Gut Health Overview: Part 1

Everything in this post summarizes what I found in studies, journal articles, and research.
You can read many of these for yourself in the bottom resource section of My Family’s Gut Health Story + Resources post (which is not exhaustive, and I will add additional resources as I create more posts). This post’s sections are:

  • Defining “Gut Health”
  • What Causes Poor Gut Health Conditions?
    • Common Medical Practices
    • Lifestyle Choices and Diet
    • Exposure to Toxins, Mold, and Harmful Chemicals
  • What Are Common Gut Health Problems?

DEFINING “GUT HEALTH”
“‘Gut health’ is a term increasingly used in the medical literature and by the food industry. It covers multiple positive aspects of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, such as the effective digestion and absorption of food, the absence of GI illness, normal and stable intestinal microbiota, effective immune status and a state of well-being. From a scientific point of view, however, it is still extremely unclear exactly what gut health is, how it can be defined and how it can be measured. The GI barrier adjacent to the GI microbiota appears to be the key to understanding the complex mechanisms that maintain gut health. Any impairment of the GI barrier can increase the risk of developing infectious, inflammatory and functional GI diseases, as well as extraintestinal diseases such as immune-mediated and metabolic disorders. Less clear, however, is whether GI discomfort in general can also be related to GI barrier functions. In any case, methods of assessing, improving and maintaining gut health-related GI functions are of major interest in preventive medicine.”
Source: BMC Medicine Journal, “‘Gut health’: a new objective in medicine?” – Stephan C. Bischoff, March 2011.

WHAT CAUSES GUT HEALTH PROBLEMS?
Short Answer:  The modern typical American diet, prevalent use of certain medical  interventions (particularly antibiotics), and regular exposure to toxins and harmful chemicals that alter the body’s natural flora (on our skin and in our gut). These risk factors relating to gut-health problems have exploded in the last 75 years of American history.

Keep in mind that the earlier in life one is exposed, the more frequent the exposure, and the more categories one can identify, the worse the gut health of an individual will generally be.

COMMON MEDICAL PRACTICES
Please realize these medical interventions (and some can be lifestyle or preferential choices) are used for a reason, often to save lives! This is not a list to judge or shame anyone. (I’ve had a c-section and have had to supplement with formula!) But I wish someone had told me how important it is to treat and maintain gut-health at home, which would have prevented a host of problems (especially for my children), misery in the home, and lots of doctor visits from ever occurring (you can read my story here). History of one or more of any of the following, even for a short time, contributes to poor gut health:

  • antibiotics (oral, intravenous, in our food supply, or topical, including acne-controlling products like ProActiv)
  • steroids (oral, injection, topical)
  • birth control pills or other hormonal treatments (particularly those containing estrogen)
  • birth by c-section (affects flora of the baby)
  • antibiotics during pregnancy, labor, and/or delivery (affects flora of the baby and mother)
  • formula feeding (particularly soy)

LIFESTYLE CHOICES & DIET
Extreme, regular, or even occasional consumption of:

  • added sugar in all forms (corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, etc. Learn the 57 names of added sugar the food industry uses to hide sugar in your food)
  • high sugar beverages: juice, sweet tea, soda/pop/Coke, “specialty” coffees
  • artificial sweeteners (aspartame, Splenda, Nutrasweet, Sweet N Low, Equal–Stevia is NOT artificial)
  • fast food or processed foods (rule of thumb: if it’s boxed, bottled, or wrapped and doesn’t require refrigeration or has a wicked long shelf-life even when refrigerated, it’s processed)
  • heavy carbs and breads
  • alcoholic beverages
  • GMO, non-fermented soy–which the body treats and processes like estrogen–and is found in pretty much all processed foods, including infant formula
  • infant formula, particularly soy-based

EXPOSURE TO TOXINS, MOLD, AND HARMFUL CHEMICALS
Though God designed our bodies to eliminate these harmful substances, the sheer number of them add up–altering the natural flora of our tissues and guts–and can cause overload. These substances wind up hanging out in our blood, tissues (including the brain), and the gut instead of being eliminated. Eventually, the accumulation in the body causes problems down the road. Our organs and systems use the GI system to flush out these toxins (through our sweat, urine and feces), and are constantly working to eliminate foreign substances we are exposed to! So if your gut health is in poor shape, there’s no way the rest of your body is functioning optimally either with all the backed-up build up of:

