic Doctors and other holistic practitioners to better understand how to heal my gut.
Thankfully, most doctors are really starting to understand the importance of the gut. However, gut health does not only relate to symptoms and conditions within your digestive system. The health of your gut is intricately connected to your skin, hormones, energy, weight, mood and more. Poor gut health can lead to many conditions, including
- Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis and other skin conditions
- Weight gain
- Autoimmune conditions
- IBD and IBS
- Acid reflux
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Allergies (food and environmental)
- And more
So, how do you heal your gut?
Even if you don’t have any of the above symptoms or conditions, focusing on gut health can only serve you well. It’s important to remember that all of the above symptoms/conditions have a root cause. Relieving symptoms (such as acid reflux or skin rashes) with a pill or cream does not actually address the underlying issue. To heal the underlying imbalance, most practitioners focus on the 4 R program for gut healing.
- Remove: Remove stressors, irritating foods, and pathogens such as yeasts, parasites, and bacteria. If you have been on many antibiotics in the past, you may want to consider an herbal formula to kill off the bad bacteria, yeasts, and possible parasites that made a home in your gut as a result.
- Replace: Next, you want to replace all the good stuff that was lost. This includes increasing hydrochloric acid, enzymes, and bile acids that are necessary for proper digestion. Believe it or not, acid reflux/heartburn is due to LOW stomach acid. Following the steps outlined in this post will aid in the production of HCl and improve overall digestion.
- Reinoculate: After you remove the stressors and replace your enzymes, you want to go in and add all the beneficial bacteria. See step 3 for more details.
- Repair: The final step is to repair the lining of your gut. See step 8 for more details on this.
1) Eliminate irritating foods
This step can be frustrating and requires some trial and error. No two bodies are the same. However, some of the most common food sensitivities include corn, soy, eggs, dairy, peanuts, gluten, shellfish, and pork. Unlike food allergies, symptoms to food sensitivities may not appear until several hours to a few days after consumption of the food. You may need to complete food logs to pinpoint the foods that you are sensitive to. On the bright side, when you fully repair your gut, it is possible that these sensitivities may become less severe or disappear entirely. In the early stages of healing, cutting out these foods entirely is helpful. You can then gradually reintroduce them to see how your body responds.
2) Avoid drinking with meals
When you chew, your body secretes hydrochloric acid to digest your food. However, when you drink water, or any beverage during or immediately before/after meals, the HCl becomes diluted. HCl is necessary for many aspects of digestion, a few of which include breaking down protein into individual amino acids, aiding in the absorption of minerals like iron, and neutralizing harmful pathogens such as parasites and bacteria. Making sure your HCl is strong before, during, and after eating, is imperative for digestion. For example, the enzyme pepsin helps digest protein. However, the stomach secretes it as pepsinogen. In order for pepsinogen to be transformed into pepsin, it needs adequate hydrochloric acid. Drinking any beverage during a meal weakens this activation process and makes digestion more difficult.
3) Increase your good bacteria
Most of us have taken antibiotics at some point in our lives. If you haven’t, you may have taken nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS such as Advil), hormonal birth control, proton pump inhibitors, and calcium channel blockers (for high blood pressure), to name a few. While antibiotics and other medications are life saving in certain cases, they cause more harm than good when used recklessly.
Antibiotics kill off not only the bad bacteria in your body, but also the good. You have trillions of microorganisms in your body. They outnumber human cells by about 10:1. These microorganisms play a vital role in the health of your entire body-not just your digestion. A large part of your immune system is located in your gut. Additionally, about 95% of serotonin (the happy neurotransmitter) is secreted from your gut (part of the gut-brain axis). Increasing the amount of good bacteria in your gut can have a powerful effect on your mood, immune system, skin, and overall health.
The gut microbiome can be altered by the food we eat, the medication we take, the amount and quality of sleep we have, and the environment we live in. Repopulating your gut with beneficial bacteria can go a long way in improvising the health of your entire body. It’s important to choose a probiotic that can survive your stomach acid and make its way to your intestines. I love SilverFern Brand because it is designed to survive and thrive in your gut. It contains multiple strains shown to support immune function, proper bowel movements, and urinary tract infections to name a few.
4) Eat in a relaxed state
This one is a lot easier said than done. It’s 2019, everyone has a go-go-go mentality, and it can be hard to catch a break. I’ll be the first to admit I often eat dinner while working or watching an ever so stressful crime show (shoutout Criminal Minds), and that doesn’t really set my body up for proper digestion. When your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is activated, your body doesn’t care about non-vital processes. Making sure your heart is beating and your lungs are breathing are much more important than secreting enzymes to break down protein or absorbing any nutrients.
Activating your parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system will help your digestion tremendously. Intestinal activity and blood flow to your intestines is increased when your PNS is activated. You can do so by taking a few deep breaths before meals, eating slowly, and try to relax into your body. Your body knows how to digest, try not to let your mind get in the way.
