“Happiness: a good bank account, a good cook and a good digestion” -Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Turns out that your digestive health has a lot to do with your happiness perhaps even more than a good bank account and a good cook. Your gut plays a major role in obesity and your overall health. This is becoming more and more clear. We now know that about 70% of your immune system lives in your gut. It is not hard to see that to have a healthy immune system, you must have a healthy gut. Your gut is a very complex system that includes the mouth, the esophagus, the small intestine, the large intestine, and the anus. The system does not end there. It also includes the liver, the gall bladder, the pancreas, nerves and trillions of bacteria and other micro-organisms such as fungi and viruses.
The gut is well known as the system that aids the digestion of the food we eat. But did you know that the gut is the gateway to your immune system? The immune system’s main job is to fight off anything that invades or threatens your health. It is your body’s defense department with the responsibility to protect you from enemies foreign and domestic. If your immune system is weak, you are likely to be overrun by disease and poor health. That is why it is so critical to have a healthy gut.
When the gut is healthy, the lining of the gut is held together nicely by what are called tight junctions. These ensure that only very small properly digested food particles are allowed through into the blood stream to nourish your body. But when the gut health is compromised, these tight junctions become loose and more permeable leading to a condition called leaky gut syndrome. This allows partially digested food and bacteria to get through into the blood stream where they are recognized as foreign. The immune system then springs into action releasing proteins called antibodies to destroy the perceived invaders. This causes a chain reaction which ultimately leads to inflammation. Unchecked longstanding inflammation has been linked to most of the chronic diseases we are dealing with today. These include obesity, heart disease, dementia, cancer, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, and chronic fatigue.
Your gut also plays a major role in your mood and how you feel. About 95% of your body’s serotonin is made in the gut. Serotonin is the “feel good” chemical that your brain uses to regulate your mood. If your gut is not healthy you may suffer anxiety, depression, and irritability.
What are some of the causes of leaky gut?
Leaky gut can be caused by many things. Some of these are:
- Imbalances between good bacteria and bad bacteria
- Certain foods such as excessive sugar, processed food, gluten to mention a few
- Medications including antibiotics, acid blockers, anti-inflammatory pain killers, steroids
- Stress either psychological or physiological stress from things like surgery, chemotherapy, and illness
- Environmental toxins
How can heal leaky gut?
There are four principles for healing the gut and restoring gut health
- Remove the bad. The first thing to do is to remove anything that is damaging to the gut. This includes avoiding or limiting intake of foods such as sugar, gluten, processed foods, food additives and preservatives. Some people have also advocated eliminating dairy at least for a limited time to allow your gut to heal.
- Restore the good. Restoring the population of the good bacteria by nourishing them with good food such as natural whole foods, high fiber intake, healthy fats, and lean protein. Fiber is especially good food for the healthy bacteria. If you have significant digestive issues, adding digestive enzymes may be helpful
- Re-inoculate. Add the good bacteria by taking probiotics. This is very important for gut health, weight loss and general well-being. You need the good bacteria to crowd out the bad bacteria which has been shown to cause fat storage and obesity
Repair. Repairing the gut lining is also a key component of restoring gut health. This can be done through supplements that have been shown to support a healthy gut. Some of this include L-glutamine, omega 3 and vitamin d.
Here are some practical steps you can take to heal your gut.
- Ditch sugar, gluten, processed foods
- Increase your fiber intake
- Take a good multi strain probiotic.
- Micronutrient support with sensible supplements.
- Get 6 to 8 hours of sleep
- Develop a daily program to reduce your stress such as deep breathing exercises and meditation
Ife Ojugbeli, MD, MBA.