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:
- 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
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