5) Chew your food
Did I really just include this as a step? Yes, I did! Most people don’t chew their food nearly enough, myself included! Ideally, you want to chew your food 30-40 times before you swallow. Digestion starts in the mouth, specifically mechanical digestion, also known as mastication. The enzymes amylase and lipase in your saliva start to break down the carbs and fat in your food before they enter your stomach.
When you chew, your brain signals your pancreas to get ready to release more digestive enzymes to break down food once it enters the small intestine. If your pancreas doesn’t receive this message, not enough enzymes will be secreted. Therefore, food will not be broken down properly. This will lead to large food particles in the small and large intestines, which can cause a host of problems. Simply put: chew your food well and give your body a fair chance at absorbing all the nutrition.
6) Eat enough (but not too much) fiber
Not only does fiber feed the good bacteria in your gut, it helps to eliminate waste matter from your body. If your diet is lacking fiber and you aren’t having regular bowel movements, then you have a lot of toxic waste sitting in your body. This creates an opportunistic feeding ground for the bad bacteria, yeast, and other pathogens. Recent research has suggested that those consuming a low fiber diet can permanently affect the gut microbiome and pass on a less diverse colony of bacteria to offspring. This is a powerful example of how diet and lifestyle affect epigenetics. Eating enough whole plant foods is a great way to get enough fiber in your diet.
While most people are getting too little fiber, too much fiber can be irritating for certain individuals. This can lead to gas, bloating, and general digestive discomfort. Total fiber intake from food should be at least 25 grams for women and 30 for men, but it’s important to see how your body reacts to higher levels.
7) Consider digestive enzymes or digestive bitters
As you age, your natural production of digestive enzymes begins to decline. Even if you’re young, digestive enzymes can be very helpful to ensure proper digestion of food. If you frequently feel bloated and gassy after eating, your production of enzymes may be low. Supplementing can be very helpful while you focus on healing the rest of your gut. I love SilverFern Brand because they are potent and offer a broad spectrum of enzymes. Additionally, digestive bitters help your body produce hydrochloric acid, which in turn, enhances digestion of your food. Bitters can also prime your body to break down nutrients and get the most from your food.
8) Repair your gut lining
This is one of the most important steps! Your gut lining is comprised of tight junctions known as desmosomes. When the intestinal lining becomes irritated (from food, medication, environmental triggers, even stress), the junctions loosen and allow unwanted larger molecules in the intestines to pass through into the blood. This is known as leaky gut or intestinal permeability. Your immune system sees these substances as foreign, which triggers the release of antibodies and cytokines. This can lead to skin rashes, allergies, and autoimmune disease to name a few.
Additionally, the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) is one of the biggest contributors of leaky gut. Glyphosate stimulates the release of a protein called zonulin. Overtime and with enough exposure, this degrades the tight junction integrity. Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity are linked to glyphosate exposure. This is because of how glyphosate damages the microvilli in your small intestine and contributes to leaky gut.
The amino acid l-glutamine is essential when healing leaky gut. It can be found in abundance in collagen and bone broth, but supplementing with pure l-glutamine is a great choice for those who are vegan. This amino acid helps strengthen and rebuild the gut lining. In turn, this will help reduce gas, bloating, other digestive issues, and even your skin.
9) Focus on nutrient density
The bottom line is, your body needs nutrients to function. If you don’t have adequate nutrition, your body will be unable to produce hydrochloric acid, digest fats, make enzymes, convert your food into energy and more. Vitamin B6 for example, is necessary to produce HCl. The food you eat quite literally makes up your hormones, enzymes, and cells! Eating a nutrient dense, whole food diet ensures your body is getting adequate nutrition to function optimally. Because of soil depletion and poor farming practices, our food is not as nutrient dense as it used to be, so supplementation is often necessary. Work with a qualified health professional like myself to determine what your unique body may need.
10) Focus on easy to digest whole foods
Your body is not designed to digest “food” that was made in a factory or food containing monosodium glutamate (MSG), yellow #6, or high fructose corn syrup. These substances are so foreign to your body and it has no idea how to process them. Removing processed foods from your diet is essential to heal your gut naturally. Instead of focusing on all the foods in your diet you have to remove, focus on adding in lots of whole, colorful, unprocessed foods. Eventually, you will crowd out all the bad stuff with all the good stuff and feel so much better as a result.
However, just because a food is healthy or natural, doesn’t mean it is easy to digest. Raw veggies and legumes can be problematic for many people. Focus on steamed veggies, soaked legumes, soups, broths, and other simple and nourishing foods. This will give your body a break from digesting difficult food. As a result, you will be able to heal your gut naturally and improve your overall wellbeing.
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This post is sponsored by SilverFern Brand, but all opinions are my own. I am honored to work with brands I truly love who support Eat With Clarity!