Thrive to be Alive: Gut Health and Our Lives

Clinking of glasses, well wishes, congratulatory laughter, sweet aromas and herbaceous scents waft through the air as we sit to feast upon another sumptuous meal. In this country a large percentage of people have the luxury of indulgence. Such an array of food and drink at our fingertips allows us the excitement of our favorite food being prepared for us at almost any hour of the day or night. For better or for worse some of us don’t even have to leave our couch to savor the spices of the far east or the buttery sauces of French cuisine; we just make a call and
dig in! Another population of us scrape together enough money to grab something cheap and quick so our bellies feel sufficiently full enough to slog through the day. Less so the elation of celebration, more a necessity of mastication.

Regardless of what foods we choose it all goes down the same tube. We know unadulterated unprocessed organic foods are the most nourishing for our bodies and we do our best to make healthy choices. Until our air, water and soil are free of industrial, pharmaceutical and agricultural toxins, what can we do to ameliorate the effects that they are having on our families right now? We often experience symptoms like headaches, brain fog, depression, allergies, bloating, joint pain and heartburn just to name a few. These kinds of complaints are becoming all too commonplace around the water cooler on a groggy Monday morning.

On any given day in my practice, patients come in with a variety of complaints ranging from acute issues to chronic long-term illnesses. Through my comprehensive evaluation and examination, I find most of these various complaints originating from the gut. It surprises many people when diagnoses of hormone imbalance like hypo or hyperthyroid, menstrual disorders, prostate issues and back pain can be remedied by improving gut health.

The human microbiome is the variety of microbes or bacteria, protozoa, virus, and fungi creating our unique environment that is our gut. Impressively, there are over 100 trillion bacteria that live in our digestive tract states Sandor Katz (2013), author of one of my favorite books, “The Art of Fermentation”. The foods we eat are not completely digested on our own. Microbes assist our endogenous enzymes by breaking down compounds. Our gut bacteria produce necessary nutrients like Vitamin A, K and Vitamin B. A healthy gut even helps modulate gene
expression including immune responses to fight cancers. “Where the human genome carries some 22,000 protein-coding genes, researchers estimate that the human microbiome contributes some 8 million unique protein-coding genes or 360 times more bacterial genes than human genes” (Proctor et al., 2013).

Not only is the integrity of our gut biome important for the breakdown of foods to create energy, but it is critical for our survival. Dr. Michael Gershon (1999), author of “The Second Brain” states the brain and gut use the same neurotransmitters like serotonin. Neurotransmission is the “language that nerve cells use to speak to each other.” Studies show that an intact intestinal lining is imperative for regulation of our immune responses, vitamin production and protection from pesticides and chemicals. The intestinal lining is also the site of 95 percent of our serotonin controlling our thoughts, behaviors and moods. So, if the process of manufacturing serotonin is interrupted, this can inevitably cause psychological issues such as depression and A.D.H.D. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride (2017) reveals, “an unknown amount of neurotoxins are produced by abnormal flora in the gut…these are absorbed through the damaged gut wall and taken to the brain.” This should give us more insight into the importance of gut health and the incentive to protect it.

“All diseases begin in the gut” Hippocrates, 460-370 BC. You’ve probably heard the term Leaky gut within the last decade. It’s a hot topic when discussing auto immune diseases like Rheumatoid Arthritis or Crohn’s disease. Leaky gut occurs when undigested food particles (particularly protein) pass through the gut wall into the blood stream before being properly digested. It is estimated that 90% of the American population suffers from a deficiency of
Hydrochloric acid known as “Hypochlorhydria”. Hydrochloric acid (HCL) is found in the stomach and is responsible for keeping the stomach at an acidic pH level around 1-3. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride (2017) refers to Hypochlorhydria in her book, “Gut and Psychology Syndrome”.

