Modern research shows that your gut-health has a higher impact on your mental and psychological health than previously thought. Hippocrates did say way back that “All disease starts in the gut”, but I suppose we forgot about that somewhere along the way in our abandoned acceptance of fast food and pharmaceuticals, both of which play havoc with our guts. I know we have busy lives, but it really is worth taking the time to take care of yourself. In this article I will show some of the reasons for that, as well as discussing some of the things that can help.
Everyone needs to eat a balanced diet of healthy natural foods to keep their guts working properly. (I will provide some specific tips later.) Even if you are overweight you should not torture yourself with fad diets. You should aim to rebalance your gut, then you will be able to absorb your nutrients properly so your actual appetite will become more normal too, quite naturally. Gut imbalance may cause nutrient deficiencies which will cause even more health issues, and dieting might well add to the risk of such deficiencies. We need a wide range of different foods to function optimally. Too many of the bad bacteria in your gut can even cause cravings for sugary foods and carbs for example, so this will reduce too once you rebalance your gut flora. Gut imbalance can also cause mood swings, bad temper, anxiety, and depression, as most of the feel good substances we need, such as serotonin are made in the gut when it is working well, so a reduction in these will add horribly to the misery of general IBS symptoms.
Of course if your gut has got badly out of balance you will need to take some extra steps to help heal and restore it so that it can achieve and then maintain balance. (I will provide some specific tips later.) Without that balance in your gut, multiple parts of your body can be damaged, even your brain. Gut imbalance causes damage to the gut lining so that things that aren’t meant to get through do leak out, and these cause knock-on effects to your body systems. Inflammation results, and as this continues, it spirals further out of control as your immune system can start attacking your own tissues and organs in the heat of this ongoing war against toxic substances leaking through the damaged gut lining. Some common symptoms are brain fog, skin rashes, fatigue, and things like hypothyroidism (as the thyroid seems to be especially prone to attack by the confused immune system). Of course the most obvious symptoms are persistent unhealthy bowel movements, wind, and abdominal cramps. Food allergies can play a part in causing the gut damage, but it can also be the other way around, that the damaged gut makes you less tolerant of certain foods. When I cut out wheat it made a dramatic difference to all my symptoms, but I still have to do more to heal my gut properly.
Hippocrates did also say that walking is a great medicine, which we know to be true. It’s certainly not good for us to be sitting around all day, but it’s also not the best thing to suddenly do short bursts of very strenuous exercise when we are not used to it. Swimming is good for non weight bearing whole body exercise if you have difficulties walking, but overcrowded, over-chlorinated pools do carry health risks, so walking wins if you can do it. Appropriate exercise also helps stimulate the production of feel good endorphins to elevate mood.
One of the main benefits of exercise, apart from the obvious physical movement benefits, is that it helps you to breathe deeply. When we are unwell or stressed we tend to stop breathing properly, which obviously does not help our health either. Of course you can also do breathing exercises at home to help with this, and even better if you can learn to do some simple meditations with it. There are many types of meditation, so I’m sure you could find something to suit. Simply focusing on one object or peaceful thought can still the mind, or you could use a mantra or chant to focus on so that your mind drops all the other annoying things going round and round in your head, at least for a while. Then you can also get guided meditations that help you feel good and positively inspired, or to help achieve a specific aim.
Stress is quite a major factor in the development of disease if we let it get out of hand, but we can easily reduce its effects. We also now know that we can affect our own epigenetic systems by reducing stress, eating a balanced diet, exercising sensibly, etc. This is because these things help switch off bad genes and switch on good ones. The epigenetic system helps us to optimise our own genetics if our internal and external environments are good. This means the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual environments – so overall balance is good, enabling us to deal with most of the ups and downs of life in a natural way. Apparently we tend to store the stress of traumatic events from our lives in our guts, so we need to de-stress to help reduce the effects of these past events as well. Death of a parent or other close family member for example is a well known trigger for various diseases, but if we are aware of that we can take special care of ourselves and reduce other possible trigger factors.
Even very serious physical and mental health issues can be turned around, or at least much relieved, and longevity increased, by rebalancing the gut, including things we are often told there is nothing we can do about. Of course, if you are taking lots of pharmaceuticals, these tend to cause gut problems, including antibiotics (which kill the good gut bacteria along with the less desirable ones), but we can gradually stop being so dependent on these if we can manage to heal our guts. Over-dependence on any substance, such as alcohol for example, also causes a lot of damage to the gut and strains other organs too. Sometimes alcoholism is caused by sugar cravings due to an overgrowth of bad gut bacteria, so the more you feed them the worse it gets.
