The Ultimate Guide to Gut Healing
Posted on August 22 2018
The importance of gut health has been getting a lot of attention lately – and with good reason! Many of us are aware of the importance of gut health for digestion, metabolism, immunity and even mental health.
But did you know that poor gut health is actually a cause of autoimmune disease? That’s right, current research has shown that intestinal permeability (also known as a leaky gut) is a prerequisite for autoimmune disease to develop.
While there are many other contributing factors to autoimmune disease developing such as infection, toxic exposure, chronic stress and environmental factors, these factors will vary from person to person and are not always within our control to change. It’s important to understand that although these factors contribute to the development of autoimmune disease, they are not prerequisites for autoimmunity to develop (i.e. not everyone with exposure to heavy metals or chronic stress will develop autoimmune disease). These factors increase the risk but are not necessarily the tipping point towards autoimmunity developing.
"Intestinal permeability (also known as a leaky gut) is a prerequisite for autoimmune disease to develop."
The only other known risk factor that is a prerequisite for autoimmunity to develop aside from leaky gut is genetics. This means that you could have every single autoimmune disease risk factor but if you don’t have the genetic predisposition, Autoimmunity will not develop. Similarly, if you have tons of autoimmune risk factors AND the genetic component BUT you don’t have a leaky gut, you’re good! Autoimmune disease will not develop without the leaky gut.
While we cannot change our genetics, there is a lot we can do to improve our gut health and this is empowering news for those with autoimmune disease! Once developed, autoimmune diseases cannot be ‘cured’, however a cessation of symptoms (remission) can be reached after addressing underlying factors which always include gut health.
Taking care of your gut is also very important for those who do not currently have an autoimmune disease and is essential for you to remain healthy and not develop autoimmunity in the future.
"Autoimmune diseases cannot be ‘cured’, however a cessation of symptoms (remission) can be reached after addressing underlying factors which always include gut health."
What is a leaky gut?
A leaky gut occurs when the cells that form the intestinal wall or the tight junctions (bonds) between them are damaged. When this happens, the gut barrier allows the passage of toxins, antigens and bacteria to enter the bloodstream. The result is an immune system that is over performing leading to chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases.
Read on to learn my top 5 tips for a healthy gut and reversing intestinal permeability and take action TODAY!
1. Increase consumption of Omega 3 fatty acids and decrease consumption of Omega 6
Recent studies have confirmed that high Omega-3 intake improves the biodiversity of healthy bacteria in the gut while high intake of Omega-6 (relative to Omega 3s) have a negative effect on your gut microbiome!
What are Omega 6 fatty acids and why do they have a negative effect on my gut health?
Omega 6 fatty acids are a class of polyunsaturated fats which have been growing in prevalence in modern diets. While Omega-3 fatty acids contribute to anti-inflammatory processes, Omega-6 fatty acids are generally pro-inflammatory. A high intake of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats (relative to omega-3s) can cause a reduction in friendly probiotic bacteria and an increase in non-friendly bacteria, reducing the overall health of the gut!
It is important to note that we do need some Omega 6 fatty acids in our diets. The issue comes with the quantity of Omega-6 fats in in the Standard American diet; it is the ratio that really matters!
"High Omega-3 intake improves the biodiversity of healthy bacteria in the gut while high intake of Omega-6 (relative to Omega 3s) have a negative effect on your gut microbiome!"
How much Omega 3 and how much Omega 6 should I be consuming?
Our ancestors consumed a 1:1 to 1:4 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Consumption of Omega 6 slowly started to creep up 10, 000 years ago when grain was introduced into the diets of humans and the animals raised for human consumption.
Over the past 100 years levels of Omega 6 have increased dramatically containing anywhere from a 1:10 to a 1:40 ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids! This is largely due to the increase in intake of vegetable oils, principally soybean and canola as well as processed snacks, fast foods, baked goods, fatty meats, and cured meats.
The ideal range of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid seems to vary from person to person depending on a number of factors with the optimal range being between 1:2 – 1:5.
By making a conscious effort to keep Omega 3 intake high and Omega 6 intake low you will get closer to your optimal ratio so you can reduce overall inflammation and heal your gut!
How can I increase my intake of Omega 3 and reduce amounts of Omega 6 fatty acids?