HCL has several important functions including: Protein digestion and absorption, mineral absorption, and killing off potential harmful microorganisms we ingest. If your stomach has a proper pH level, the stomach kills off the harmful microorganisms before entering the small intestine. It is important that these microbes are killed before entering the small intestine since pH of the SI is alkaline. Without proper acidity in the stomach, the microbes that are naturally present in food will enter the Small intestine intact. In the small intestine, the foreign microbes stay in your gut creating an over growth (SIBO), disturbing the delicate balance of the bowel flora creating intestinal disorders or permeates into the bloodstream forming infectious and autoimmune issues in any part of the body. This process also wreaks havoc on our endocrine system causing hormonal dysregulation. Our constant exposure to environmental toxins and daily habitual routines lead to these complex health issues. By restoring the HCL and the proper acidic pH of the stomach the proteins in the food are properly broken down before passing into the blood stream preventing autoimmune reactions seen in leaky gut syndrome.

One solution to help correct these issues is to stimulate the body to produce its own stomach acid. Unfortunately, most medications we see on our store shelves have inadvertent consequences. They have become so familiar to us we don’t even question their usage or their possible danger. Mistakenly when we experience painful heartburn or a peptic ulcer we reach for a chewable antacid or another over the counter acid suppressor, unknowingly causing further damage. The acid that people feel when they have “acid reflux” is lactic and pyruvate acid forming as a by-product of undigested food putrefying in their stomach. Hoping to provide some relief from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) commonly known as acid reflux, over 15 million Americans a year are prescribed proton pump inhibitors. Another overly prescribed medication, and the number one enemy of gut flora and disruptor of proper pH are antibiotics. Antibiotics are everywhere. They take the form of pills, they are in our foods like meats, eggs and dairy from animals treated with them, antimicrobial hand sanitizers, dish and hand soaps, consequently breeding antibiotic resistance. Too frequently we are quick to pop a pain reliever like Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) and acetaminophen creating a vicious cycle of inflammation and disruption to our microbiome. A formula that I have co created contains a specific formulation of 2 different Zinc chelated compounds to help create the specific environment that is required for proper gut pH and aid absorption.

Not long ago we co-mingled with the world around us that originally planted the seeds within us. Unfortunately, in our modern age we have become increasingly separated from the natural world. We have divorced ourselves from the plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria that made us. From the moment babies are born we come into contact with our mother’s microbes through the birth canal colonizing our GI tracts. Unfortunately, with the rise of cesarian section birth, babies are not exposed to the mother’s beneficial bacteria predisposing the tiny human to impaired immunity going forward. Our gut flora is seeded by ancestral knowledge and all that surrounds us from ages ago that has literally created who we are. Our unique microbes are as individual to us as our fingerprints. Unfortunately, a lot of foods that are popular in people’s diets are the same foods that exacerbate gut dysbiosis (imbalance of the gut’s microbial environment). Issues that occur from gut dysbiosis can negatively affect all organs but the first
place to suffer is the digestive system.

Practical ways to re-inoculate our microbiome is to introduce fermented foods such as sauerkraut, pickles, miso paste, olives, kimchi, yogurts and kefirs. Eating organic dark leafy greens, farm fresh fruit or farmers market skin on fruits and fiber rich foods gets your peristalsis (waves of your GI tract) moving. Get creative by starting your own ferments at home. Ideally, we want to encourage our own microbes to proliferate.

In addition to understanding the importance of consuming beneficial foods, it is paramount to also understand elimination as detoxification. If a patient is suffering from constipation or diarrhea, you will find a degree of auto toxicity. They are being poisoned by their own cellular waste. This can lead to a myriad of health concerns from inability of absorbing necessary nutrients to inflammatory skin disorders like eczema and acne.

