One of the topics I touch on often is the issue of “gut health” and a strong immune system, but I don’t know if I’ve ever explained the very basics.
If you have anxiety/depression, digestive issues, skin problems, an auto-immune disease, a child on the Autism spectrum, or really any health issue at all, this information can be life changing.
Keep in mind, though, that there’s just a lot that I don’t know, I'm not a doctor or anywhere even close, but in this post I hope to get the basics out there and motivate you to research more on your own. Think of this post as a starting point!
- Click here for the GAPS Diet book by Natasha Campbell McBride
- Click here for the strong probiotics I recommend (and read more here about PREbiotics)
- Click here for cod liver oil
- Click here for Grain free meal plans
- Click here for a GAPS Starter Kit
Gut Health 101: 6 Questions and Answers About A Strong Immune System and the GAPS Diet
1. What is the “gut” anyway?
The gut is the intestinal tract.
2. Why is gut health so important?
(Quotes below are from the Weston A. Price review of the book, GAPS/Gut and Psychology Syndrome)
“Poor bacterial flora and digestion are at the heart of serious health problems. When children are born with intestinal bacterial imbalances or gut dysbiosis, they tend to have a compromised immune system and are prone to illness. Campbell-McBride brings to light the profound statements of Hippocrates that “All diseases begin in the gut.”
“Although genetics is often provided as an explanation for brain disorders like autism and ADD/ADHD, as well as for psychiatric illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, genetics cannot explain the exponential increase in these health and developmental problems, says Dr. Campbell-McBride, because genetic changes work much more slowly.
Through studying the health of hundreds of patients with autism, learning disabilities, psychiatric illness and other problems, Campbell- McBride discovered that in virtually all cases these children and adults suffer from digestive problems, often of a severe nature. Through her research, she has determined a distinct correlation between unhealthy intestinal flora, poor digestion and toxicity from chemicals created by undigested foods, which can severely affect brain chemistry. She coins this relationship the Gut and Psychology Syndrome, or GAPS.”
3. What wreaks havoc on gut health? What is a “leaky gut”?
- Sugar, grains – especially empty carbs (white grains/pasta/rice, sugar – even the more natural sugars) “A child or adult who eats a diet high in difficult-to-digest carbohydrates such as grains and processed foods will continue to encourage the underlying condition of gut dysbiosis. Dr. Campbell-McBride states that people with damaged flora will crave the very foods that support the survival of the unhealthy bacteria, often to the exclusion and refusal of others.”
- Antibiotics: “anti” = against; “biotics” = bacteria – yes they clear out the bad bacteria causing an infection, which is sometimes needed, but they also take the good bacteria with it – only take if absolutely necessary.
- A diet that is off balance between omega 6’s and omega 3’s. Most of us are too high in the omega 6’s, which are found in unhealthy vegetable oils and processed foods. Some omega 6’s are needed, but they should be balanced with omega 3’s. “Recent research has revealed that too much omega-6 in the diet creates an imbalance that can interfere with production of important prostaglandins.This disruption can result in increased tendency to form blood clots, inflammation, high blood pressure, irritation of the digestive tract, depressed immune function, sterility, cell proliferation, cancer and weight gain.” From The Skinny on Fats.
- Trans fats: “Altered partially hydrogenated fats made from vegetable oils actually block utilization of essential fatty acids, causing many deleterious effects including sexual dysfunction, increased blood cholesterol and paralysis of the immune system.” From The Skinny on Fats.
- Stress. If you feel like you can’t eliminate it, then change how you react to it.
- Toxins all around us, including those in our food, such as pesticides, preservatives, hormones, fake colorings, etc. (Read your food labels! Even better, eat food without labels!)
- More here: What can damage our gut flora.
When our gut health is damaged, we have what many call “a leaky gut”.
This is when molecules and particles that shouldn't be in your bloodstream are getting through from your digestive system because the gut wall is compromised somehow. This causes an immune system response and inflammation in the gut, which can lead to a whole array of health issues like auto-immune disorders along with what was already mentioned above, and even more.
4. What supports gut health?
- “What, then, are the solutions to turn poor digestion into one that helps the patient thrive? Dr. Campbell-McBride outlines a nutrient-dense dietary plan that is totally void of grains and even dairy foods at first, and which provides high quality, organically grown meats, poultry, fish, nuts, eggs—especially raw egg yolks—cooked non-starchy vegetables, fresh fruit, bone-broth soups, traditionally fermented foods, and ample traditional fats. She suggests supplements of cod liver oil, fish oil, digestive enzymes, a stomach acid supplement and the right probiotics to rid the stomach of bacterial growth and help develop healthy intestinal flora.” (Find more here from the Weston A. Price review of the book, GAPS/Gut and Psychology Syndrome.)
- Fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, fermented vegetables, fermented drinks like kombucha, kefir soda pop, fermented lemonade punch, etc. – full of the “good guys”: healthy bacteria. (Keep in mind that while these are good for your gut, they may not be part of the GAPS Diet in the beginning — more on that below.)
- “Raw milk contains beneficial bacteria that protect against pathogens and contribute to a healthy flora in the intestines. Culturing milk greatly enhances its probiotic and enzyme content, making it a therapeutic food for our digestive system and overall health.” (From Milk, It Does a Body Good?)
- A probiotic supplement to repopulate your gut with the healthy bacteria. (Here's where to get probiotics and read more here about PREbiotics.)
- Cod liver oil for omega 3’s, vitamin A & D (Find cod liver oil here.)
- Grass-fed meats & pastured eggs for omega 3’s, CLA (and other benefits of pastured meat & dairy) (Find grassfed meats here.)
- “Grass-fed, organic butter also contains anti-microbial fatty acids including butyric acid, which has strong anti-fungal effects. Coconut oil and butter are not only anti-microbial, but they also help heal the lining of the gut; therefore, they are preferred for cooking, baking or eating right off the spoon.” (From How to Restore Digestive Health by Jordan Rubin.)
- What else did I forget?
5. How does the GAPS diet (gut healing diet) come into this?
The above list only has bits and pieces and parts of the GAPS diet, and while they are all ways you can rebuild your immune system, the GAPS Diet book can explain more detailed information and give you the big picture.
*Some people can heal by implementing a few of the above suggestions, others need to go full-on and follow the GAPS Diet for total healing.
6. How can I learn more?