More than 2 thousand years ago, Hippocrates, sometimes known as the Father of Medicine – once said, “all disease begins in the gut”. We are only now just starting to understand just how right he was. Research has revealed that gut health is critical to overall health and that an unhealthy gut contributes to a wide range of diseases including diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, autism spectrum disorder, depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.
There are two things that determine our gut health: the intestinal microbiota, or “gut flora” and the gut barrier:
Imagine this – the human gut contains 10 times more bacteria than all the human cells in the entire body, with over 400 known diverse bacterial species. Gut flora promotes normal gastrointestinal function, provides protection from infection, regulates metabolism and comprises more than 75% of our immune system. Unregulated gut flora has been linked to diseases ranging from autism and depression to autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s, inflammatory bowel disease and type 1 diabetes.
The gut is a hollow tube that passes from the mouth to the anus. Anything that goes in the mouth and isn’t digested will pass right out the other end. This is, in fact, one of the most important functions of the gut: to prevent foreign substances from entering the body.
When the intestinal barrier becomes permeable (i.e. “leaky gut syndrome”), large protein molecules escape into the bloodstream.
Since these proteins don’t belong outside of the gut, the body mounts an immune response and attacks them. Studies have repeatedly shown that the integrity of the intestinal barrier is a major factor in autoimmune disease.
The most obvious first step in maintaining a healthy gut is to avoid all of the things that destroy gut flora and damage the intestinal barrier. But that’s not always possible, especially in the case of chronic stress and infections.
If you’ve been exposed to some of these factors, there are still steps you can take to restore your gut flora:
- Remove all food toxins from your diet
- Eat plenty of fermentable fibers (starches like sweet potato, yam, yucca, etc.)
- Eat fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kim chi, etc., take a high-quality, multi-species probiotic.
- Treat any intestinal pathogens (such as parasites) that may be present
- Take steps to manage your stress