Having a healthy gut is key to having good overall health. Poor gut health is a factor in any chronic health condition, but poor gut health is easier to recognize in some people than others.
You might know that you have some sort of gut or digestive issues. Common ailments include things like heartburn, bloating, frequent burping, flatulence, constipation, diarrhea, stomachaches, nausea and/or abdominal pain. Sound familiar? But here’s the tricky part – you might have none of these symptoms, but still have poor gut health.
Before I list the health conditions you might be suffering from I want to talk about 2 important aspects of gut health.
You may have heard of leaky gut before. The medical community refers to it as intestinal permeability, but most people call it leaky gut.
What is leaky gut?
To understand leaky gut, you first need to know a bit about a healthy gut. Your small intestine is lined with a single layer of cells that form a protective barrier. This barrier is a bit like a castle wall. Just like a castle wall is built to keep invaders from entering the castle, the cells in your small intestine keep viruses, bacteria, other pathogens, undigested food and toxins from entering your body.
Now imagine that the mortar in that castle wall has crumbled. Suddenly it becomes much easier for invaders to get in. Tight junctions are like that mortar. Tight junctions are protein structures that hold the cells together to form that strong barrier. When tight junctions are lacking, then that barrier has gaps between the cells, which allow viruses, bacteria, pathogens, undigested food and toxins to leak out of the small intestine into the body. So in the same way that crumbling mortar means a weak castle wall, a lack of tight junctions means a weak intestinal barrier or leaky gut.
What causes leaky gut?
- viral or bacterial infections
- pharmaceutical use
- dysbiosis (see below)
How does leaky gut affect me?
When substances leak from the gut into the body they can wreak havoc anywhere and can affect any body tissue, organ or system. This is the reason that leaky gut can contribute to any chronic health condition you have. It can be anything from chronic headaches, to complicated conditions like autoimmune or neurological disorders.
Dysbiosis is the other part of poor gut health and it refers to an imbalance in the organisms that live in our guts. Collectively these organisms are referred to as the microbiome. We have a symbiotic relationship with these organisms. They need us and we need them. We provide them with a home (our gut) and feed them several times a day (they eat the same food you do). In exchange they make vitamins, help digest your food and help regulate every single metabolic process in your body. They are incredibly important to your well-being and play such a big part in your health that the microbiome is being called an invisible organ. It is as important as your heart, liver, brain or any other organ.
What is dysbiosis?
In a healthy gut these organisms can be roughly split into two categories: 1. beneficial or neutral species, and 2. opportunistic species. A healthy ratio usually has about 85% beneficial/neutral species and 15% opportunistic species. When the opportunistic species start increasing, that’s when the trouble begins and dysbiosis occurs. One well-known type of dysbiosis that you may have heard of is called a candida overgrowth or candidiasis. Candida is a type of yeast that is an opportunistic species, but an overgrowth of candida is just one example of dysbiosis.
What causes dysbiosis?
- use of proton-pump inhibitors for heartburn or GERD
- use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen, aspirin or prescriptions
- a diet high in processed foods or sugars
- psychological or physical stress
How does dysbiosis affect me?
Just like leaky gut, dysbiosis can affect any part of your body. In fact, dysbiosis is often the cause of leaky gut. The microbiome has a role in intestinal cell health and in regulation of tight junctions, so when there is dysbiosis there is leaky gut.
HEALTH CONDITIONS ASSOCIATED WITH POOR GUT HEALTH
- Food sensitivities
- Poor memory and concentration
- Autoimmune conditions
Type 1 diabetes
- Neurological conditions
- Mental health conditions
- Digestive disorders
Heartburn and GERD
Crohn’s, colitis and celiac
Bloating, burping, flatulence
GUT HEALTH QUIZ
Now that you know that poor gut health can be a contributing factor to many health conditions, take this quick quiz.
To find out how your gut health relates to your condition, ask Tracey.
☐ Do you regularly consume foods made from conventional soy, corn, canola or wheat? (cereal, pasta, bread, crackers, chips, tofu, soy sauce, popcorn, fresh corn, gluten-free products…?)
☐ Do you regularly consume artificial sweeteners or diet drinks?
☐ Do you regularly consume alcoholic beverages?
☐ Were you formula-fed as an infant?
These foods are commonly consumed, but most people are unaware that they can contribute to an unhealthy gut.
☐ Have you ever taken a long course of antibiotics or repeated courses?
☐ Have you used birth control pills (female)?
☐ Have you used non-steroidal anti-inflammatories for extended periods? (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen or prescriptions)
☐ Have you used antacids or acid blocking medications (proton-pump inhibitors)?
These types of drugs and medications have all been shown to have a damaging effect to your gut.
☐ Do you have less than 1 bowel movement a day or do you need bran, flax seed or a fiber supplement to ensure regular bowel movements?
☐ Do you have ongoing or occasional diarrhea?
☐ Do you have bloating, gas or belching?
☐ Do you ever suffer from abdominal pain, cramping or nausea?
☐ Do you suffer from heartburn or GERD?
☐ Have you ever been through a period of prolonged stress?
☐ Have you been diagnosed with Crohn’s, colitis or IBS?
☐ Have you been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition?
☐ Have you been diagnosed with chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia?
☐ Have you been diagnosed with autism, ADHD, a learning disorder or developmental delay?
☐ Have you been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome?
☐ Have you been diagnosed with a neurological condition?
☐ Have you been diagnosed with a thyroid condition?
☐ Do you suffer from anxiety, depression or other mood disorders?
☐ Do you suffer from unexplained symptoms? These can include things like headaches, joint pain, extreme fatigue, itchy or watery eyes, brain fog…
☐ Do you suffer from reoccurring yeast infections (female), jock itch (male) or bladder infections (male or female)?
☐ Do you suffer from eczema, rosacea, hives, psoriasis or skin rashes?
☐ Do you suffer from allergies, chemical sensitivities or asthma?
☐ Do you suffer from infertility, PMS, menopausal symptoms or hormonal conditions such as uterine, breast or ovarian cysts (female)?
☐ Do you suffer from infertility, erectile dysfunction or prostrate problems (male)?
☐ Do you struggle with excess weight or obesity?
If you answered Yes to any of the above, it is likely that your gut health is in need of some care and attention. By changing the health of the gut, we are often able to see improvements or alleviation in many of the conditions and symptoms listed above.
☐ Have you had any mercury-amalgam fillings or exposure to heavy metals?
☐ Were you born via C-section?
☐ Were you born prematurely?
These are just a few more risk factors that can compromise your microbiome and gut health.