How to Heal Your Gut Naturally
Heal your gut with these simple and surprising diet and lifestyle tips that will benefit your overall health and wellness
- Ingredients for a Healthy Gut: How to Heal Your Gut Health Naturally|
- Cause and Effect: Digestive Health and Overall Health|
- Why Does Gut Health Matter|
- Where to Start to Heal Your Gut Naturally|
- Your gut is the seat of your overall health and well-being.
- You can support a healthy gut by identifying your own ideal anti-inflammatory diet, through a simple elimination diet process.
- Supplements like probiotics, collagen, omega-3 fatty acids, and l-glutamine can all help you heal and seal your gut (but you may not need them all at once).
- Getting enough sleep and reducing stress can improve your gut health.
- Working through the potential treatments in a systematic way and addressing things in strategic order is the most effective way to resolve gut problems.
Your gut is at the center of your overall health and well-being. It’s the seat of your immune system, it’s where most of your body’s serotonin is made, and it’s where nutrients are broken down and assimilated to feed all of the systems of your body. In other words, gut health is not just digestive health, it’s whole-body health.
So when things are a little off— whether you’re experiencing digestive symptoms (like bloating or diarrhea) or other seemingly unrelated symptoms like exhaustion, aches and pains, skin eruptions, or mood changes—improving your gut health is the critical first line of defense.
But how and whether your gut needs attention might not be immediately obvious. In fact, you might be unwittingly doing things you don’t realize are harming your gut. Taking over-the-counter pain meds like ibuprofen (or other NSAIDs) can compromise your gut lining, for example [1, 2]. And prolonged, strenuous exercise has been linked to leaky gut syndrome, likely because of the spike in body temperature that results .
Reducing gut irritants and accidental damage is the first step to healing your gut naturally. From there, a diet particular to your condition could come into play, but you may simply find that adding in anti-inflammatory foods, probiotics, and a few lifestyle tweaks will be enough to get you going in the right direction and feeling better. Let’s discuss how to heal your gut naturally.
Action Plan: How to Heal Your Gut Naturally
A healthy gut is one with an intact, impermeable barrier to the rest of the systems in your body. Nothing should be leaking through the tight junctions of your intestinal lining, and everything should be moving through the system smoothly. The food you’re digesting should stay inside the digestive tract until it’s time for your body to let it out.
At the beginning of the digestive tract, a healthy gut contains adequate quantities of digestive enzymes (in the salivary glands and stomach) and stomach acid to break down the food you’ve eaten before it enters the small intestine. A healthy gut is populated by a wide array of microbes living in the large intestine that aid in digestion, reduce inflammation, and play an active role in keeping the gut wall sealed off.
To get to this state of gut health naturally, we recommend a step-by-step process that starts by removing the potentially problematic inputs from your diet and ends with slowly reintroducing some of the things you cut after the gut has had a chance to fully recover. This process is called the Great-in-8 Action Plan, but not everyone needs all eight steps. Here are the steps put simply, which you can find outlined in great detail with specific instructions and dosing in my book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You.
Step 1: Reset
This first step is a two-to-four-day modified fast, in which you drink bone broth or a cleansing lemonade to reduce inflammation and stimulation to the gut. The modified fast is immediately followed by an anti-inflammatory diet that reduces allergens and irritants. For some, that means a paleo diet. For others, a low-FODMAP diet is more helpful.
This step also involves some lifestyle resets, such as removing alcohol (for now), introducing easy exercise like walking, drinking plenty of water, and creating a consistent sleep schedule.
For some, undertaking this step for a month or more brings complete relief, in which case you can skip down to the last step and begin reintroducing some of the foods you removed, ideally slowly and deliberately, to help you determine which foods are irritating and which foods are fine to eat without causing symptoms. Each step between step one and step five is optional if the previous step didn’t bring you a lot of relief. Steps five through eight are all about easing up on restrictions and enjoying your life.
Step 2: Support
The second step provides additional gut support with probiotic supplements, digestive enzymes, and sometimes Hydrochloric acid (HCl) acid. It also provides adrenal support with herbs and optional vitamin D (or a daily dose of sunshine). This step helps to further heal and seal the gut lining and support your gut in breaking down the foods that could be creating stress on the system.
Our triple therapy approach to probiotics is the best way to tackle the first half of this step. It takes microbes from the three different categories of probiotics to introduce a wide array of diversity into the system. Taking digestive enzymes that address each type of food (carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and various types of sugar, especially lactose) and/or an HCl supplement at each meal is the best way to tackle the second.
Step 3: Remove
This step is only necessary if you aren’t feeling better after Steps 1 and 2. It involves eliminating any bad bacteria that persist after the first two steps. The natural option here is to take antimicrobial herbs. The blend of herbs that have been tested to remove unwanted gut bacteria has shown in clinical research to be just as effective as Rifaxamin, the targeted prescription antibiotic that gastroenterologists prescribe for the same purpose [4, 5, 6].
Once you’ve cleared up the harmful bacteria, it’s time for Step 4: Rebalance. If you need help moving things through with a little bit more speed to help continue to support the healthy bacteria in the gut, a prokinetic supplement is the bulk of this step. A prokinetic supplement improves motility so that partially-digested food doesn’t sit too long in any part of the digestive system.
In Step 5: Reintroduce, you begin reintroducing foods slowly and strategically with the knowledge that if a flare-up occurs, you are equipped to return temporarily to the diet that worked best for you in step one.