Another 2 quotes from Hippocrates are “The greatest medicine of all is teaching people how not to need it,” and “The function of protecting and developing health must rank even above that of restoring it when it is impaired.” So here are some general good dietary tips firstly, followed by some tips on restoring gut balance if it has gone awry.
First of all – hydration….. IBS symptoms such as diarrhoea can cause dehydration, so it is really important to get plenty of fluids, especially water and/or herbal teas. You can actually see big changes in the skin on the backs of your hands if you rehydrate. This will help your body function a lot better for a start. Also if you suspect anemia you should try a liquid iron tonic to invigorate you. This can happen quite easily with women if they have a heavy period for example, or if you experience any other blood loss. Anemia makes you rather fatigued, and can cause mouth ulcers, so these are possible clues. Liquid iron is more expensive but absorbs more easily into the body, whereas tablets can go straight through, or can cause constipation. Please do check if there are any other nutrients added to your tonic and ensure that you don’t overdose on any of them if you are taking it alongside multivitamins for example, or any other supplements. Vegetarians and people on Halal diets can be prone to anemia, but you can learn to use the foods you do eat in such a way as to optimise the iron content you get from them. Use the internet to look up the iron content of vegetables, grains, and legumes that you might eat, and plan your own strategy. It’s easy to get a lot of these things into soups or smoothies, but many of them will be great on your day to day menu too.
Natural foods appear to be created to provide for our every need. Colours are a good thing to go by because we need to eat foods from every colour group as they contain different substances. There are even things in some foods that counteract toxins in others. Many natural foods do contain some toxins as the plants are trying to stop animals from eating them for example, but there are always methods of dealing with or balancing out these. For example rice absorbs arsenic from the ground so it is important to wash it well. Obviously wash vegetables and fruit well to remove any pesticides or other contaminants. Peanuts contain a toxin that is counteracted by foods such as garlic, raspberries and strawberries. The same foods help counteract nitrosamines in cured meats. There are many foods that contain high contents of specific things, but you will do well on a generally varied natural diet. Processed and fast foods generally contain high proportions of damaged oils, toxic preservatives and flavourings, sugar or other sweeteners, and even some GMO products, so are best avoided.
Herbs are amazing, with high antioxidant levels and lots of very special properties which can be used even to restore health in many cases. Fennel helps calm gut inflammation, and so does bone broth, so maybe you could combine the two. Oregano is anti candida and anti fungal. Cumin protects the pancreas so that it can produce the correct digestive enzymes. Coriander helps to heal the gut, and can even help clear heavy metals from your system. It’s best not to detox too suddenly though as it can be a great shock to your system while the toxins are moving out. Essential oils can help on the skin too, but often need diluting, so great in the bath.
Fruit is better eaten as whole fruit or if juiced you should keep all the fibre in. Juice with no fiber is not great for us as we cannot really process all the sugar in it properly without the fibre. Oh and while mentioning sugar, please do not use artificial sugars as they all contain toxic chemicals. If you want alternatives then stevia is a natural one, but can leave a slight after taste. A touch of cinnamon in coffee instead of sugar works well for me. But watch out about the sugar, as it is very easy to find yourself eating more sweet things to feed the sugar craving when cutting it out of your drinks, and of course then you are also getting extra carbs, so it is better to cut down very gradually to avoid that. If you really have difficulty with it, then you can chew your raw carrots or nuts etc to help reduce the craving, or go for a mixed fruit, herb, and veg smoothie or a green tea instead.
Nuts and naturally produced seeds are great, but you do need to research their fatty acid / oil content, as you need to ensure that you do not consume too many omega 6 ones and not enough omega 3 ones. The ratio of omega 6 to 3 needs to be kept in reasonable balance. I seem to benefit greatly from using flax seed (capsules) for omega 3, and this is a good source for people who don’t eat fish. For those who eat meat, please be aware that corn fed meat will contain mostly omega 6 as opposed to grass fed meat which contains more omega 3. This can be a cause of general inflammation, obesity, and poor health in people who eat a lot of corn fed meat.
