Pay Attention to Your Gut

By Dan Hellman

Sometimes you can find the answer to better health if you just pay attention to your gut. I don’t mean follow your instincts; I mean your gut, literally—the place where your body digests and metabolizes your food. It talks to you constantly.

About a year ago, I encouraged a friend to do some diagnostic work on what was going on in his body. He was in generally good health and he kept to a healthy diet, but he was experiencing a number of symptoms that had him concerned, and his doctors hadn’t come up with any cause for them.

Shawn Mock, Functional Diagnostic Nutritionist

I suggested that he work with my colleague Shawn Mock, who is a functional diagnostic nutritionist and one of my collaborators here at H3. Shawn is a kind of investigator. He isn’t a nutritionist in the traditional sense, but he is skilled at working with people to learn what makes them healthy or unhealthy and advising them on how to adapt their diets to be healthier. We are all unique, and we can’t all eat the same things in the same quantities.

We also are exposed to toxins in the environment and unhealthy additives in prepared foods, and some of us consume far more salts, refined sugars and glutens than we should. Shawn helps people learn if these are factors in their health and gives them strategies to correct their situation.

First, analyze the data.

Shawn started Greg off with a questionnaire that delved into his eating habits, preferred and non-preferred foods, eating schedule, lifestyle, sleeping habits and other factors that can affect health. He then gave Greg two urinalysis-based tests in which he gathered samples on a specific schedule and then sent the samples by mail to the laboratories that devised the tests for analysis.

After analyzing Greg’s test results, Shawn diagnosed a specific regime of supplements and made some dietary recommendations. Greg took a specific multivitamin and an anti-oxidant every day and followed a three-stage, three-month regimen to i his microbiome. The regimen called for him to take a spore probiotic and two different prebiotics.  Shawn had discovered that Greg was suffering from increased intestinal permeability, known more commonly as “leaky gut.”

What is leaky gut?

Dr. Marcelo Campos, writing in the Harvard Health Blog on September 22, 2017, describes leaky gut this way:

“Inside our bellies, we have an extensive intestinal lining covering more than 4,000 square feet of surface area. When working properly, it forms a tight barrier that controls what gets absorbed into the bloodstream. An unhealthy gut lining may have large cracks or holes, allowing partially digested food, toxins, and bugs to penetrate the tissues beneath it. This may trigger inflammation and changes in the gut flora (normal bacteria) that could lead to problems within the digestive tract and beyond. The research world is booming today with studies showing that modifications in the intestinal bacteria and inflammation may play a role in the development of several common chronic diseases.”

The regimen Shawn prescribed for Greg was designed to restore his flora and repair damage to the gut lining.

Atopic Symptoms Subside

Greg didn’t have any chronic diseases, but he had long suffered from upper-respiratory allergies and moderate asthma, and he had been experiencing a number of atopic symptoms of late. These included a watery left eye, trouble swallowing, eczema and tingling in his fingers and toes, all of which subsided while he was taking the probiotics Shawn prescribed and disappeared completely after less than three months. (His dermatologist had prescribed some topical medications for the eczema as well.)

He also had been experiencing consistent lower-bowel discomfort, which also ended while he was taking the biotic supplements.

Greg felt great after three months and went on a maintenance program, but he slacked off when his supplements ran out. Predictably, the atopic symptoms returned, so he is now back on a consistent long-term maintenance program and makes sure he has the supplements on hand. He is more committed than ever to his healthy diet, avoiding fast food, processed foods and sweetened drinks, and he has reduced his consumption of gluten and dairy products.

Hit below the belt.

The lesson here is that our body can change little by little, and we may barely notice. We may ignore what is happening. We may try to abide minor physical ailments and mere annoyances until they mount up, or we may go from doctor to doctor trying to figure out what’s going wrong. But the answer could very well be right inside us. If you’re just not feeling right, if you have bowel discomfort, or if you have a number of seemingly minor problems that just won’t go away, it may be time to hit yourself below the belt and get your microbiome back in balance. In other words, put the life back in your intestines.

Start with a healthy diet, which means a diet that is high in fiber and low in processed sugars and saturated fats, and balanced meals. You should also try to control stress and avoid excessive alcohol consumption, and increase your consumption of foods that are known to promote the development of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. These include pickled and fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir and some cheeses.

The concept of “increased intestinal permeability” is rapidly gaining acceptance among allopathic medical practitioners, despite the fact that the medical community is not in agreement as to whether it causes diseases to develop outside the gastrointestinal tract. We know, for example, that it is involved with conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome, and there is significant current research into the role of leaky gut in other serious diseases.

One thing we are all coming to agree on is that a healthy microbiome is an important key to overall health and well-being.

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