To reduce intake of Omega 6 you must consume minimal processed foods, soy, fast food, grains, vegetable oils and meat from grain-fed animals. If you follow AIP or Paleo diets you will (by default) be dramatically reducing your intake of Omega-6!
To increase consumption of Omega 3, consume more seafood as well as grass fed meat and consider supplementation with a high quality fish oil.
If you follow these steps you will get closer to your optimal ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acid intake which will improve your gut health!
2. Consume Probiotic supplements
Taking a high quality probiotic supplement is a great way to improve your gut flora. Probiotic capsules are a convenient and effective way to ensure you are getting a high daily dose of beneficial bacteria and allow targeted inoculation of specific strains.
I heard it is better to take a probiotic that is refrigerated, is that true?
Not necessarily! In fact many practitioners (myself included) are recommending shelf stable probiotics these days. There are some really great probiotics that need to be kept cold in order to preserve their potency as well as great probiotics that are shelf stable and don’t require refrigeration.
The important thing to know is if you are consuming a probiotic that needs to be stored in the fridge you want to ensure that it is still alive. It is a good idea to ask the supplier how the product arrived to their store/clinic. I personally don’t like to take any chances when it comes to the effectiveness of supplements so in my practice I generally recommend shelf stable probiotics. The exception to this is one brand of refrigerated probiotic in which the manufacturer guarantees potency for at least 30 days out of the fridge. Because of this I don’t have to worry about how long the product spent out of the fridge in transport.
"Probiotic capsules are a convenient and effective way to ensure you are getting a high daily dose of beneficial bacteria."
Purchasing your probiotics from a holistic health provider is your best bet at getting a quality professional grade probiotic that is targeted to your personal healing protocol. If this is not possible you can purchase this product for an professional grade shelf stable probiotic and this probiotic is a great one that must be kept in the fridge but is guaranteed potency for 30 days so no need to worry about it dying while travelling to you. It is also kept in the refrigerated while being stored at Amazon. I do not advise purchasing probiotics from a drug store or grocery store.
I felt gassy and bloated after I tried taking probiotics.
It's important to know that the same probiotic that works for one person can cause symptoms in another and anyone starting supplementation with probiotics should start with a low dose and work up. If one product is not working for you try out a product that contains different strains.
The ideal situation is to work with a holistic health provider who can troubleshoot with you and select the right probiotic for the right condition!
3. Consume probiotic rich foods
Humans have been fermenting food for over 8000 years and consuming fermented foods are still one of the best ways to get the benefits of probiotics!
If I take a daily probiotic supplement do I still need to eat probiotic rich foods?
Both have their place! Probiotic supplementation is useful and allows targeted inoculation of specific strains. Although not providing as high of a potency as a good probiotic supplement, fermented foods offer a much broader range of probiotic strains.
What are some Paleo and Autoimmune Paleo friendly probiotic rich foods?
The first probiotic rich food that will come to mind is likely cows yoghurt, due to the advertising industry! You may be surprised to know that there are actually about 5000 varieties of fermented foods and beverages prepared and consumed worldwide. While dairy and soy are out in Paleo and Autoimmune Paleo diets there are still plenty of good options when it comes to fermented foods such as: Cultured Vegetables (Organic sauerkraut, fermented beets etc.), Apple cider vinegar, Water Kefir, Coconut Kefir, Kombucha, Coconut Yogurt, Salted gherkin pickles and brine-cured olives.
"Although not providing as high of a potency as a good probiotic supplement, fermented foods offer a much broader range of probiotic strains."
I feel gassy and bloated after eating fermented foods.
If you do not do well with fermented foods there are several reasons that could be to blame such as: yeast sensitivity or overgrowth, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or histamine sensitivity. Working with a Holistic health provider can help you identify underlying imbalances that may be causing your intolerance to fermented foods.
4. Increase consumption of soluble fibre.
As the Buddha said; “nothing can exist without food” – and the good bacteria in your gut are no exception. Feeding the probiotics in your gut not only keeps them alive, it actually causes them to increase!
What do probiotics eat?
They eat fermentable fibre, commonly known as ‘prebiotics’.
What foods contain prebiotics?