  • pesticides from our food and in our homes
  • chlorine in our drinking water and in swimming pools
  • mold spores in the air of our homes
  • new carpet chemicals we inhale (formaldehyde)
  • adjuvant ingredients in vaccines and medications
  • artificial dyes, flavors, preservatives, and sweeteners in our food supply
  • plastics (which is why I personally use glass or ceramic in the microwave)
  • harsh chemicals in cleaning, laundry, and personal care products

WHAT ARE COMMON GUT HEALTH PROBLEMS?
If you research any one of these gut-related conditions, you’ll quickly discover that they rarely exist alone–one leads to another and vice versa. Holisitc, naturopathic, osteopathic, and functional medicine doctors who understand these conditions often treat patients with EVERY condition! Conventional medicine doctors (in the West) are beginning to get on board as more undeniable research comes out (from the East–Europe, Australia, and East Asia). You will find very little research based in the USA, since treatment of these conditions requires some level of diet change (can be small or extreme) and supplements (probiotics, enzymes, etc)–not pharmaceutical drugs.

As these root problems of GI health are addressed, outward symptoms and diseases *magically* diminish, often eventually disappear, and patients are able to wean off of prescription drugs and experience freedom from past symptoms/diseases along with the side-effects of the drugs. I’m not going to discuss what symptoms and diseases these conditions cause–that’s for the next post. Gut health problems and conditions are:

  • inflammation
  • gut flora imbalance (ratio of good bacteria and bad bacteria is off)
  • yeast overgrowth, particularly Candida
  • stomach and intestinal wall permeability, also known as Leaky Gut Syndrome (and if you have this, Candida, toxins, and food particles can escape your GI system and into your blood stream and organs and wreak havoc on your health)

Sources and Resources
See the bottom section of the post My Family’s Gut Health Story + Resources

Upcoming Posts
Gut Health Overview: Part 2
Consequences of Poor Gut Health
an overview of common symptoms, conditions, and diseases with a root cause of a gut health problem

Gut Health Overview: Part 3
Healing and Maintaining a Healthy Gut
proactive steps you can take to heal and maintain a healthy gut

My Family’s Gut Health Story + Resources

Two sections of this post

  • A Snapshot of the Centers’ Gut-Health Journey
  • Gut Health Education and Resources

A SNAPSHOT OF THE CENTERS’ GUT HEALTH JOURNEY

A year ago if you had asked me
What are probiotics and what are they good for?
Are they safe? Can I give them to my kids/babies?
What’s the role of gut-health in every day wellness?
What is candida? Leaky Gut? Micro biome? Gut flora imbalance?
What causes gut-health problems, and more importantly,
how do you fix them?

Well, you would have gotten a blank stare along with an honest “no clue, but I’ve heard probiotics are good for you.”

In November 2014 my son got on antibiotics for one of those coughs that just wouldn’t go away. I had heard it was good to give probiotics at the same time, so I went to the local CVS, picked out some kid-safe stuff, made sure he ate yogurt every day, and thought we were good to go. Little did I know that the ONE round of antibiotics put my little guy (7 months old) on a gut-health downward spiral along with horrible consequences. By his 1 year well visit, (after several previous doctor visits for rashes) my son had digressed so much that he:

  • stopped wanting to play
  • was demanding to be held or worn in my Ergo ALL DAY LONG
  • wasn’t napping more than 45 minutes a day
  • had trouble falling asleep at naps/bedtime
  • stopped passing normal bowel movements. A sticky, nasty, massive, horrible explosion woke him (and me) up every morning…and that was it for him every day. I quit using cloth diapers at night.
  • went back and forth between yeast and bacterial rashes
  • started waking up at random early morning hours instead of his consistent 7am… and he stopped waking up happy. His quality of sleep was obviously poor.

