How To Heal Your Gut: Why Diet, Lifestyle, and Supplements Matter - Dr. Michael Ruscio, DNM, DC

How To Heal Your Gut:

Why Diet, Lifestyle,
& Supplements Matter

Written by Dr. Michael Ruscio, DNM, DC
Medically reviewed by Heidi Turner

Improving Gut Health Could Make All the Difference

Key Takeaways

  • To heal the gut, most people need to first implement an anti-inflammatory diet and make lifestyle changes to prioritize rest, relaxation, and joy.
  • Next, probiotics and (in some cases) digestive aids like enzymes and betaine HCl are helpful to increase good gut bacteria and strengthen digestion.
  • Additional supplements such as L-glutamine, zinc, vitamin D, and collagen may help reduce inflammation and further support the gut lining.
  • If you don’t see adequate improvement following these steps, antimicrobial herbs may be used to further reduce bad gut microbes and rebalance the microbiome.
  • For guidance and support, work with a knowledgeable functional medicine practitioner who can take you through these steps and make note of your progress.

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 health 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 in some cases additional supplements or therapies that support a healthy microbiome and help strengthen the intestinal wall.

How Do You Heal Your Gut?

Whether you’re struggling with food sensitivities [1], fatigue [2], skin problems [3], depression [4], or joint pain [5], your gut health is likely at the root of it. With this knowledge, I developed the Great-in-8 Action Plan in Healthy Gut, Healthy You to break down step-by-step how to reset your gut, stabilize mental health, and improve overall wellness. The plan includes eating an anti-inflammatory diet, increasing beneficial bacteria, strengthening digestion, and prioritizing rest, relaxation, and joy.

Gut Reset and Support

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 emphasize 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:

  • Control inflammation [6, 7]
  • Balance blood sugar [8, 9]
  • 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 2-3 weeks, you may be dealing with an overgrowth of gut bacteria that feed on and ferment short-chain carbohydrates from certain prebiotic foods. This is especially likely 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 [10]. For example, legumes, nuts, some prebiotic powders, and soy milk contain high levels of a FODMAP sugar called galactooligosaccharide (GOS) [11].

To summarize, if eating a paleo diet for 2-3 weeks doesn’t resolve your symptoms, you may want to try a low FODMAP diet for another 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, 13]. 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:

  • Breathwork or meditation can reduce stress and may improve digestion [14].
  • Time in nature may improve mood [15] and vitality [16], boost immunity [17, 18], and increase the diversity of beneficial microbes [19].
  • Moderate exercise can reduce stress and may help reduce gut-related symptoms [20].
  • Psychological support. Working with therapists who offer cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) may improve gut-related symptoms [21].
  • Gut-focused hypnotherapy, in person or online [22], may help reduce digestive symptoms [23].

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.

Triple Probiotic Therapy

Both my clinical experience and high-quality research point to probiotics as the cornerstone of effective gut treatment [24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33]. A blend of probiotics can work to encourage healthy populations of intestinal bacteria and inhibit the growth of inflammation-causing microbes.

To take it a step further, our clinical experience has been that the combined use of three categories of probiotic supplements can balance gut microbiota and improve gut health more effectively than using one type of probiotics alone [34, 35, 36]. We’ve found that this protocol leads to substantially better improvements than standard single-probiotic treatments. The probiotic categories are as follows:

  1. A blend of bacteria from Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species
  2. Saccharomyces boulardii, a healthy fungus
  3. Soil-based microorganisms

When incorporating Triple Probiotic Therapy to correct microbial balance and reduce inflammation, I recommend the following approach:

  1. Try a quality-formula probiotic from category 1, category 2 and category 3 — or take all three together.
  2. Track your symptoms for 3-4 weeks. If you’re feeling better, stick with this regimen until your improvements have reached their maximum.
  3. 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 choose to stop taking probiotics, knowing that you’ve fully explored probiotic therapy. There’s no need to go looking for other probiotic strains, although you may want to revisit probiotics at a different stage of your healing journey.

When selecting a probiotic supplement, look for a clearly stated list of probiotic species, a number of colony-forming units (CFUs) in the billions, a manufacture/expiration date, “free from common allergens” certification, and independent lab verification for potency and accurate probiotic species. You don’t have to buy the most expensive probiotic out there, but you should be wary of the cheapest ones.

A note about fermented foods:

Some people may benefit from eating fermented foods, such as kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi. However, some people may find these foods irritating and should incorporate 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.

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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.

Some people don’t make enough of the enzymes required to break down certain carbohydrates, proteins, or fats and may notice bloating, gas, abdominal discomfort, or bowel movement changes. In such cases, digestive enzymes that include amylase, protease, or lipase, taken at the start of a meal could help reduce or eliminate such symptoms [37, 38, 39].

Others may have low stomach acid and could benefit from taking betaine HCl to improve digestive function and nutrient absorption [40].

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 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 of any of the following to see how you feel:

  • Vitamin D [51]
  • DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice root) [52]
  • Aloe vera [53]
  • Quercetin [54]
  • Fish oil [55]
  • Immunoglobulins [56]
  • Collagen [57]

With all supplements, it’s 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 coaches at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine.

Great-in-8 Action Plan: The Remaining Steps

If you don’t 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.