We have been led somewhat up the garden path about good and bad fats and cholesterol, due to a lot of publicity years ago about some inaccurate research. This is only now being rectified gradually. Saturated fats are not such a bad thing after all, but trans fats, polyunsaturated fats, and anything hydrogenated or even partly hydrogenated are. Basically the process of producing some oils, including many vegetable and seed oils, and many margarines, heats them to levels that destroy the chemical bonds in them, thus making them toxic to us. Oils are also prone to oxidization and rancidity if stored in non ideal conditions or containers. We actually need even some of the so called bad cholesterol, it’s only really a problem when its state is dense and sticky. In some places they are now doing more specific tests to determine the type of it (type B is the sticky one), but even if you have an issue with that there are easy natural things you can do about it. So, butter is actually better than margarine, unless it is one of the few that are okay. I use things like ghee, coconut butter and oil, and olive oil regularly as these are entirely different types of oil, and are good for you, if they are produced correctly. Olive Oil is mostly mono-unsaturated containing largely the 18 carbon long Oleic Acid. Coconut Oil is saturated but does not get hydrogenated, and populations depending on it do not tend to get health issues linked in the past to saturated fats. It is made up of mostly medium chain fatty acids such as lauric acid (which is converted to monolaurin in the body. This is very healthy, having anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-protozoa properties. It also contains some capric acid which is also anti-microbial. The medium chain fatty acids have many other health benefits, such as stimulating metabolism and natural weight loss, and are good for use on skin and hair and teeth as well as internally. Our bodies and brains really need good fats to function, and coconut oil has made a dramatic difference to some people, even to people with autism and alzheimers. Evening primrose oil (capsules) which contains gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and cis-linoleic acid (LA) can also play a part in rebalancing you, and has a particularly noticeable effect on mood. It stopped me getting migraines prior to menstruation, plus it helped rebalance my mood on days where my IBS was particularly bothersome, plus it has helped people with depression.
Our bodies really need salt too, but not the highly processed common table salt. We need natural salts that contain loads of crucial trace minerals.
There is a lot of advice out there now to help heal the gut. I will mention a few pointers, but please take the power into your own hands and continue to research beyond the scope of this article.
Try to avoid medication if you don’t really need it because meds do unbalance the gut as well as put strain on other organs and generally have side effects, and antibiotics just kill all the good bacteria we need along with the ones we want rid of, so you basically have to start again to try to recolonize naturally with the right things.
Probiotics and prebiotics can help, but don’t do too much at once, and ensure you get good ones. Proper bio live yogurt and kefir is helpful if you are able to have dairy. If buying probiotics ensure that they are able to survive the stomach acid and get through to the intestines okay by having a good protective coating on them, and check if they need to be kept in the fridge or not (the ones I use don’t, are less expensive, and work fine). They should contain as many strains as possible as you need a good variety of things in there, and should definitely contain lactobacillus (such as casei, acidophilus, plantarum, rhamnosus), and bifidobacterium (such as lactis, longum, breve, bifidum). Apparently the bifidobacterium tend to decline as we age. I only take the probiotics once in a while when I feel I need them, but one every few days after antibiotics. Needs do vary a lot with different people. Don’t take them with hot drinks or that will destroy them.
Prebiotic foods, mostly fibrous carbs, help the good bacteria to settle in by creating an ideal environment, such as bananas (banana yoghurt works great for me), apples, artichokes, asparagus, garlic, onions, leeks, cabbage, beans, legumes, and loads of root vegetables.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut are supposed to be good for healing the gut too, but again, you should not overdo it, you only need a spoonful here and there.
Lemon water, with ginger too if you like, helps keep your hydrochloric acid levels okay for digestion. This and castor oil will also help to gently cleanse if needed – don’t do big detoxes as they are too harsh especially if you already have gut problems. Cranberries or even the juice seem to be a helpful too. Also, while the gut is struggling you can use black pepper to help you get as much nutrition as possible from what you do eat. You can take digestive enzymes if need be, particularly if it’s just one type of food you are struggling with (find the right type of enzymes for the type of food), until the gut health is restored. Proteolytic enzymes can clear foreign proteins out of the body and blood, which includes things like fibroids and benign tumours.
Apparently Pasteur said just before he died, that he made a mistake in thinking you had to cleanse everything going into the body, and that it was better to balance the systems in the body to cope naturally. These days some doctors even advise you to muck about in the dirt and / or use garlic to overcome MRSA or other persistent infections. The same applies really to balancing the gut, in the end a bit of dirt is normal to help maintain a healthy system, and too much protection is not so great after all, so over-use of antibacterial soap for example is no longer advised, unless you are in a clinical situation of course, as it tends to eventually weaken our own body’s ability to defend itself. Too much sun protection can cause vitamin D deficiency which is bad news for our immune systems by the way. So, there are a few things we are waking up to eventually, dragging the truth out into the open air, and it’s up to you to go find out more. The internet is a wonderfully empowering tool folks, you just have to use your discernment to build up a few trusted sources of information about whatever it is you need to know. The final word of advice is to just take it easy, don’t suddenly go overboard on anything, let your body adjust gently and take careful note of how it responds.