As a doctor specializing in functional medicine and gut health for almost a decade now, you’d think I grew up with a healthy, balanced digestive system.
Well, I didn’t. Along with the estimated 70 million Americans struggling with digestive diseases, I suffered from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) for more than half of my life. And even worse — as a result of eating all the wrong foods as a teenager — I also suffered from allergies, depression, frequent colds, sinus infections, and bronchitis.
Doctors thought my immune system was weak — but at the root of my problems was a distressed gut. I considered stomachaches, bloating, indigestion, diarrhea, and constipation part of my “normal.” This is often the case with the many patients suffering from digestive and gut-related disorders I see in my practice every day. They’ve grown so accustomed to having an unhappy gut they don’t realize how bad they felt until they start feeling better.
As I explain in my new book, Happy Gut: The Cleansing Program To Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy, and Eliminate Pain, the gut is the seat of our health. It houses the largest presence of the immune system within the gut-associated lymphoid tissue. And it harbors a microbiome full of both favorable and unfavorable bacteria numbering in the 100 trillion, outnumbering the estimated stars in the Milky Way galaxy.
The state of your gut and its microbiome has the utmost potential to promote wellness but also to impede health. Here are some of the conditions in which an unhealthy gut might be the source of the problem:
- Bloating after every meal, or even in between meals
- Frequent abdominal pain, indigestion, heartburn, diarrhea, and/or constipation
- Mental fog, constantly or after meals, or migraine headaches
- Seasonal allergies or asthma
- Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or psoriasis
- Skin issues, such as acne, rosacea, hives, rashes, or eczema
- Depression, anxiety, ADD, or ADHD
- Chronic fatigue
- Recurrent yeast infections or candida overgrowth
How to Heal Your Gut for Total Health
In my practice, I have patients follow a 28-day “Gut C.A.R.E. Program” (Cleanse, Activate, Restore, and Enhance) that I designed to balance their gut flora, eliminate toxic and inflammatory foods (the very ones that may be triggering allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue, and migraines), avoid environmental pollutants, and heal their gut lining. It includes the four steps I myself simultaneously used to restore my gut health:
1. Cleanse your diet, home, and mind.
This is the key first step in healing your gut. I recommend my patients introduce anti-inflammatory foods (like dark leafy greens and avocado) while cleaning their diet of foods that trigger inflammation (like gluten and dairy). I also advise clearing their gut of any unwanted pathogens (unfriendly bacteria, yeast, or parasites), using targeted herbal remedies. If your gut were a garden, this would be the equivalent of weeding.
Cleansing doesn’t stop with your insides. You should also aim to green your kitchen with environmentally friendly nontoxic cooking surfaces and utensils, and purify your body with filtered clean drinking water.
But I also recognize that to cleanse completely, you need to cleanse your mind of negative thoughts. In their place, express gratitude to bring positivity into your life.
2. Activate with the right nutrients.
I chose the word “activate” to reflect how we are rebooting a dormant digestive system.
You reactivate it by replacing key nutrients, such as essential fatty acids and trace minerals, and digestive enzymes, such as amylases (carbs), lipases (fats), hydrochloric acid, and bile acids, through both natural foods and supplements.
3. Restore your gut garden.
I like to call this step “cultivating your inner garden.” It’s all about the microbiome. We reintroduce beneficial bacteria to promote a healthy gut flora through probiotics, prebiotics, cultured foods, and beverages. Probiotics include foods like fermented vegetables, kombucha, coconut water kefir, and coconut milk yogurt.
I find that many of my patients feel better taking a probiotic regularly. The two most common strains used are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
4. Enhance with prebiotics and supplements.
The final step is designed to repair, regenerate, and heal the intestinal lining from the damages caused by infections, food allergens and sensitivities, and toxins.
In order to do this, I recommend naturally derived compounds such as aloe, deglycyrrhizinated licorice, and L-glutamine, an amino acid utilized by the cells of the gut lining for optimal performance. Aloe and deglycyrrhizinated licorice are both anti-inflammatory, so they help the gut lining to heal.
Prebiotic fibers, such as those found in asparagus and dandelion greens, also feed the gut flora, which produce health-promoting nourishment for the cells of the colon.
If you still have symptoms after trying these steps, I recommend looking deeper into your health concerns with a Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner.
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