Antimicrobial herbs such as oil of oregano have been shown to reduce bad bacteria overgrowth in cases of SIBO, reduce fungal and parasitic infections, and combat the symptoms of these infections, such as brain fog, fatigue, and motility issues [58, 59]. They may also improve cognitive function [60], relieve inflammation [61], and ease pain [62]. And don’t worry about taking antimicrobials at the same time as probiotics; studies show that probiotics actually help antibiotics/antimicrobials work better [63, 64].

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.

A poorly functioning digestive system may limit nutrient absorption [65, 66, 67] and promote inflammation, which can dysregulate your entire immune system.

Over time, insufficient nutrients, chronic inflammation, and immune dysregulation may manifest as one or more of the following symptoms or diagnoses:

  • Fatigue [2, 68, 69, 70, 71]
  • Depression or anxiety [4, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75]
  • Brain fog [2, 69, 76]
  • Insomnia [77]
  • Acne [78] or other skin conditions [3, 79, 80], such as eczema [81, 82, 83] or psoriasis [84, 85]
  • Female hormone imbalances, showing up as PMS, PCOS, abnormal cycle length or flow, low libido, or hot flashes [86, 87]
  • Male hormone imbalances, showing up as fatigue, low libido, erectile dysfunction, muscle loss, and poor memory [88]
  • Weight loss [89]
  • Dry or thinning hair [79, 90, 91]
  • Joint pain [5, 92, 93, 94]
  • Autoimmune thyroid disease [95]
  • SIBO (hydrogen, methane, or hydrogen sulfide types) [96]
  • Celiac disease or gluten intolerance [97, 98]
  • Histamine intolerance [99, 100, 101, 102, 103]
  • Unusual reactions to foods [1, 104]

Final Thoughts on How to Heal Your Gut

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 body health. The highly qualified doctors and health coaches at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine are here to help you learn how to heal your gut and navigate your path to better health.

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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Become a Patient

Improving your gut health naturally requires considering a variety of lifestyle factors. These include diet and nutrition, the amount of sleep you are getting on a consistent basis, the status of relationships in your life (with friends, family, and community), exercise, stress, mental health, and many other key elements.

Beyond diet and lifestyle factors, there are many natural treatments that can help to support a healthy gut. The key is knowing where to start, and how and when to use these treatments.

Dr. Ruscio and his team will listen to your concerns and create a customized plan that is proven and effective to help restore your gut health naturally.

On the surface, gut health refers to the health of your digestive system, including the balance of bacteria living in your gut microbiome, the integrity of your intestinal lining, the presence of inflammation, and more.

But gut health also plays a crucial role in your overall health. Research points to several important connections between the gut and virtually all other organs and systems, from the brain to the heart to the thyroid to the immune system. That’s why an imbalance, infection, or other issues in your gut can (and often do) lead to seemingly unrelated symptoms including fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, anxiety, hypothyroidism, and more.

Focusing on your gut health can help you to resolve these and other symptoms naturally, and get you back to living your healthiest, happiest life. At the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine, our experienced gut doctors can help you start feeling better. Speak with a gut health specialist today.

At the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine, we focus on minimally invasive, scientifically validated, predominantly natural solutions for gut health. We improve your gut health through diet and lifestyle changes and other natural treatments, all introduced at the right time, and personalized to you.

Our recommendations come from a combination of real-life experiences with patients and a dedication to scientific research. Our holistic gut health doctors and care team look beyond symptoms and treat the root cause so you can restore your gut health and feel better, faster. Get competent care today.

We’ve found that a surprising number of symptoms and problems resolve when the gut is healed. This includes symptoms of brain fog, anxiety, food digestive issues, female hormone imbalances, and many more uncomfortable symptoms patients report experiencing. Research shows that your gut has the power to influence your cognitive function, mood, energy levels, heart health, thyroid function, hormonal balance, and more. In other words, having a healthy gut means you can have a healthy life.

There are many simple steps you can take to improve your gut health, including determining your ideal diet, reducing stress levels, optimizing sleep, and supporting your microbiome with tools like probiotics or antimicrobials as needed.

Although these steps are not necessarily complicated, getting your gut health where you want it to be on your own can be a challenge. Our team of gut health experts can support you in figuring out exactly what needs to be done to improve your symptoms. Our patients typically experience the following:

  • Improved mood
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Clearer thinking
  • Balanced hormones
  • Reduced digestive symptoms

The best doctor to see for improving gut health is one who takes a whole-person, holistic approach to addressing your concerns and improving your health. Our team at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine has spent years interviewing experts, analyzing scientific data, and organizing the most effective treatments that consistently help our patients. Ready to see a doctor for gut health? Work with our qualified team today.

In order to truly heal your gut and improve your symptoms, it’s important to work with a doctor who looks beyond just your lab results, and identifies practical solutions for you, specifically.

The team at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine are motivated and determined to help you feel better and get your gut to a healthy state. Focusing on simple, cost-effective, minimally invasive strategies first, we take pride in being able to treat even the most challenging cases by looking at the big picture, finding areas or treatments that may have been overlooked, and helping you implement them.

Our goal is to provide you with the tools you need to maintain your health and get back to the life you enjoy.