In Step 6: Feed, you want to ensure that you’re eating foods that feed the good bugs you’ve now populated in your gut. Prebiotic foods contain fiber that beneficial gut bacteria and fungi eat. Start slowly on this, as eating too much fiber at one time can be stressful on the system.
In Step 7: Wean, you will begin to cut down the supplements you’ve added during the previous steps. The goal of this step is to get you to the bare minimum number of supplements your body needs to remain in a good state of gut health, so remove one at a time to see how you feel without each one. You’ll likely find that you need to stay on one or a few supplements to feel your best and maintain, which brings me to the last step.
Step 8: Maintenance and Fun is the final step in this process. Everyone’s step eight looks different, but now that you have all the tools you need to assess how you feel and what you should tweak to get to a better state, maintenance is about feeling good and having fun with your newfound gut health. A sample maintenance plan could look like this:
- A diet that remains lower in inflammatory foods like sugar and processed foods and higher in anti-inflammatory, gut-healing foods like fruits and veggies, wild fish and meat, and gluten-free grains and legumes
- A great, broad-spectrum probiotic supplement (taken daily) [7, 8, 9]
- Probiotic and prebiotic foods in moderation 
- Plenty of water
- Moderate daily exercise 
- Consistent, restful sleep (seven to nine hours a night) 
- A stress management/reduction activity like yoga or meditation [13, 14, 15]
Cause and Effect: Digestive Health and Overall Health
Addressing the symptoms of poor gut health is important so you can get relief, but getting to the root cause is the best way to prevent further and future damage.
While there’s a wide array of potential causes for gut disturbance, one common culprit at the root of many health challenges is leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut allows partially digested food particles and potentially harmful microorganisms into the bloodstream via a compromised gut lining. This is also called increased gut permeability. Increased gut permeability can lead to a host of health issues, including :
- Food sensitivities or allergies
- Trouble regulating blood sugar
- Overactive immunity (autoimmune disease)
- Excessive inflammation
- Skin problems
- Mood issues
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Liver disease
It’s also very highly correlated with chronic illnesses such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, Type 1 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease [17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22]. Interestingly, leaky gut both exacerbates and is caused by inflammation, which is why reducing inflammatory foods and activities is such a vital part of the dietary and lifestyle changes that come with healing your gut naturally.
Gut dysbiosis, while not necessarily considered the “cause” of gastrointestinal problems, is also correlated with a number of chronic illnesses and needs to be rebalanced in order to heal your gut naturally . Whether due to metabolic dysfunction, the use of certain medications, or excessive inflammation, gut dysbiosis can further tax the digestive system if left unaddressed.
Gut dysbiosis is an imbalance in the gut microbiome, meaning the balance of beneficial bacteria and bad bacteria within your digestive tract is off-kilter and is creating negative health outcomes. Candida overgrowth is one example of an imbalance in which a harmful fungus grows too prominent in the gut (often after taking an antibiotic that kills off important gut bacteria) .
Dysbiosis may also mean that you have excess bacteria growing in the small intestine, where it doesn’t belong, a condition called SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).
While leaky gut syndrome and gut dysbiosis aren’t the only gut problems or diseases of the gut a person could have, solving them can help resolve quite a lot of symptoms and lead to a much better quality of life. These two conditions are interrelated (in that leaky gut can easily lead to dysbiosis), and the solutions to ameliorate them will help you heal and seal your gut over time.
Why Does Gut Health Matter?
It might not seem obvious that health issues like eczema or a skin rash, depression, food allergies or food intolerances, constipation, and low energy could all stem from the same underlying condition, but it’s true. It bears repeating that gut health is at the center of it all, and starting with the gut could clear up a long list of seemingly unrelated issues.
A skin issue is a gut issue [25, 26, 27]. This includes acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, and other autoimmune conditions that manifest on the skin [28, 29, 30, 31]. Mental health challenges also correlate to gut problems, especially IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), IBD (inflammatory bowel syndrome), and low diversity in the gut microbiome [32, 33]. Obesity and unintentional or sudden weight loss could both be caused by a gut imbalance or digestive issue. Joint and muscle pain and fatigue have also been linked to digestive challenges [34, 35].
While each type of health challenge comes with its own list of confounding factors, functional medicine starts with the gut to see what improves by just rebalancing and healing the gut wall naturally. From there, if further specialized interventions are necessary, then those things can be addressed individually (e.g. psychotherapy for psychological issues or topicals for the skin).
Where to Start to Heal Your Gut Naturally
When it comes to healing your gut naturally, each step requires time, energy, and focus. Ask for help if you need it, and expect things not to go perfectly all the time. The process isn’t always linear. It’s ok to have occasional setbacks along the way. A setback doesn’t mean you should give up. It just means that you’re working on it.
You might find that having a mindset of adding in rather than subtracting out is helpful in getting more beneficial foods into your diet, especially after step one in the process. Consider starting every meal with a few bites of kimchi or sauerkraut, or make it a goal to drink half a bottle of kombucha or 8 oz of kefir every day. You could even challenge yourself to make any of these yourself at home to make the task of eating them regularly more fun.
Or you might find that starting your day with a quick walk and a 5-minute meditation is a great place to start. Just start somewhere. You’ll find that, as each new change becomes a habit, the next task on the list is easier to incorporate. Get support to help you on your gut-healing journey. We’d love to help you get started at our clinic.
The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.
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