Special Note: This is the first of a 5-part series on Gut Health.
In this series, I’m going to uncover the 5 steps you must follow in order to improve your digestion and heal your gut. These 5 steps are based on the 5 R approach of functional medicine (formerly referred to as the 4 R approach, which I’ve written about previously on my site), and I’ve gone ahead and included my own personal spin and approach to each step.
Rather than turn this into one gigantic post with all 5 steps included, I’ve decided to break it down into 5 parts to make it a little bit more manageable and give each step the attention it truly deserves.
If you’ve been hanging around my website or receiving emails from me for a while, you’re likely well aware that a big focus of my practice and teachings centre upon gut health and improving digestion.
The reason for this is simple, really. You see, if this area of your health is sub-par, then it’s almost impossible to feel your absolute best.
After all, healthy digestion is the foundation of optimal health.
It’s estimated that over 80% of our immune system resides in the lining of our gut wall, so it’s only reasonable that we would want to keep everything functioning as smoothly as possible.
Our gastrointestinal tract is our main barrier between us and our outside world, and it’s most critical job is to keep undigested food particles, toxins and other invaders from trespassing into territories where they don’t belong.
Overtime though the gut lining can become inflamed and damaged as a result of a number of factors including: poor diet and eating habits, excessive alcohol consumption, certain medications, environmental pollutants, pathogenic organisms, and even emotional stress.
When the tight junctions that make up our gastrointestinal lining start to loosen (allowing substances to pass through into our bloodstream that wouldn’t normally be able to otherwise), this is when a condition commonly referred to as “Leaky Gut Syndrome”, or gastrointestinal hyper-permeability ensues.
Not only can this condition contribute to and exacerbate a number of digestive issues, it can also set off autoimmune reactions throughout the body leading to health complaints not always associated with poor digestive function, such as joint pain, fatigue, depression, environmental allergies, and skin conditions like eczema.
The 5 R approach has its roots in the field of Functional Medicine, where’s it’s been used successfully for years as a protocol to heal and repair the digestive tract of patients.
With that, I’m going to jump right into the first of the 5 steps!
Step #1: REMOVE
The first of the 5 step protocol is REMOVE, and it’s probably the most important step of all, because without it the subsequent steps wouldn’t be nearly as effective. So listen up! ;)
This first step refers to the removal of anything that negatively impacts the environment of our gut and gastrointestinal tract – and it’s actually a two-fold process.
Let me explain.
First, we must take an honest look at our diet and the types of foods we consistently consume on a daily basis. A diet filled with highly refined foods, chemical additives, allergenic foods, or foods we may be sensitive to, can all wreak havoc on our gut, and both inflame and break down the gastrointestinal lining over time.
This also includes gastric irritants like cigarette smoke, certain medications, and yes, even alcohol and coffee, particularly when consumed in excess. Of course there’s a difference between enjoying a glass of wine with dinner vs. drinking a whole bottle on a Friday night in the name of “unwinding”.
Since many reactions can be delayed, it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint which foods or substances are causing symptoms, especially if we feel fine when consuming them. It can be helpful to remove some (or all) of the top allergenic foods (or other suspects) for a set period of time and then add each item back in one at a time to see how your body reacts. If you have a severe anaphylactic allergy that you’re aware of, you should completely AVOID that food.
The top allergenic foods include dairy, wheat, soy, peanuts, eggs, tree nuts, and shellfish. However, there are many other foods that people can be intolerant or sensitive to (i.e. gluten, lactose, FODMAPS) and it’s beyond the scope of what I can reasonably get into here now. You’ll definitely have to do some detective work, and keeping track of your food intake in a journal can expedite the pinpointing.
The severity of your symptoms will determine how strict you need to be during the elimination phase, and it will look a little bit different for everyone. For example, if you consume a lot of dairy-containing foods and have digestive issues or other unexplainable symptoms, this might be a good one to start off with. On the other hand, if you know that you abuse alcohol or coffee, you might want to start there.
I suggest an elimination period of at least 4 weeks, although you can (and likely will) experience improvement in your symptoms much sooner.
The 2nd part of the REMOVE process includes the removal of any infections, such as an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, fungus (i.e. Candida), or parasites that may be contributing to poor gut health. In addition to removing their main food source which is primarily sugar and starches, it might make sense to employ certain antimicrobial agents such as caprylic acid, olive leaf extract, berberine, black walnut husks, cloves, and garlic (among others) to help further eradicate these organisms. In more severe cases, prescription drugs may even be warranted.
Okay, there you have it – that’s the first step in healing your gut!
I realize this first step is a BIG one, and can be a bit overwhelming, particularly in the beginning if you’re unsure about what to eliminate. With that said, once you put your attention towards figuring out this first piece of the puzzle, the remaining 4 steps are a bit more straightforward – not to mention, the payoff of reducing or eliminating symptoms and experiencing better health overall is well worth the effort.
Stay tuned for Step #2 coming soon!
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