Tag Archives: gut health

Gut problems can have different root causes

903 gut disorder root causes

In the world of functional nutrition, it has long been known that gut health is paramount to the health of the rest of the body. For decades we didn’t fully understand why, although we knew the gut was the seat of the immune system and chronic inflammation. Now with the gut microbiome renaissance underway, we also understand how integral gut bacteria is to health.

As such, addressing gut health has always been and continues to be one of the first steps in managing a chronic inflammatory or autoimmune condition. However, people tend to fall into the trap of thinking everyone needs to follow the same gut healing protocol, wondering why it works for some and not others.

As it turns out, repairing gut health is not a one-size-fits-all approach. There is not just one diet, one type of probiotic, or one gut healing powder that works for everyone. Although there are some basic foundations to gut healing — remove immune reactive foods, keep blood sugar stable, and create a healthy gut microbiome — the truth is you still need to know why your gut health deteriorated in order to address the root cause.

Examples of root causes of poor gut health

For example, a number of people can come in with a complaint of constipation. While laxatives may help them, it is nevertheless important to understand why they are constipated in the first place. This goes for any digestive complaint and not just constipation.

Here are some different reasons why a person can develop a digestive complaint such as constipation:

  • A past brain injury has dampened activity of the vagus nerve, which carries communication back and forth between the gut and the brain. This slows down motility of the intestines and causes constipation.
  • The gut’s nervous system, called the enteric nervous system, has degenerated significantly due to chronic gut inflammation from immune reactive foods, too many sugars and junk foods, chronic stress, gut infections, or brain degeneration. Intestinal motility depends on a healthy enteric nervous system, and constipation develops.
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) releases gases that shut down motility.
  • Medications impact intestinal motility and cause constipation.
  • A dysregulation of the central nervous system can prevent the body from getting into the “rest and digest” state that allows for healthy bowel function.

A one-size-fits-all gut protocol can completely heal one person, create improvement in another, do nothing at all for a third, and perhaps make another even worse.

It’s also important to screen for more serious conditions. These can include gastric ulcers from an h. pylori infection, intestinal permeability — or leaky gut — from damage to the microvilli of the small intestine, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease. Knowing whether these conditions are an issue also impacts how you manage gut health.

Also vital is knowing whether gut autoimmunity is the root cause of your gut issues. You can test for this through Cryex Labs. If so, this changes your expectations of your outcomes and how you evaluate your progress. Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system erroneously attacks and destroys tissue in the body. Eventually this leads to symptoms and breakdown of function.

Although autoimmune disease cannot be cured, it often can be dampened or driven into remission for long periods of time. However, unpredictable flare ups also happen, and the person with gut autoimmunity must have realistic expectations in order not to feel demoralized if their symptoms flare and recede. Also, there is still much we don’t know about autoimmunity. For some people it’s easy to manage and for others it’s a constant battle. In these cases, the goal can be as simple as “more good days.”

This is an overview of why common gut-healing protocols work gangbusters for some people and little to not at all for others. Our digestive system is one of the most fascinating, complex, and influential systems in the body. The more scientists learn about it, the more apparent it becomes that gut health largely determines the health of the rest of the body, including the brain.

This is why we are seeing so many chronic health conditions in modernized societies that subsist largely on industrialized agriculture and food processing. The commercialization of cheap, processed, chemically laden, and highly sweetened “foods” largely void of produce has inflamed and damaged the digestive tract, decimated the gut microbiome (some researchers call it an extinction event), and ravaged the brain in today’s modern populations.

Fortunately, functional nutrition excels when it comes to repairing and maintaining gut health. Ask me how I might help you.

Leaky gut raises risk of artery plaque and heart disease

741 leaky gut equals artery plaque

Many people think the main keys to avoiding arterial plaque and heart disease are to watch cholesterol, avoid smoking, and exercise. But what is less known is how dependent your heart health is on your gut. If you have digestive problems, multiple food sensitivities, or chronic inflammation, these could be signs your gut health is putting your heart health at risk.

If you have digestive problems, chronic pain or inflammation, multiple food sensitivities, or an autoimmune condition you aren’t managing, chances are you have a leaky gut.

Leaky gut is also referred to as intestinal permeability. It means the lining of the small intestine has become inflamed, damaged, and overly porous. This allows undigested foods, bacteria, molds, and other antigens to enter into the bloodstream. Because these compounds don’t belong in the sterile environment of the bloodstream, the immune system views them as toxic and attacks them, causing inflammation. This chronic inflammation plays a role in many health conditions, which can include artery blockages and heart disease.

Inflammation from leaky gut clogs arteries

Inflammation from leaky gut can be a primary factor in causing arterial plaque and blockages. In fact, patients with heart disease show higher incidences of leaky gut compared to those who don’t have heart disease.

Inflammation creates lesions on arterial walls. The body “bandages” them up with cholesterol, which becomes plaque. This process is known as atherosclerosis.

