Originally published Feb. 4, 2013.
One of my favorite health quotes is from Hippocrates –
“All disease begins in the gut.”
It seems that no matter the health issue someone is suffering from, that their digestion may be a probable cause or at least making it worse. It’s where we absorb the necessary nutrients that allow our body to function, and when we can’t absorb what we need, often times disease and disorder begin to show.
Now this doesn’t happen overnight, or quickly by any means. This is something that happens over a long time, many times from birth.
Our intestines are extremely important, and one post barely serves it justice. Our guts contain billions and trillions of bacteria that form 80% of our immune system. They also form a shield against toxins and undigested food proteins as well as digest our food and absorb large amounts of nutrients.
But on average our digestive health is very poor. We live in a country where laxatives and antacids are commonplace and most people don’t poop as they should. (yes….I totally said poop.)
Did you know that you’re supposed to have multiple bowel movements a day? Food should be spending about 18-24 hours in the digestive system, and since you eat more than once per day, so should you be using the bathroom.
The following chart isn’t the most fun thing to look at, but I do think it’s really important for people to know what’s supposed to be going on in the land of digestion.
And hopefully no one was in the midst of eating lunch just now……
But it’s said that your bowels should be a 3 or 4, preferably a 4.
The thing is – if you have chronic digestive problems, your body is not getting what it needs.
How it Happens
So how do most of us have issues with digesting our food and absorbing nutrients? It can start as young as the newborn stage, with not only formula, but also from breastmilk that is lacking in beneficial bacteria as well. Often times women and babies are given doses of antibiotics during labor and delivery as well as after the birth, which often leaves the mother’s body with a major lack of good bacteria,. When this happens, often times she may be placed on antibiotics multiple times during the babies first couple of years to fight illnesses and mastitis.
Antibiotic use also starts very young with many babies placed on them for ear infections as well as other illnesses during their childhood. Coupled with a standard American diet that is high in refined sugar and processed foods, all while lacking beneficial probiotic foods, the damage to our guts has begun. Most of us never getting better as we age; we keep the same diets and many times eat far worse.
We also do no do what we should to replace the beneficial bacteria after any antibiotic use.
The connection to the thyroid
There is also a direct connection from your gut to your thyroid health, and that is because the healthy bacteria in your gut convert approximately 20% of the inactive T4 hormone your thyroid produces to the active T3. So if you do not have enough healthy bacteria in your digestive system, you could be losing out on a bit of T3.
Your gut also absorbs nutrients that your thyroid needs, like selenium, zinc, and vitamins A and D.
When your digestion is either too fast or too slow, it also can not eliminate toxins and waste efficiently.
Poor Estrogen Elimination
“Dysbosis and poor digestion prevent the body from successfully eliminating unessesary estrogen, and toxic levels of this powerful hormone build………. Excess estrogen binds the thyroid transport proteins so that thyroid hormones cannot get to the cells to do their jobs, causing hypothyroid symptoms.” -Dr. Kharrazian
The Autoimmune Connection
There is also a large connection from your digestive system to autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s. You see, your intestines have these little things called villi in them that absorb nutrients; most people liken them to shag carpeting. And when you have a lack of beneficial bacteria, or are eating a diet high in refined foods or foods that you’re intolerant to, these little villi get worn down. Instead of shag, you have berber. And the more they get worn down, the less they are able to absorb.
(important side note here - zinc, which is really important for male fertility, is one of the first things the body can’t absorb)
As the villi get more and more worn down, we become nutrient deficient because the part of the villi that absorbs that nutrient is no longer there, or it can not absorb all that we need. It also leads to what is known as “leaky gut” syndrome, where small (miniscule) particles of food that have not been efficiently broken down, get into our blood stream. These particles get deposited in different areas of the body and our immune system begins attacking them.
In the case of Hashimoto’s, a protein found in gluten looks very similar to our thyroid.
And remember, 90% of hypothyroidism cases are due to an autoimmune problem.
How to Fix Your Digestion
So as not to get to carried away, I’ll jut cover some of the most basic steps to healing your gut and helping your body digest its food properly.
