Gut Healing: The Crucial First Step to Healing from any Illness
Healing the gut is the first obstacle we have to go through in order to heal any chronic illness. There is a direct connection between our gut and brain- our gut flora influences brain chemistry. When our gut flora is imbalanced, we are less likely to absorb any nutrients from our food, further worsening our health. Many people have an imbalance of bacteria- too much bad and too little of the good. This happens because our diets and lifestyles are creating such horrible imbalances.
Overuse of antibiotics, the Standard American Lifestyle, excess sugar, processed foods- these all contributed to leaky gut. What is “Leaky Gut’? Leaky gut is when the walls of the intestine become inflamed and porous, allowing undigested food, bacteria, toxins, and other antigens into the bloodstream. This creates inflammation (body and brain), food intolerances, and depression, as well as bloating, gas, IBS, constipation, or any digestive complaint. Some people don’t even have gut complaints when they have leaky gut. Their symptoms could just include eczema or psoriasis, maybe joint pain or headaches.
Every *body* is different so we will all react differently to triggers in the environment. One of the biggest signs of leaky gut is brain fog, which is basically brain inflammation that causes unclear thinking, slurred speech, and memory issues. Leaky gut is linked to nearly every chronic illness out there. Thyroid disorders, fibromyalgia, arthritis, bipolar, Parkinson’s, and more. If your gut isn’t healthy than you are not healthy. Doctors tend to focus on symptoms of illness and not the root cause.
The basics of healing the gut involving increasing stomach acid, healing the gut lining, and repopulating gut flora. Eliminating triggers until you heal can help immensely but it is important to get to the root cause of why these imbalances happened. For many common triggers include gluten, grains, dairy, eggs, sulfur rich foods, and sugar. Many people are focusing on diets that exclude these foods but not focusing on rebuilding the gut. Eliminating the foods will help for a time but eventually more food intolerances can pop up until the gut lining is healed. Focusing on whole foods is paramount to healing all illness. Staying away from processed or fast foods is extremely important, especially because they barely contain food. They have no nutritional value and they are severely irritating to the gut
Also: Check yourself for a hiatal hernia! This can be a hidden cause of many digestive symptoms!
Many doctors have things backwards when it comes to heartburn- millions of people are told that they have excess stomach acid so they pop antacids. In reality, it is estimated that 90% people in America are LACKING stomach acid. Low stomach acid leads to imbalanced gut flora, deficiencies of nutrients, amino acid deficiency, and it leads to GERD, heartburn and acid reflux. If you do not have sufficient stomach acid, food sits and rots in your stomach. This is what we feel when we get acid reflux- it is not excess stomach acid, it is rotting food that cannot digest properly!
The Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid:
Bloating, belching, and flatulence immediately after meals
Indigestion, diarrhea, or constipation
Undigested food in stools
Weak, peeling, or cracked fingernails
All autoimmune diseases
Fixing stomach acid will be one of the first steps in healing your gut. One of the most popular remedies for increasing stomach acid and aiding in digestion is apple cider vinegar. ACV is one of the easiest and most cost effective healers you could add to your diet. This awesome vinegar helps digest food, assimilate minerals, regulates blood sugar, helps weight loss, detoxes the liver, can kill pathogens and some bacteria (like e.coli), is great for cardiovascular health, and has a role in protecting against cancer. The easiest way to use ACV is to put 1 tsp-1 tbsp in a glass of water and drink this 1-3 times a day. Start slow at first to acclimate your body to it as it is a potent healing tool.
Another great way to help stomach acid is salt water sole. This interesting remedy helps digestion, blood sugar regulation, aids in detox, heals the adrenal glands, and is a natural antihistamine. Some other helpful ways to increase stomach acid: fermented foods, HCl, lemon juice, probiotics, and most of all- mineral balancing. Getting an HTMA will show your personal mineral levels and see what could be causing your digestive issues.
Gaia Herbs “Sweetish” Bitters are especially helpful for bile flow, improving stomach acid, and helps assimilate nutrients.
The process of making stomach acid requires Zinc, B1, B6, Iodine & Chloride. Supporting your body with stomach acid helpers like ACV will help your body start to utilize these nutrients better, and your gut will eventually be able to start making stomach acid on its own again. Digestion is a parasympathetic process so it can be hard to attain that in a hyper-sympathetic body. HTMA can show us the state of your nervous system and determine whether you are in a sympathetic or parasympathetic state.
Replenishing Gut Bacteria
Gut bacteria is crucial for many reasons: creating certain vitamins, keeping harmful pathogens under control, and plays a role in keeping many illnesses at bay, especially colon cancer.