Inflammation not only promotes plaque in the arteries, it also weakens the stability of this plaque. Plaque stability is important to prevent heart attacks. Rupturing of plaque causes it come loose and block the artery, starving the heart of blood and leading to a heart attack.

Leaky gut is recognized as a primary factor in causing chronic inflammation that not only can clog your arteries, but also inflame your joints, cause skin issues, inflame your brain with symptoms of brain fog, depression, or memory loss, or trigger autoimmunity. Inflammation affects each of us differently depending on our genetics and environment.

Pathogens from leaky gut damage arteries

Leaky gut also promotes arterial plaque and heart disease in another way — by allowing infectious bacteria and other pathogens into the bloodstream.

Our guts are home to several pounds of a diverse array of gut bacteria. New research shows how vital these gut bacteria, called the microbiome, are to all facets of our health. The microbiome produces vital nutrients, activates anti-inflammatory plant compounds, regulates metabolism and immune function, and influences brain health and function.

Unfortunately, Americans have by far the unhealthiest microbiomes of the populations studied. Many Americans not only lack diversity in their healthy gut bacteria, but they also have too much bad, inflammatory bacteria in their guts.

Gut bacteria have also been linked to obesity, triglyceride levels, and cholesterol levels. People with healthy blood lipid levels also showed more diversity of gut bacteria.

Many people develop leaky gut in part because of poor stomach health and infection from h. pylori, the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers. H. pylori has been linked with irregular heart rhythms (atrial fibrillation), which increases the risk of heart failure.

Don’t let your gut sabotage your heart. Ask me how we can work together to shore up the health of both with proven functional nutrition strategies.

North to south through the gut – what can go wrong

digestion north to south

We live in a time of unprecedented abundance of food and medical advances yet we are sicker than ever. It is considered normal to suffer from insomnia, PMS, depression, chronic pain, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, and so on. But in reality these are our bodies’ warning signs that something is wrong.

“All disease begins in the gut,” said Hippocrates. Understanding digestion helps you understand why you stay well or get sick.

From north to south

Digestion starts in the brain. When your brain gets the message you’re about to eat, it turns on the parasympathetic “rest and digest” part of the nervous system to prepare the organs for their jobs. When we eat while distracted, busy, or anxious our saliva won’t be as rich in digestive enzymes, our stomach won’t be sufficiently acidic, and our pancreas will not secrete enough digestive juices.

Age-old rituals around meal times serve a benefit by giving our bodies the chance to ease into the rest-and-digest state.

The mouth and the stomach

The majority of our digestion takes place in the mouth, where, ideally, we chew each bite thoroughly, allowing the enzyme-rich saliva to begin breaking down our food, signaling the nervous system to rest and digest, and alerting the rest of the digestive tract that it’s time to work.

Next stop is the stomach, which uses its powerful muscles to further mash the food while liquefying it with hydrochloric acid (HCl). The proper acidity digests the food for optimal nutrient absorption; sterilizes it by killing bacteria and other pathogens; and alerts the small intestine to open the pyloric valve and allow it in. Once there, the pancreas secretes enzymes and the gallbladder secretes bile to further digest the food.

Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 90 percent of Americans are deficient in stomach HCl due to stress, poor nutrition, bacterial overgrowth, poor thyroid function, and advancing age.

When the stomach environment is not acidic enough, the small intestine is not triggered to allow the food in, so it sits in the stomach, where it begins to ferment and putrefy. Eventually it may shoot back up into the esophagus, burning the tender tissue there and causing heartburn, or acid reflux.

The small intestine

Eventually the small intestine must accept the fermenting food. Because it is not the right acidity, the pancreas and gallbladder are not sufficiently triggered to release enzymes and bile to further digest it.

This is problematic for several reasons: Improperly digested fat irritates the rest of the digestive tract; nutrient absorption is poor, and the gallbladder is more prone to forming gallstones due to insufficient activity. Because it is the avenue through which the liver excretes toxins, a congested gallbladder results in a congested, overburdened liver unable to detoxify the blood properly.

As this poorly digested mess makes its way through the small and large intestines, it causes inflammation and damage that leads to intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut.” Leaky gut allows undigested food proteins to escape into the bloodstream, where the immune system attacks them, causing inflammation. Because undigested foods are the target of attack, food intolerances develop.

The colon

Our colons host 3 to 4 pounds of friendly bacteria, or gut flora. These bacteria break down foods and produce nutrients. However, breakdowns further north foster an overgrowth of bad bacteria, causing an inflamed, poorly functioning colon.

A properly functioning gastrointestinal tract produces between one to three bowel movements a day that are large, continuous and well formed, neither too soft nor too hard. If you are experiencing constipation, diarrhea, incomplete evacuation, or other issues with your bowel movements, you know something in the process described above has broken down.

All disease begins in the gut

While various drugs offer quick fixes for digestive complaints, they allow us to ignore the red flags the gastrointestinal tract is waving to gain our attention. Poor digestion underlies just about every disease known to man. This is a topic to which functional medicine practitioners devote their careers. Ask my office how we can better support your digestion to support your health.