1. Eat fermented foods
There is no other way around it. You and I both need to eat fermented foods a lot more often than we do. Properly prepared ferments can contain trillions of beneficial bacteria to help boost your immune system and break down the foods you eat.
Probiotics can be helpful, but as I’ve found out, they are no substitute for the real thing.
Fermented foods are things like kombucha, yogurt, dairy kefir, water kefir, and sauerkraut among many, many others. And I don’t know about you, but I sure haven’t been getting enough of them in my diet. The nutrient deficiencies in my lab test show this clear as day! In order to help my body I’m eating something fermented with every meal. Even if I don’t like it.
2013 shall be known as the year of fermented foods!
I’ve already begun working on a gluten-free sourdough starter as well as sauerkraut, with many more recipes that I look forward to trying.
You can also do a simple whole foods cleanse to give your digestive system a break every once in a while. This will also give your body more energy to focus on cleansing toxins.
There are also herbs that may help cleanse the digestive system like black walnut hull (especially useful for parasites – and yes you have them, most people do), and cascara sagrada. It’s most helpful (and safest) if you work with a holistic health care professional so that you can learn how to use the herbs correctly and in the right amounts for your body.
By helping your digestive system eliminate harmful substances it can then work more efficiently.
3. Repair the leaky gut
Often times this can take a matter of a year or more depending on your health. The repair that needs to be done may also specify what type of healing diet needs to be done. For those of us with very minimal food intolerances, or a digestive system that seems to work fairly normally, sticking to a diet that is focused on meat, vegetables, some fruit, bone broths, and of course fermented foods may be all that it needed. For others with multiple health issues, it may be wise to research something like the GAPS diet or SCD diet to help you eliminate foods that are harder to digest.
For those who have tried GAPS or SCD and aren’t finding the healing you desire or need, please be aware that those are not end all be all “leaky gut fixers”. They can both be very helpful, but only if you also stay away from foods you may be sensitive to.
Which leads me to – finding out what your food sensitivities are. You may very well be eating something very often that your body can not currently tolerate. Even things like carrots, chicken, and eggs. Many times it’s the foods that you eat daily or almost daily. You can find out what foods your body does not like by having either an IgG lab test done, or by having a holistic health practitioner so some muscle response testing.
4. Go gluten free
Most people get very upset with me when I mention that they may want to look in to going gluten-free. But gluten is one of the most aggravating foods to the digestive system as our modern wheat contains much more gluten than it used to and we don’t properly prepare it through sprouting and fermenting.
And this doesn’t mean that you will always have to be gluten free, but I do recommend trying it out for at least six to eight weeks to give your digestive system a time to heal AND so that you can see if some of your symptoms disappear during this time frame.
side note – Many people who are lactose intolerant are actually gluten intolerant as the gluten damages the intestines so that they no longer produce the enzymes needed to break down dairy products. This has been the case for Todd, who, after going gluten free, his gut has healed enough to be able to tolerate dairy again.
Also interesting to note:
“The molecular structure of gliadin, the protein portion of gluten, closely resembles that of the thyroid gland. When gliadin breaches the protective barrier of the gut, and enters the bloodstream, the immune system tags it for destruction. These antibodies to gliadin also cause the body to attack thyroid tissue. This means if you have an autoimmune thyroid disorder and you eat foods containing gluten, your immune system will attack your thyroid.” Chris Kresser
What you also have to remember is that if you are in fact intolerant to gluten, it takes three months from the moment of consumption for the inflammatory response to die down. And unless you take proactive measures to reduce that inflammation, it remains. Dr. O’Bryan did a great job of explaining this in our podcast; he likened the inflammation to a fire. This fire does not go out without adding things to the diet like fish oils or reducing and eliminating inflammatory foods for a time.
And if you think that your digestion is rock solid (and I’m not talking about the contents) you may want to think again. I never in a million years thought I had issues with digestion as everything seems to function as it should, thank you very much. But the thing is, I have nutrient deficiencies even though I consume enough of those nutrients.
It’s not so much about the foods you eat as it is the nutrients you absorb!
There is not one person I can imagine that doesn’t need to work on their digestion at least a little bit.
So what about you? How are you working on increasing your body’s ability to digest foods and absorb nutrients?
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