Heal Your Gut, Heal Your Body
In Natural Medicine, you will often hear practitioners say that all disease begins in the gut. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Your gut wall houses 70% of the cells that make up your immune system. Incredibly, digestive issues can be attributed to such things as allergies, arthritis, autoimmune diseases including irritable bowel syndrome, acne, and chronic fatigue, as well as mood disorders, autism, dementia, and cancer. We receive and maintain our health through the foods we eat. Our bodies absorb the nutrients from the food and give us life. So the old saying, “you are what you eat” should actually be, “you are what you absorb.”
If you are not absorbing nutrients from your food, or if your food has no nutritional value, then you’re really just eating empty calories. First, let’s discuss food with no nutritional value. If you eat processed food, you are probably not getting the nutrients you need. What is processing, and what does it do to your food? Processing includes such things as irradiation to kill bacteria. But bombarding your food with radiation not only kills the bacteria, it also kills all the nutritional value of the food. Heating and pasteurization is also used in processing. Like radiation, when food is heated or pasteurized, it destroys the natural enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. The problem with Americans is that we’re over-fed and under-nourished. This is why we have such a high rate of obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart-disease, etc.
Now, with regard to absorption, there are a number of different issues involved with the intestines that we can discuss. First is lack of absorption due to clogged intestines. If you have intestines that are clogged with undigested food particles and other toxic sludge, nutrients will not be able to cross from your gut into your bloodstream. When this happens, you can become constipated and bloated. The food you eat will not pass through your system in a timely fashion, and it will begin to putrefy in your intestines. When your doctor tells you that your vitamins are worthless and you’ll just pass them through, they could be correct – not because vitamins are worthless, but because your body can’t absorb them. Once your undigested food begins to decompose in your intestines, it will lead to an acidic environment, inflammation, and an overgrowth of bad bacteria that will present itself as candida, gas, bloating, etc. Left unchecked, this could lead to more serious conditions such as diverticulitis or colitis. As the toxins sit in your intestines, they begin to weaken the intestinal walls which then create openings in the intestines which allow proteins like gluten, bad bacteria, toxins, and undigested food particles to leak through your intestinal walls causing an immune reaction. This is called Leaky Gut Syndrome. So, as you can see, by eating the wrong foods, you can put yourself on the path to a host of ailments and dis-eases not only in the intestines but throughout the body. According to research, Leaky Gut Syndrome could actually cause such things as food allergies, low energy, thyroid disease, joint pain, and various autoimmune dis-eases.
So how can we avoid or reverse this scenario? There are a couple of different views on that. In the United States, we use the (pharmaceutical) drug-centered methodology called Allopathic (or Western) Medicine. In our society, we call that “Traditional” medicine. This is kind of funny, because Western Medicine has only really been around for about 100 years. On the other end of the spectrum are Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicine (from India), and Natural Medicine. All three of these I consider “Natural” medicine. Natural Medicine has been used for thousands of years. Natural Medicine focuses on using whole foods, herbs, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, etc. to keep people healthy. It is only recently that Western Medical doctors have begun looking at food and nutrition and a healthy lifestyle as related to your overall health. The next time you see an ad on TV for a pharmaceutical drug, I’d like you to pay attention to two things. First, see if they say, “in addition to diet and exercise…” and listen for the list of potential side effects.
In 2000, Dr. Christopher Murray, the Director of World Health Organization’s Global Program on Evidence for Health Policy, said the following: “Basically, you die earlier and spend more time disabled if you’re an American rather than a member of most other advanced countries.” That’s pretty scary.
So, back to your gut health. If we go the Western Medicine route, your doctor might give you a pharmaceutical drug that will alleviate your symptoms without necessarily curing the underlying issues. In Natural Medicine, we look at the underlying causes of the problem and work on fixing that problem, usually by building up the body’s own immune system, so your body can heal itself.
How does that work? Well, we can kind of nibble around the edges and take various herbs and supplements. And we can eliminate certain foods from our diet. But personally, why not go straight to the point and begin with a detox of your system. We can do a colon cleanse. We can do a liver cleanse. We can do an overall detox program. This will reset the body’s system and allow the herbs, supplements, and food to go to work more quickly. There are a plethora of different herbs and supplements we can use. For example, here are some good ones: oregano, berberine, myrrh, peppermint, uva ursi, thyme, clove, anise, capryllic acid, dill, probiotics, digestive enzymes, quercetin, licorice root, slippery elm, lavender oil, marshmallow root, zinc, copper, aloe, apple cider vinegar, clove oil, milk thistle, etc.
We can also achieve anti-rheumatic benefits from use of anti-microbial treatments, immune-supportive interventions (rather than immuno-suppressive drugs), xenobiotic detoxification, and correction of hormonal imbalances.
Once we have completed the detox, then we have to remove certain foods from your diet including (as much as possible) sugar, gluten, milk, coffee, alcohol, and processed food. We want to replace these foods with a whole food, plant-based diet focusing on fruits and vegetables. Although the Paleo Diet is very popular right now, studies have shown that an animal-based diet can increase your risk of heart disease. My opinion would be to limit your intake of beef to once a week. You also have to be careful with beef and chicken because many farmers inject their beef and chicken with hormones and antibiotics that get passed on to us when we eat it. We also have to be careful of heavy metals in fish, unfortunately.
Recent studies have shown that your gut has its own unique brain and immune system. This only adds to the importance of keeping your gut healthy.
In addition to keeping the gut clean, I normally recommend a little daily exercise, some relaxation (massage, meditation, etc.), a simple diet of natural, whole foods using more spices and less salt and pepper, and supplementing with high-quality supplements.