I was told he was teething (though no teeth came), it was a phase, growing pains, his personality. During these horrible months I started to hate motherhood, so I researched his symptoms like crazy and started analyzing his timeline starting with the antibiotics…

and I realized that everyone in my family had gut-health issues to address (along with up to 80% of Americans)…we all needed some level of healing (including both of my children). We now daily take the probiotic/enzyme supplement that changed everything for us for every-day maintenance. I actually believe taking a high-quality probiotic is more important for every day wellness than taking multivitamins for this 1 simple reason: an unhealthy gut cannot properly digest and absorb nutrients from food and other supplements. 

Now, I have some amazing stories relating to gut health for me, my husband, and my children. Through small dietary changes and gut-health supplements (full disclosure here: we now only use Plexus products, and after what it’s done for us I decided to become a distributor), our family has overcome, in just a few short months, a host of every day “nuisances” and some serious wellness issues (including healing my son!)–some that had been plaguing us for years. Here’s just a synopsis…

Mark:
*Seasonal allergies and asthma are practically gone. THIS IS HUGE. He rarely takes Claritin, rarely uses his inhaler, and doesn’t use essential oils for symptom relief anymore. No more 10-minute nose-blowing sessions first thing in the morning. No more super dry, itchy eyes.
*He sleeps way better, and just pointed out to me the other night that he’s not needing melatonin anymore.

Me (Sarah): So much has improved, but here are the 3 biggest blessings
*Insomnia. I’m asleep within 20-30 minutes instead of taking 1-2 hrs for my brain to shut down (which I’ve done since childhood). And my sleep is DEEP.
*Pregnancy ickies don’t exist this time. (as of this writing, 6.28.2015, I’m just over 26 wks along). ZERO heartburn, constipation, bloating, brain fog, intense sugar cravings, dull headaches, fatigue, no skin breakouts (my face has never been clearer), and my mood is steady throughout the day. And gluten doesn’t give me migraines anymore. I can eat a piece of pizza without suffering for 4-8 hours afterward.
*Hair and skin. My hair stopped falling out, and is starting to thicken again. My random eczema patches are gone and not coming back. The “chicken skin” on my arms is slowly, but surely, going away.

My Children:
*Raymond. Everything I mentioned he was going through was completely gone within 3 days of switching exclusively to the Plexus ProBio5. I had him and Kinah on a good probiotic (Garden of Life RAW Organic Probiotics for Kids) for 2 months before switching, and saw great improvement (mainly in the rashes and bowel movements changed from 1 massive explosion to several mini explosions), but the moodiness, sleeping issues, and complete healing of his rashes were not resolved until we switched. His BM’s also normalized within 2 days—so much so we’re back to plunking them in the toilet after a diaper change (remember we use cloth) instead of relying on the diaper sprayer. Within 2 days he went from napping 45 minutes to 2.5-3.5 hours. And he’s back to PLAYING! He sleeps until 6:30-7am again. His mood and behavior are back to normal. I got my son back. 🙂

*Kinah. She was a c-section baby and was put on steroids at 9 months during a bout of croup. These two factors set her up for a GI disaster if something put her over the edge (though I didn’t know it at the time). That something happened when she was 18 months old (her 1st vaccine, and a GI reaction that culminated in a trip to the ER). She didn’t have a completely, totally, 100% normal bowel movement until just a few weeks ago (she’s 3!) when we switched to ProBio5. When it happened, I literally screamed and danced through the house! She’s been normal and regular ever since.

I plan to write more stories, but for now, here’s a starting-point list of resources that I read through when I wanted to understand the role of gut health in everyday wellness. This is just the tip of the iceberg. So, for those of you wanting to learn more about gut health, here’s a great place to start!


GUT HEALTH EDUCATION AND RESOURCES
LEAKY GUT, INFLAMMATION, AND AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE

Selections from David Perlmutter’s (M. D., Neurology) blog regarding gut microbiome. Short and easy to read. The last link is a learning page filled with topics (I took special interest in reading up on the categories: Leaky Gut, Prebiotics, Microbiome, and Neurologic Disorders).

CANDIDA ARTICLES & RESOURCES

OTHER GUT HEALTH ARTICLES, BLOG POSTS (well resourced)