The function of the human digestive tract has remained relatively unchanged since man has walked upright. We are wonderfully equipped to extract and transform the nutrients found in natural food into energy and body components. It is still possible to enjoy radiant health through a symbiotic relationship with the foods we eat.
In the present day, we can still enjoy fruits and vegetables in their original form, organic heirloom plants. We can still eat meat from animals that have grazed on tall grasses and herbs. Choosing to eat primarily foods that existed 200 years ago is imperative to good health.
When we eat cooked, rolled oats, for instance, the bacteria in our intestines celebrate the arrival of one of their favorite types of fiber, as oats are prebiotic. In contrast, when we eat dry oat cereal or other crunchy oat food products — which have been baked at extremely high temperatures to make them crunchy — the nutrients are altered and are not as readily absorbed. These kinds of food products may even promote the growth of harmful gut bugs.
Foods that have been prepared in a factory are generally harmful to the digestive tract. The food industry subjects nature’s bounty to extreme temperatures and processes, such as hydrogenation, bleaching, genetic modification, colorings, flavorings, preservatives and flavor enhancers … the list goes on.
We are not equipped to digest these unnatural products. Consuming prepared foods promotes inflammation and disrupts the human microbiome. The fake foods then become part of our tissue and we begin to experience negative changes in the structure and functions of our organ systems. We truly are what we eat.
Optimal health begins with a whole food diet, which also supports a healthy digestive tract. The intestinal lining functions to absorb nutrients, prevent harmful bacteria or toxins from entering the body, produce neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin, and is home to the microbiome. When the intestinal lining is injured, it fails to perform its many vital functions. A damaged intestinal lining is what we are addressing here — leaky gut syndrome.
Causes of leaky gut syndrome
Leaky gut syndrome results from a variety of injuries, including the following:
- Eating highly processed foods
- Eating foods to which a person has sensitivities; two of the most common are gluten and casein, the protein in dairy
- Severe infections
- NSAIDS: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen
- Excess alcohol
- Tobacco abuse
- Dysbiosis or imbalanced intestinal micro flora caused by all of the above, plus antibiotics and excess sugar consumption
Consequences of leaky gut syndrome
LGS, also known as impaired intestinal permeability, results in malfunction of the intestinal lining. Consequences include:
- Nutrient deficiencies and digestive disorders
- Elevated levels of inflammatory chemicals that travel to other parts of the body promoting inflammation in joints, skin, lungs and other tissues. Chronic inflammation is now understood to be the underlying cause of all chronic disease, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
- Higher risk for autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus and hashimotos thyroiditis
- Imbalances in the production of serotonin and melatonin leading to depression and anxiety
- Abnormal signals to the brain regarding hunger, blood sugar balance, stress response and impaired social interactions
Natural approaches to healing leaky gut
One of the wonders of the human body is resilience. We have an amazing capacity to reverse damage and restore optimal health. The principles of naturopathic medicine remind us to address the cause.
- Stop eating fast food, additives and highly refined foods. Choose foods that contain only one ingredient. Eat foods that existed 200 years ago — mostly plants. Enjoy vegetables, fruits, legumes, seeds, nuts and whole grains; fresh or frozen and organic are best.
- Avoid food sensitivities. Lab tests are available to test for allergies. There are other ways to discover food sensitivities as opposed to allergies. Seek help from your naturopathic doctor for this.
- Avoid NSAIDS.
- Learn stress management techniques.
- Reduce consumption of sugar, tobacco and alcohol.
- Eat prebiotic foods to restore a healthy microbiome.
- Supplement with high quality probiotics.
A reverent relationship to food improves digestion. Eat slowly, mindfully and gratefully. Breathe deeply before meals and have a spirit of gratitude.
Modern life makes it challenging to do all the things mentioned here, but each step in the right direction helps to reduce the damage and aids in healing. Seek guidance from a naturopathic doctor or other holistic nutrition counselor to learn how to make sustainable changes that can help you feel better today and prevent the suffering of chronic disease in the long run. As Hippocrates once said, “Let thy food be thy medicine, thy medicine thy food.”
Jacqueline Villalobos is a naturopathic doctor who provides consultation at 166 S. Roadrunner Pkwy., Ste. 1B. She may be reached at 971-409-0603 or email@example.com. Visit her website at jacquelinevillalobosnd.com.
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