This is why probiotics are essential to overall healing. One dose of antibiotics can alter your gut flora forever, and many of us have been put on antibiotics nearly every year of our childhood. You can go with supplements or fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, or pickles. For most people, supplements are the easier option but fermented foods offer a lot more effectiveness and they are much cheaper. For example, a month of one of the top probiotic supplements costs around $40. To make a jar of sauerkraut at home that would last at least a week, it would be less than $5. One holistic doctor did a test on his homemade sauerkraut and found out that one serving of the kraut had more beneficial bacteria than a whole bottle of probiotics. Fermented foods are also full of nutrients- many have high vitamin C content as well as B vitamins.
When it comes to getting more bang for your buck, fermenting is the way to go! Fermentation is the process when microorganisms feed on the starch and sugar in food and they turn them into lactic acid. This is called lacto-fermentation. There are a few kinds of fermentation, but the lacto-fermenting the one that gives the most health benefits. Fermentation is the metabolic breakdown of a nutrient without using oxygen. Ethanol, acids, gases, and other molecules are produced in this breakdown. So lacto-fermentation creates enzymes, vitamins, beneficial bacteria and probiotics.
Another benefit to fermenting is that it helps increase the shelf life of food! There are many ways to ferment foods. The most common things you can try to make are milk kefir, water kefir, kombucha , yogurt, and fermented vegetables. Cultures for Health and Kombucha Kamp are great websites to find cultures for these foods. Veggies usually only need a salt water brine to successfully ferment. There are hundreds of websites and books for ideas on how to make and flavor these foods to make them delicious.
Kefir is one of the easiest ferments to make. You can make it with sugar water or milk. Mason jars are great for making kefirs. Both need “grains” to start them off. They are called grains because of what they look like when they are rehydrated- they are not truly grains. Water kefir uses sugar, filtered water (fluoride free is best- there are a few filters like Tapmaster and Berkey that filter out fluoride), and the grains to get started. The sugar needs to be dissolved in warm water first. Once the water is cooled down, you can add the grains. Cover with a coffee filter or cheesecloth and use a rubber band to keep it in place. Then it sits for about 24 hours to ferment-easy! You can also make a second ferment to flavor it using fruit, herbs, or even ginger.
Milk kefir is even easier- it just requires the cultures and milk, preferably organic, grass-fed and without synthetic vitamin D added. Cover the jar the same as you would water kefir, and let sit for 24 hours. These are 2 of the easiest ways to get more probiotics in your diet and to get accustomed to fermented foods. If you are one that reacts to fermented foods because of the histamine response, then you definitely have to look into copper dysregulation. It plays a big role in histamine issues as well as leaky gut.
Healing the Gut Lining
Another huge helper in gut healing is bone broth. Bone broth is made with bones, usually chicken or beef, and can have some meat still on the bones. The easiest way to make this is to cook a whole chicken in the crock pot, carve it, and throw the bones back in with the skin and some of the meat. Apple cider vinegar is added to help leach the minerals out of the bone. You can add whole garlic cloves and spices as well. Bone broths are typically simmered for at least 12 hours. This helps to produce gelatin from collagen-rich joints and also releases the minerals from bones. Bone broth, as well as gelatin, help to heal and seal the gut lining. You can make bone broth yourself or you can buy grass-fed gelatin and add that to your diet. Both are amazing ways to get the gut healing potential. Bone broth is a more abundant source of nutrients than gelatin but both are a great source of protein, essential amino acids, minerals and vitamins.
You can use bone broth in many different ways- use it to make soups, drink it plain, and cook your rice or vegetables in it. Gelatin can be used to make your own homemade gummies, add to soups and stews, or even add to tea. Great Lakes and Perfect Supplements are great brands for gelatin. Collagen is an even easier way to get gut healing benefits since it doesn’t gel. You can basically add it to anything!
Once you can address low stomach acid and an imbalance with bacteria, you can focus on the true healers: minerals. Minerals are responsible for the enzyme reactions in our body, and some of these minerals are essential for digestion. Magnesium and zinc are two of the most important minerals for gut health. Some minerals and vitamins (like copper and vitamin A!) are used for keeping yeast and parasites in check, which are other factors in healing leaky gut. There really is no test to figure out what state your gut is in. If you’ve lived a Standard American Lifestyle for your whole life though, it is pretty certain that you could use some gut healing. At the very least, apple cider vinegar, probiotics, and mineral balancing can really help your gut.
My other favorite gut healers:
Belly Mend can be an amazing helper for those dealing with leaky gut, brain fog, and histamine intolerance. This formula has a blend of herbs for both gut and liver support, as well as liquid probiotics.
The BioRay SHINE is best for kids for gut healing.