Hippocrates: “All disease begins in the gut”
What is it? Microbiome…sounds small, doesn’t it? However, in our gut, alone, our microbiome weighs about 5 lbs. and lives in our gut lining. We also have a microbiome in upper respiratory tract, skin, urinary tract, and central nervous system. Interestingly, our microbiomes can communicate with each other.
Why is a healthy gut microbiome a peace sign? Think you don’t have gut issues…try, again. Believe it or not, just because you don’t have gut symptoms doesn’t mean you don’t have a gut related issue or gut-associated condition. A healthy microbiome is like a healthy tree soil. It supports an intact gut barrier and functions to produce hormones, and transportation of those necessary hormones, to support a healthy body and mind, helping to prevent disease.
Many conditions have their root causes in the gut. When the microbiome becomes unbalanced, due to being exposed to antibiotics, toxins, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), other medications, or exposure to foods you are sensitive to, the one-cell thickness gut lining barrier can get holes in it, which allow undigested particles to leak out of your gut and into your blood. This is called “leaky gut”. Even one round of antibiotic therapy can wipe out your microbiome.
Once the gut becomes leaky, your gram-negative bacteria which normally reside in your healthy microbiome and function to secrete endo-toxins to destroy harmful bacteria that you may ingest, leak out into your system and signal your immune system. Your body also responds to the food particles leaking out of the gut and into your bloodstream by activating your immune system, releasing substances called cytokines. This results in inflammation. Chronic leaky gut and chronic inflammation, may result in diseases such as autoimmune diseases (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease), mental health conditions (such as anxiety, OCD, even schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s), and even obesity.
How do we know when we are at war with our own microbiome? If you have gut symptoms such chronic bloating, gas, dyspepsia, acid reflux, or others, these are not normal signs of a healthy gut. Urinary tract infections (UTIs), Small intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), Fibromyalgia are also signs that your microbiome is likely not healthy. Migraines, chronic fatigue, pain, anxiety, depression, muscle cramping, skin issues (hives, eczema), etc., may be symptoms of an unhealthy microbiome.
How do we heal our microbiome? First, it is important to have your health care practitioner assess and diagnose your condition(s). Functional medicine practitioners are very experienced in this area. To prevent or to help heal the microbiome, whole, unprocessed and organic foods are usually recommended. Also, it is important to understand that you may have food sensitivities that you are unaware of, so it is important to find out what may be contributing to a leaky gut. Your provider may recommend supplements to heal your gut such as l-glutamine (or other amino acids), aloe, slippery elm, certain essential oils, apple cider vinegar (ACV) depending on the cause of the gut issue. Also, pre-biotic foods and probiotics may be recommended. There is a method to this, so working with your provider to not only eliminate the source of inflammation (fire) but to also make sure you put the fire out.
To help determine if you have food sensitivities that you may be unaware of, your healthcare provider may recommend an elimination diet for a few weeks or so. You may even decide to do this on your own, but it is wise to work with your provider if you have a pre-existing health condition. After a few weeks of following the elimination diet, a slow and methodical re-introduction of specific foods help determine food sensitivities. This is where it is helpful to have a coach to support you if this type of diet is recommended.
What’s the bottom line? You are what you eat! The good news is that here are ways to keep a healthy microbiome or recover from an unbalanced microbiome. A healthy microbiome can improve your body, mind, spirit, and even your relationships. It can help to address symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, addiction recovery, mood swings, constipation, diarrhea, and more. Some diseases are actually able to be reversed or even prevented by healing your microbiome. So, let’s make peace with our microbiome!