Digestive Health 101

Gut health has gotten a lot of attention lately, and rightly so! Although a gut-centric approach to well-being has been a part of traditional healing for centuries, we now have research to support the link between gastrointestinal problems and conditions such as auto-immunity, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression/anxiety, eczema and more! So, whether you’re trying to improve your mood, skin, cardiovascular system, weight or thyroid & adrenal health it is wise to, first and foremost, begin with optimizing your gut function.

To understand why gut health is so central to overall health, it helps to know that the gut plays several important roles in the body:

• It helps to break down and absorb nutrients
• It acts as a protective barrier between your internal environment and the external world
• It plays a role in the production of important vitamins & neurotransmitters
• It helps the body to get rid of toxins
• It helps to regulate blood sugar levels
• It communicates with and influences the brain (think mood and cognition)

Struggling with health issues, whatever they might be, can be daunting and confusing. However, a good place to start is to optimize the health and function of your gut. There are 4 components to this that can serve as a guide to help you on this journey:

1) Remove triggers: if you want to heal your gut, you have to remove the things that aggravate or cause it to dysfunction. Some of the most common culprits include: infections, food sensitivities, stress, environmental toxins, antibiotics, and certain medications.

2) Restore dysfunction & replace deficiencies: chronic or acute assaults to the gut can often lead to deficiencies in both function and in nutrients. For example, chronic stress can lead to a reduction in your body’s normal production of digestive enzymes that help to break down food. This poses several problems, including impaired nutrient absorption and predisposing you to infection (improperly digested food can serve as a source of food to feed certain strains of bacteria).

3) Re-inoculate: with good bacteria! The gastrointestinal tract is lined from top to bottom with a vastly diverse population of bacteria, which can become imbalanced. For example, when the gut is exposed to infection or antibiotics there is an “overgrowth” of certain bacteria that can lead to disruptions in proper gut function.

4) Repair: When the gut lining is exposed to irritants, over time it can lead to its degradation and a condition commonly known as “leaky gut”. A leaky gut is bad news for your immune health! Repairing it with botanicals & nutrients is a key step in the healing process.

Dr. Lovink’s Go-to Gut Supplements

Probiotics: will help to re-inoculate the gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics are organized by genus, species and strains & each type offers different benefits for the gut & overall health. The most common genus’ are Lactobacilli & Bifidobacterium; in general, look for a multi-strain with both of these guys in it.
• Strains such as lactobacillus gasseri help support healthy metabolism and blood sugar levels, while lactococcus lactis supports good immune function and the synthesis of B-vitamins
• Spore or soil-based probiotics (mostly the Bacillus genus) are particularly good at surviving the harsh gastric environment, thereby allowing them to exert maximal benefits in the small and large bowel where they are intended to act
• For those with lots of gas & bloating be cautious with those probiotics that contain prebiotic fiber (FOS, inulin, etc.) as this can feed an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria

Digestive Enzymes: will help to breakdown food properly so that you can optimize your nutrient intake & prevent food from being allowed to ferment in the gut.
• For individuals who have low stomach acid, look for a digestive enzyme formula with betaine HCl. You can also try taking bitter herbs that will stimulate acid production in the stomach; this includes Gentian root, Yellow Dock, Dandelion and Wormwood.

Fibre: aim for a balance of soluble & insoluble fiber as this will help to both improve the bulk and transit time of your stool. Indigestible soluble fiber also feed bacteria in your gut and therefore helps to keep a healthy thriving population. However, caution is warranted for individuals who have an imbalance of bacteria or for those who have active inflammatory or infectious conditions in the gut as providing excess fiber can be both irritating and “feed the fire” of imbalanced flora. I always suggest getting your fiber from whole food forms such as vegetables, fruits and starchy tubers, however, some individuals may find it helpful to add supplemental fiber in the form of psyllium, inulin or partially hydrolyzed guar gum.

Aloe Vera: is a very healing and nutritive herb for the gut lining. It helps to soothe inflamed tissue, while also providing a potent dose of antioxidants to help in the repair process. When used in the whole leaf form, it will also help to promote regularity of bowel movements.

Stress Support: Finally, a gut healing protocol is not complete without addressing stress management. The gut is very intimately connected to the nervous system and its proper function is highly contingent on being in a parasympathetic state (relaxed) for optimal function. I promote the use of diaphragmatic breathing (deep belly breaths) before each meal and learning to eat mindfully as 2 very effective strategies to optimize & set the stage for good digestion.

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