Wellness arguably starts in the digestive tract, a complex ecosystem that sets the stage for how you feel, move through life, and perceive the world around you. When parts of this ecosystem are disrupted, your body may start to develop signs of imbalance. These signs could manifest as a wide variety of symptoms, including but not limited to digestive problems, low energy, brain fog, disrupted menstrual cycles, abnormal moods, insomnia, and non-digestive medical diagnoses.
The great news is that the evidence for effective gut treatments continues to grow, reaffirming the importance of gut health to overall health. How to heal your gut — and therefore improve overall health and well-being — is the first thing you need to learn. This article will show you how better health is possible with an anti-inflammatory diet, probiotics, stress-reduction techniques, and supplements that support a healthy microbiome and help strengthen the intestinal wall.
The first two steps of the Great-in-8 Action Plan are Reset and Support. Following these tends to help most people with troubling gut issues and many other symptoms, though they may not seem related to the gut.
Improve Your Diet
As I emphasized in Healthy Gut, Healthy You, “eating to reduce inflammation is more important than eating to feed your gut bugs.” Therefore, at the beginning of your gut healing journey, I recommend trying the paleo diet, which can help to:
Provide the right amount of carbohydrates to fuel you and prebiotic fiber to feed your good bacteria
Eliminate commonly irritating foods, such as gluten, grains, dairy, and soy
If the paleo diet doesn’t resolve your symptoms after two or three weeks, you may be dealing with an overgrowth of gut bacteria that feed on and ferment short-chain carbohydrates. This is likely the case if you have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Those problematic short-chain carbs are called FODMAPS, which is short for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols . For example, legumes, nuts, some prebiotic powders, and soy milk contain high levels of a FODMAP sugar called galactooligosaccharide (GOS) [11 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
To summarize, if eating a paleo diet for 2-3 weeks doesn’t resolve your symptoms, try a low FODMAP diet for 2-3 weeks to see whether reducing those sugars helps you feel better. In either case, you’ll also want to turn an eye toward stress reduction, an important facet of your gut-supportive lifestyle.
Reduce Your Stress
Stress can raise cortisol and other stress hormones, and this can contribute to leaky gut and other gut health issues [12 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 13 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Many evidence-based practices may be the antidote to the stressors you face, providing the calm internal environment your gut needs to heal. I recommend incorporating any of the following into your daily routine to round out your gut-supporting lifestyle changes:
Psychological support. Working with therapists who offer cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) may improve gut-related symptoms [21 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].
Support your gut with probiotics and digestive enzymes or acid
If a few weeks of eating an anti-inflammatory diet and practicing stress-reduction techniques have not resolved your symptoms, it’s time to look at evidence-based supplements to support your gut microbiome and digestive function.
Many clinicians have overlooked a trend in the research, which suggests that the combined use of threecategories of probiotic supplements can balance the microbiome and improve gut health [34 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 35 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 36 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. This protocol leads to substantially better improvements than standard single-probiotic treatments. The probiotic categories are as follows:
A blend of gut bacteria called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium
A single strain of Saccharomyces boulardii, a healthy fungus
When incorporating Triple Probiotic Therapy to correct microbial balance and reduce inflammation, I recommend the following approach:
Track your symptoms for 3-4 weeks. If you’re feeling better, stick with this regimen until your improvements have reached their maximum.
Once you’ve reached maximum improvement, continue the same regimen for about another month to allow your system to adjust. Then reduce your dose to find the minimal effective dose. Once you’ve found it, stay on that dose.
If you haven’t noticed any improvement in your symptoms after 3-4 weeks, you can stop taking probiotics knowing that you have fully explored probiotic therapy. There’s no need to go looking for other probiotic strains.
A note about fermented foods:
Some people may benefit from eating fermented foods, such as kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi. However, some people may find these foods irritating and should eat them with caution. Keep in mind that the probiotics in foods come in much smaller doses than those in supplements and may be less effective at healing your gut. For more detail, see this table comparing the doses of probiotics in foods versus supplements.
Digestive Enzymes or Acid
If you haven’t noticed a significant improvement with diet and lifestyle changes combined with probiotics after a few weeks, you may want to try digestive enzymes or enhance your stomach acid.
Try these separately for 2-3 weeks each, looking for improvements, worsened symptoms, or no effect at all. If you feel worse or no different, your gut lining may have some damage that could be repaired with certain supplements.
Supplements To Heal the Gut Lining
If diet, stress reduction, probiotics, and digestive supports haven’t helped after a few weeks, you may consider trying supplements that can strengthen your intestinal wall to keep microorganisms and undigested food particles from escaping into the bloodstream. Research shows these supplements may directly help heal leaky gut:
Although bone broth has less clinical research behind it, this is a whole-food source of L-glutamine, other amino acids, and minerals that may help heal the gut lining. However, given its lower concentrations of healing elements, bone broth may also be less effective than supplements.
As with the digestive aids, I recommend trying each of these separately for 2-3 weeks to gauge whether they help, harm, or make no difference. If the first category clearly does not help, you can consider trying any of the next category of supplements.
Supplements To Reduce Inflammation
If none of the previous steps or supplements seem to have helped you considerably, you could try supplements that have been shown to help reduce inflammation. I recommend trying one at a time for 2-3 weeks apiece any of the following to see how you feel:
With all supplements, it is important to give each one a try for 2-3 weeks and make note of whether they help, harm, or do nothing. Keep track of those that help and stop taking those that don’t.
Overall, if you try the first two steps and don’t feel much better, you may need a bit more guidance, outlined below. The full Great-in-8 Action Plan is detailed for personalized use in my book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You. Another option is to work with someone who specializes in gut health and functional medicine, such as our doctors and health coach at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine.
Great-In-8 Action Plan: The Remaining Steps
If you do not see improvements after following Step 1: Reset and Step 2: Support, your gut may have a microbial imbalance that needs to be corrected by proceeding with the following steps:
3. Remove or reduce bad gut microbes with antimicrobial herbs.
4. Rebalance your gut bacteria after using antimicrobial herbs.
Whether you felt better after Step 1 or 2, or you continued on through steps 3 and 4 with more guidance, steps 5-8 apply to you. They are:
5. Reintroduce the foods you removed in Step 1, focusing on whole, minimally processed foods.
6. Feed your good bacteria.
7. Wean yourself off the supplements in your treatment protocol.
8. Maintain and enjoy your reclaimed gut health.
For most people, the first two steps vastly improve their health and wellbeing. For many others, following the Great-in-8 Action Plan outlined in Healthy Gut, Healthy You will get them feeling much better. A smaller number of people will have trickier health situations and need professional guidance.
How Do You Know Your Gut Needs Healing?
The most obvious signs that your gastrointestinal health may be compromised are recurring digestive symptoms, such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea or loose stools, reflux, indigestion, or heartburn.
If you experience gut issues and/or other bothersome non-digestive symptoms that are limiting your ability to live well, work effectively, connect with others, and find joy in life, chances are your gut health could be impaired. For many people, switching to an anti-inflammatory diet, increasing beneficial bacteria, strengthening digestion, and prioritizing rest, relaxation, and joy will greatly reduce their symptoms and improve life, overall.
However, some people need a bit more time and attention to heal and may benefit from some outside help. If this resonates with you, I highly recommend seeking the help of a functional medicine practitioner or functional nutritionist who is well versed in gut health and its impacts on whole health. The highly qualified doctors and health coach at Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine are here to help you navigate your path to better health.
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