Elimination (proper Bowel habits), digestion, and sleep are the three body functions most vital for health and healing. Most people don’t realize how sleep and gut health are interwoven. If the patient cannot rest or have ideal sleep it can be a reflection of both neurological as well as hormonal imbalances. Not being able to fall asleep at night aside from environmental considerations is a sign of impaired parasympathetic function. Not being able to stay asleep soundly is usually a sign of blood sugar dysregulation. Our bodies perform most of its healing and tissue repair during sleep. If we are not sleeping sufficiently, we are unable to heal from any chronic illness or cut our healing time short from an acute cold or flu. Poor sleep will also impair energy production, cardiovascular system, and hormonal balance due to the release of excess cortisol. A healthy liver processes nutrient’s that come from the intestines and helps to neutralize toxins. The pancreas as well as the liver is also a digestive organ, it secretes insulin (managing sugar metabolism) and pancreatic enzymes. Many patients with constipation tend towards blood sugar dysregulation. Aiding pancreatic function and normalizing blood sugar regulation helps with constipation. When necessary, I use a formulation which replenishes enzymes, amino acids, decongests the liver, reduces tissue inflammation and supports production of neurotransmitters.

It is imperative that our elimination, digestion and sleep are all functioning optimally. Three of our bodies most important functions are controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS represents our ability to rest, digest and heal. In Chinese Medicine the PNS can be considered Yin in nature, while the Sympathetic Nervous system (SNS) fight or flight response is Yang in nature. All healing stems from the proper functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system.

In chronic illness, there is an imbalance of the PNS and SNS (Yin and Yang). This imbalance of the autonomic nervous system is the reason why the body gets stuck in a disease pattern and is slow to move towards health. You can see systemic disorders of the SNS where the body is in a stress overdrive: anxiety, insomnia, constipation, rigid muscles, obsessive thinking etc. Modern technology and habits lend to more issues stemming from this. The idea of health is to restore the balance of the nervous system so the body can perform its own healing functions as nature designed.

The ability to detoxify waste products, absorb nutrition, and sleep is both an indicator of health as well as a basis of good health. Proper elimination, digestion and sleep promotes autonomic health and vice versa as well. Because of this mutual relationship between these body functions and the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which regulates the function of the internal organs, simultaneously addressing the health of the nervous system is imperative for the entire body and mind. Healthy regular elimination is a reflection of well- functioning digestion, detoxification, liver filtration, cardiac function and especially neurological function since most of our neurotransmitters are made in the gut. Are we feeling an inner gnawing/knowing that something is not right? When our digestion is off, we cannot clearly listen to our body’s internal messages. Are we able to tune in to our gut instincts?

The safest and most effective way for toxins to leave the body is through the large intestines. It is very important for the body to eliminate 1-3 times a day. Nothing cleans the blood out faster than sufficient bowel movements. Many of the ancient healing systems from China, India, Egypt and Greece viewed the quality of the bowels as a reflection of internal health. This was especially so in ancient Egypt where the word they used for “doctor” literally translated as “one who inspects and cares for the colon”. You can be your own doctor by simply and diligently taking care of your own gut health! To forge ahead, we need to once again coexist and embrace an existence full of life generating microbes so we can continue to live symbiotically and thrive.

References

Campbell-McBride, N. (2017). Gut and psychology syndrome: natural treatment for autism, dyspraxia, A.D.D., dyslexia, A.D.H.D., depression, schizophrenia. Medinform Pubslishing.

Gershon, M. D. (1999). The second brain. Harper Collins World.

Gonzalez, N. J. (2017). Nutrition and the autonomic nervous system: the scientific foundations of the Gonzalez protocol. New Spring Press.

Katz, S. E. (2013). The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World. Chelsea Green Publishing Co.

Oxford University Press. (n.d.). New Oxford American Dictionary. Oxford Reference. https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195392883.001.0001/acref-9780195392883.

Peery AF, Dellon ES, Lund J, et al. Burden of gastrointestinal disease in the United States: 2012 update. Gastroenterology. 2012;143:1179–1187,

Proctor, L. M., Chhibba, S., McEwen, J., Peterson, J., Wellington, C., Baker, C., Giovanni, M., McInnes, P., & Lunsford, R. D. (2013). The NIH Human Microbiome Project. The Human Microbiota, 1–50. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118409855.ch1