It has been said for many years that “all disease starts in the gut.” (Hippocrates). What does this mean? Many of the chronic illnesses present in our society today can be traced back to choices we make that affect the health of our gut. The US spends $125 billion on gut issues. This does not include all the other money spent on chronic illnesses. This number could be even higher, but many people do not link their health issues to their gut as 50% of people do not experience symptoms that makes them believe they have a gut issue.
Common gut symptoms include gas/bloating, gas, weight gain, diarrhea, constipation, IBS, Crohn’s, and Diverticulitis. Lesser known symptoms include migraines/headaches, hypothyroidism, autoimmune diseases (all of them), brain degenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s, and Fibromyalgia. These conditions make up a huge amount of the problems people face in their health. If all this is true, and I feel it is, then if we help the gut to heal, we can help our body to heal.
I’ll dive into what are the 5 main causes of poor gut health and why they lead to inflammation that eventually causes a chronic illness. At the end, I will give you the tools to use at home to help with each of the 5 main causes. This will help you feel better, have more energy, and live a life that you want.
Number one: The Black Plague of the 21st Century, STRESS.
Estimates show that 75-90% of all office visits to a medical professional are due to stress. This stress can be acute, or in most cases, chronic stress. How does stress affect your digestive system? First, the body should “Rest and Digest” not “Stress and Digest.” When you are in a stressful state of mind, your body moves blood flow away from the digestive system, essentially shutting it down, and moving more blood to muscles. This happens because your body thinks you should be running from a bear or standing and fighting with something. Your system goes into survival mode. When you are stressed out and try to eat a meal, the body gets confused and can’t digest properly. The top of the digestive system (the stomach) won’t make enough stomach acid to breakdown the food you just ate. This then sets the stage for poor gallbladder function and lack of digestive enzymes being released by the pancreas. You will not absorb the nutrients needed to be healthy. Poor digestion in the north side of the digestive system will show up in the south side of the system leading to symptoms and disease.
Number 2: INFECTIONS
Chronic infections are very common in the US. Most believe that you need a fever if you have an infection. This is far from accurate. Bacterial, fungal, yeast, and parasitic infections are a large problem that can lead to poor gut health and other chronic illnesses. When people have low stomach acid (see number 1) it makes it easier for infections to slip by into the digestive track where they will use the food we eat and our own gut lining to feed on. When people have trouble raising levels of nutrients (like iron) it is often due to infections eating the iron to stay alive and thrive. One of the most common issues that people develop is called Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). This is a condition that occurs when bacteria from the Colon migrate into the Small Intestine. These bacteria then use the nutrients from that undigested/unabsorbed food and ferment it. Possible symptoms experienced are constipation, diarrhea, or a combination of both. Not everyone gets these, which makes it hard for people to believe they have something going on in their gut. I use a test called the Organic Acid Test that
will show if you have bacteria, fungus, or yeast overgrowth. When you are under chronic stress the cortisol created will cause infections to grow at a rate 1000x more than they normally would. Both stress and infection will cause your gut to become “Leaky” and allow infection to get to anywhere in the body via the blood stream. Lastly, these infections release a chemical called LPS. This will make even more inflammation and leakiness of the gut. It changes the environment of the gut to make it more hospitable to infections that make us sick.
Number 3: TOXINS
The gut plays an important role in detoxification. Having a well functioning gut means that 25% of the toxins you get rid of through the stool is working soundly. As toxins build up in the gut and are not eliminated, they cause the gut lining to breakdown and lead to a “leaky gut” and inflammation. Toxins can then get into the blood stream and go to all places inside the body. People can have weight gain, chronic pain issues, bags under their eyes, and no energy. Most of the toxins mimic estrogen action which leads to gallbladder dysfunction. Without bile acid being produced and excreted, digestion of fats is much less. Bile also acts as a “soap” for the digestive track cleaning up the area as it passes by. It can’t do that if there are toxins. Toxins also change the environment of the gut making it hard to grow good bacteria that benefit you. I often tell people you shouldn’t plant seeds (probiotics) in a weedy garden (infection overgrowth). Clean up the area of toxins first.
Number 4: HORMONE INBALANCES
The big hormones affecting gut health are insulin and estrogen. In the previous section regarding toxins, I suggested many chemicals in our environment act like estrogen. Add in birth control and hormone replacement, this can increase an imbalance. Estrogen affects the gallbladder the most. This is why you see many women getting their gall bladder removed. They have estrogen issues, not true gall bladder issues. As men are exposed more to estrogen, they also have gallbladder issues. Estrogen imbalance leads to anxiety in people. Stress affects the gut and your digestion gets worse. The more excess estrogen you have the more digestive issues you will have as well.
Insulin resistance is a major problem and is linked to estrogen imbalance. A person with chronic stress can cause insulin resistance. The body can begin dumping glucose into the system to feed the muscles for some movement (run or hide). When the movement doesn’t happen, you become insulin resistant. Insulin resistance leads to estrogen imbalance and things like PCOS, Infertility, and Hypothyroid.
Number 5: DIET/FOOD INTOLERENCES/NUTRIENT DEFICENCIES
When you eat a crappy diet filled with fake food, you are eating toxins. These types of food are nutrient poor leading to inflammation and leaky gut. The good bugs that are trying to survive start to eat your gut lining, eventually you cause so much damage you get a diagnosis of IBS, Crohn’s, or Diverticulitis. Even some good foods can be harmful to some people, especially if they have long standing stress, toxic build up, and infections. Due to all the other factors listed here, your body could have a difficult time digesting raw vegetables, meat, and fats. This is why you will see many people eat carbohydrates as their main source of food. They are avoiding the other foods due to the discomfort it brings. When we start a gut health program, try to limit anything that isn’t cooked. The body needs help with the digestive process and cooking food helps.
These 5 things are the main causes of poor gut health. They are connected to each other. When helping people I am often addressing a combination of these 5 causes. The 500 pound gorilla in the room is always stress. If 90% of people coming in have long standing stress it needs to be addressed first. It affects the body’s ability to heal. I like you use different products depending on the stress identity type a person is. If you have anxiety, I treat you differently than someone who has low energy/motivation and can’t get out of bed. I like to use a gut restoration protocol. I might have to use some infection killers and anti-inflammatory products to weed the garden (your gut). During the weeding process I detox the gut to help clean up all the chemicals being released. Once that is done, we can begin to heal the lining and plant some seeds. I use a product called GI Restore and Fiber Plus to help feed the newly planted good bugs, so they can flourish. The average person eat less than 5 grams of fiber per day and fiber is needed for good stool production. This process can take some time depending on how long the person has had the problem.
Next, I like the patient to use a detox program to improve toxin elimination. 25% of your toxins are released in the stool. This can be a 7 day or 14 day process. Many people lose the bloated feeling and all that toxic water that is surrounding the tissues. This also helps jump start your metabolic rate and you can burn your calories more efficiently.
To finish the process, I use my Mighty 5 Supplements to maintain what you have just improved. A multi-vitamin, fish oil, vitamin d, a probiotic, and magnesium. These are great for your overall health. Once you have completed this regimen will have a stronger immune system, have less inflammation in the body, have more energy, and live the life you want.
-Dr. Brian Opp, Chiropractor