Your belly is battleground from mouth to anus as it is constantly attacking invaders and removing toxins. With each bite of food, each breath of “fresh” air and in each interaction with another our entire gut sends out signals as to what may be friend or foe as bacteria, viruses and parasitic critters enter our system. As our food and environments become more toxic and our stress levels rise, it becomes more difficult for this system to stay in balance and fight the foreign invaders giving rise to the ever popular diagnoses of IBS, candida, parasitic infection and now SIBO (among many others).
I see these beat up bellies on a daily basis. People come to me with one of the many diagnosis and are usually on some sort of cleanse-herb-diet-antibiotic protocol to kill the foreign invaders- great! Unfortunately, the guidance around what to expect when you “call off the troops” (so to speak) falls short and leaves many people in a vicious cycle of constantly trying to kill- cleanse-kill. This can truly become obsessive- (I mean, who wants critters in their gut)- and can lead to many other imbalances in digestion and immune function. Also, most often these same people have also been put on a diet full of fiber to help ease the constipation associated with the imbalances. (fiber is not always the best option but that is for another day and time- or email me). When they get to me seeking some relief from it all their guts are literally crying out for them to stop the kill and just chill.
The gut truly is our second brain. And, like our brain we are just beginning to understand more about its many functions especially in managing and balancing the bacteria in relationship to overall health. Recently there has been a lot of new research around our own personal bacteria makeup- also known as the microbiome. When we attack and try to rid our body of outside pathogens and unwanted bacteria we are disrupting a whole entire system that will need to be soothed, rebuilt and understood on a case by case basis. This goes for those who have also been on a cleanse that may have included supplements for “cleaning out” the gut.
I am not anti-cleanse and kill. Cleansing and removing the harmful bacteria and unwanted gunk is very healthy for our entire body. But, like I said, most programs miss a big piece in education and support around the origin of the imbalance and how to soothe and rebuild the now, vulnerable and irritated gut lining. Most people, at the very least, get told to take a round of probiotics but they are still left hanging with some of the original symptoms. Here is a guide into questions to ask and safe ways to soothe.
Rebuilding Your Gut- What you need to know
With every protocol we must always remember that the body is self-regulating and self- healing and we should always try to choose the least invasive route into the fight. You also need to look at the many other factors in your life that may be contributing to your imbalances.
Stress: Stress kills- we all know. But, when it comes to the gut it is most susceptible. When we are in sympathetic stress mode- as most of us are all day- our body signals the gut to slow down and stop digesting and producing enzymes in preparation for “the flight or fight”. This continued message can cause your gut motility to slow to down, and in some almost halt. Gut motility is the motor function of the smooth muscle lining of the intestines that moves food- and gunk- through your entire digestive tract at a healthy and relaxed pace. Low motility will cause constipation, pain and contraction and bacteria can end up getting stuck in the wrong places and create overgrowth- as in the case of SIBO. Addressing your motility is necessary for proper gut function. Stress management, abdominal massage techniques and certain foods/herbs can greatly assist motility of your gut.
Antibiotic use: I grew up in the age of antibiotic happy parents as they didn’t know what we know now about their overuse. Antibiotics have saved millions of lives but they are NOT the answer to your every little sniffle and sneeze. They literally wipe out your beneficial bacteria leaving your immune system and gut open and vulnerable. Since most of your immune system is in your gut you are setting yourself up for another vicious cycle of foreign invaders-antibiotics. When you know how to rebuild your gut and address all factors necessary your immune system will naturally defend itself. Also, you NEED bacteria so you can become resistant to infection. Stop killing and start rebuilding.
Diet: Simply put if you are not willing to address your diet then stop reading. I find so many people know what they need to do to feel better but won’t. They are addicted to foods that are literally killing them. I realize the emotional implications of diet which is why support and addressing your whole mind-body-spirit picture is necessary. You will never feel better if you continue to eat processed foods full of chemicals and poison. Your gut will never heal regardless of what cleanse, herbs and protocols you may add in- even the ones I recommend below.
Family history: Does your mom digest well? Does a sibling have crohn’s, celiac or colitis? How was your gut as a child? When did your symptoms start? Answering these questions can be very helpful in addressing the proper way to rebuild and what your deeper causes may be. Predisposition to gut imbalance and childhood traumas (ugh I know) can reveal a lot.
How to rebuild
Probiotics?: If you have been to see someone about your belly you have most likely been told to take probiotics. We need healthy amounts of beneficial bacteria (flora) in our gut. Our digestion, our emotional well-being, our hormones and our immune system all rely on this balance. Here is where it gets tricky- and why I highly recommend getting guidance… Probiotics can sometimes do more harm than good. As mentioned, there is a tremendous amount of research now around the microbiome. Essentially we all have our own unique balance of different types of bacteria throughout our whole body- aka the microbiome. Knowing a little bit about yours is incredibly helpful when rebuilding the gut.
There are many ways to repopulate your gut flora in addition to your “typical” probiotic blend including soil based organisms, colostrum and fermented foods. Also, take into consideration what your imbalance was- if you are recovering from SIBO or IBS you may not benefit from large doses of probiotics right away and could end up making your symptoms worse.
Bone Broth: This is one of my favorite ways to rebuild the gut and nourish your whole entire body. It contains high amounts of collagen and amino acids that are essential for cell and tissue repair. I am all for using foods to heal. Read here for more info on bone broth.
Glutamine: L- glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body and is responsible for cellular turn over and tissue repair which is why it is in a lot of post workout protein powders. (don’t worry it does not bulk you up). Even if you are doing your bone broth or collagen supplementation I highly recommend dosing some glutamine for a short while. You can get glutamine anywhere but I highly recommend a powder.
Marshmallow and Slippery Elm: Whenever I take this I envision the lining of my intestines becoming like a slip and slide. Both of these amazing foods/herbs are incredible for soothing the whole entire digestive tract. I like to take them together in a powder. You can add them to smoothies but drink fast as they do act like thickeners.
Aloe Vera Juice and Gel: Think of how cooling and soothing aloe is for your skin. It does that for your insides. Some people drink it every day and some just need it in high doses for a month or so to help repair and soothe. It does have a very mild effect on your bowel movements so tune into how it works for you. It is also very good for your immune system.
Get Abdominal Massage: I have to say this because it is my passion and it works. Having your abdomen massaged can help alleviate any adhesions, contractions and inflammation trapped in the tissue. It is incredible for the nervous system and can greatly affect motility in a positive manner. Plus, it is a journey into understanding your body in a whole new way. If you are lucky enough to live in the Seattle area (currently 65 and sunny as I write) you can come see me- or email me if you need help finding other abdominal massage practitioners.
So whether you are finishing up a spring cleanse or a belly blasting protocol of any sort, make sure you soothe the soil you just turned up- repopulate appropriately and most important- Learn to Listen to Your Gut