Fresh fruits and vegetables are a great source of prebiotics! Increasing your intake of fresh vegetables and fruit will increase the levels and diversity of probiotic species in your gut.
What about fibre from whole grains? Aren’t whole grains supposed to be the best source of fibre?
Most people are under this impression due to the recommendations in Government issued food guides to eat more whole grains. However, the notion that whole grains are the highest source of dietary fiber is simply not true. Cup for cup, vegetables and fruit contain the same amount of fibre as whole grains for a much lower sugar content and much higher vitamin, mineral and antioxidant content.
Additionally, grains contain a high level of toxic lectins which are resistant to digestion and over time weaken gut cells causing leaky gut.
"Feeding the probiotics in your gut not only keeps them alive, it actually causes them to increase!"
5. Eat more dirt!
In a culture of grocery stores teeming with squeaky clean produce and an obsession with anti—bacterial everything, a great source of probiotics that is often overlooked is… soil! The surface area of vegetables grown in organic soil contains BILLIONS of probiotics called soil-based organisms. These organisms provided our ancestors with friendly gut bacteria, and in fact, consciously including dirt in diets dates back to Hippocrates more than 2, 500 years ago.
Uhhhh.. so you want me to eat dirt??
Well… not exactly… but yes 😊 I am encouraging you to eat traces of soil from Organic veggies purchased at your local farmers market or grocery store. This can be achieved by simply rinsing your organic veggies instead of scrubbing them with a brush or with produce wash.
The exception to this is if you are consuming conventionally farmed produce (non-organic) as they often contain harmful chemicals that should not be consumed. Because of this, conventionally farmed produce MUST be soaked in veggie wash or vinegar and water.
What exactly are these Soil-based Organisms and how are they beneficial?
Soil-based organisms are healthy bacteria that help regulate the immune system and naturally reduce inflammation in the gut and throughout the entire body. Studies have shown that Hunter gatherers living in rural Africa have a much lower incidence of autoimmune disease and one of the biggest differences between their gut microbiota and the gut microbiota of people living in Western cultures is the presence of soil-based organisms!
Soil-based probiotics also destroy or crowd out harmful pathogens, such as candida, fungi and parasites, as well as kill off bad bacteria in the gut. They can bind to toxins and extract them from the body as well as nourish cells in the colon and liver.
"The surface area of vegetables grown in organic soil contains BILLIONS of probiotics called Soil-based organisms."
Wow that sounds great, but how much soil do I need to consume to get the benefits?
It really doesn’t take much. If you eat approx. 2 servings of organic vegetables from the farmers market that have been lightly rinsed under running water (not scrubbed) you will consume over 8 billion beneficial microbes! Additionally, an activity such as gardening, playing with your children or grandchildren in the dirt is great exposure and counts as a daily dose!
So there you go folks! I am excited for you to start taking control of your health by making a conscious effort to support your gut microbiome. If you have any questions about this post, please feel free to send me a note or post in the comments below.
I will reference this often! Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom on this most important topic!!!
Great great post. Thank you!
Nehal – Thanks so much for stopping by the site. Great to hear you enjoyed the article!
Hanna – so great to hear from you – thanks for stopping by and great to hear you found the post informative! Oh man I bet your Polish ancestors have some AMAZING fermentation recipes!!
Amanda – Thanks so much for reading! Sounds like your intuition has been guiding you well with your vegetable handling:)
But be sure to scrub any non organic produce with vege wash or soak in water and vinegar!
Nat – Thanks so much for stopping by, so happy to hear you learned a lot :-)
Julie – Thanks for stopping by and I am so happy to hear you enjoyed this post. I agree it is totally a win to get better gut health with less effort!
What a fantastic article!
Thank you for sharing the very specific, easy to follow advice Chelsea. All the more reason to plant a vegetable garden, and make pickles like all the Great Polaks before me.
Love this post Chelsea! Very informative, and makes me feel a lot better about casually rinsing my vegetables from the farmers market instead of scrubbing them down. I just thought I was lazy but now I know I’m just being gut health-conscious :)
This was so informative and well written! I learned a lot.
Thank you for this Chelsea. Ive been buying some organic vegetables this summer at the market but I always scrub them! I never knew that some soil on them is good for my gut health. I will start giving them a light rinse only… this will also save me time :)