Hippocrates once said, “All disease begins in the gut.”. Just as importantly, recovery from disease also begins in the gut! And I have first-hand experience of this......
At the age of 26, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, an aggressive form of lymphatic cancer. I was absolutely terrified! Up until that point I had always been a boisterous, care-free girl who lived life to the fullest and had never had to pay much attention to my health. But within the blink of an eye I was submerged into a grueling 12 months of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery and fear!
I had lost all control of my life, my health and my future!
Thankfully, my treatment regime worked as planned and I was officially told I was in complete clinical remission almost 15 months after my journey began. However my journey didn't end there.
As a result of my treatment and my new, sedentary lifestyle because of the severe exhaustion I experienced, I had put on almost 30 lbs, I had lost all of my hair, my figure, my glowing complexion and my zest for life.
My hormones were a mess, causing me to have wild mood swings and painful, irregular periods and my treatment had also wreaked havoc on my gut health.
I experienced painful stomach aches after eating most foods, I had embarrassing bloat and excessive gas almost every day and I was constantly fluctuating between diarrhea and constipation making it difficult to stray far from the bathroom!
My body was broken! I was exhausted and doubted whether my body would ever recover. And I didn't have the slightest clue how to even start fixing it.
I spent a small fortune on numerous, different, expensive supplements. I tried herbal detoxes and juice cleanses. I attempted numerous restrictive diets, undertook several fancy food allergy tests and even experimented with acupuncture and homeopathy.
But none of these things brought my energy back or made me feel like I was healing. I had the occasional good day but for the most part I still felt out of balance, unhealthy and was in a lot of pain and discomfort.
Eventually, at the advice of a family member, I began to see a Naturopathic Doctor who specialised in nutritional therapy. It was here that I learned the important role of nutrition if we are looking to naturally restore our health. And more importantly, it was here that I learned that OUR OVERALL HEALTH BEGINS IN THE GUT!
If we don't address our gut imbalances FIRST, all we are doing is putting a band-aid on the problem. The imbalances within the gut are the underlying CAUSE of most of your symptoms! Fix the gut and your symptoms will disappear!
Here was my big "Aha!" moment!
I spent the best part of the next 6 months working closely with my Naturopath as she walked me through a step-by-step nutritional methodology to heal my gut and restore imbalances in my gut bacteria, enzymes and stomach acid levels....all of which I learned are essential for proper digestion.
Not only am I now able to enjoy most foods without any uncomfortable side effects, but I also lost all of the weight I had put on, rediscovered my energy and I looked and felt healthier and stronger than I did even before my cancer diagnosis. This is me just after my cancer treatment in 2003 participating in a Cancer Relay for Life charity event and then me less than 2 years later in 2005 when I had decided to go back to school to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist.
In 2007, after graduating, I started Clean Living Nutrition & Wellness and made it my life mission to help others learn the power of nutrition and how they can too heal and rebuild their health and body simply by focusing in on their gut health FIRST!
If you would like to have a friendly, informal chat about your gut health concerns, I invite you to book a free online strategy session with me so I can help give you clarity on the right next steps for you.
More and more research shows that our gut (digestive system) has a bigger role in many diseases than we used to think. And we're not just talking about cancer, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, etc. We're talking about all kinds of issues like allergies, pain, mood disorders, and nutrient deficiencies.
There are a lot of reasons for this. Our gut is the portal to the outside world. It's here where we take in disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. We also take in nutrients (and toxins) through our gut. The nutrients we ingest and absorb are the building blocks of every single part of our body.
And the typical, every day symptoms we have become accustomed to thinking are a normal part of aging such as gas, bloating and indigestion, are our body's way of telling us that there is an issue in our gut that needs fixing!
We're just learning the connections between our gut and other areas of our body, like our brain (have you heard of "the gut-brain axis"?). Not just our gut per se; but, its friendly resident microbes too. These guys also have newly discovered roles in our gut health and overall health.
So, let's talk about the roles that our gut and our gut microbes play in our overall health. Then I'll give you tips to improve your gut health naturally.
Our gut’s role in our overall health:
Our gut’s main role is as a barrier. To let things in that should get in, and to keep things out that should stay out. Think of “absorption” of nutrients as things we want to let in; and “elimination” of waste as things we want to pass right through and out.
This seemingly simple role is super-complex! And it can break down in so many places.
For one thing, our guts can "leak." Yes, like a long tube with holes in it, it can allow things to get into our bloodstream/bodies that can wreak havoc (bacteria, undigested food, and toxins). You name it, whatever you put into your mouth can be absorbed by your gut and get into your bloodstream, even if it's not supposed to. And when your gut wall gets irritated, it can "leak." When this happens, you get inflammation, which is a starting point for many diseases that don't seem linked to the gut but have a sneaky connection there.
FUN FACT: About 80% of our immune system lives in and around our gut.
A healthy gut is not a leaky gut. It maintains its barrier and shuttles things through to be eliminated. Maintaining a healthy gut barrier is the first pillar of gut health.
The second main part of your gut are the billions of friendly health-promoting microbes. Gut microbes help us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease-causing microbes, make some vitamins for us, and have all kinds of other health benefits, like mental health benefits, reducing inflammation, and stabilizing blood sugar.
So, keeping your gut microbes happy is the second pillar of gut health!
So how do you improve your gut health?
1. There are a lot of natural ways to improve gut health. But first, let’s start with what to stop doing!
It’s always best to eliminate the cause, so let’s stop giving our guts junk to deal with. How about eliminating added sugars, processed foods, and alcohol? Try that for a few weeks, and you may be amazed at how much better your body (and gut) feels.
You may also want to eliminate other gut irritants. Dairy and grains contain common compounds known to irritate some people’s guts. Sometimes you only need to eliminate them for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference for your health.
By eating nutrient-dense foods, we allow ample macro- and micro-nutrients into our gut to maximize the chance for absorption. These nutrients help our bodies build and repair our gut, and every other body part as well. Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, colourful fruits and veggies, liver, and fish.
2. The second pillar of gut health is our microbes.
By ingesting probiotic-rich foods and drinks, we can help to replenish our gut microbes. These are found in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Make these a part of your daily diet.
(Now there is a caveat here! If you find yourself struggling with sugar cravings, brain fog and have a white coating on your tongue, you may be struggling with a yeast overgrowth that needs some attention. In this instance, fermented foods should stay out of the diet initially as they will feed yeast and add to it's power!)
Whole foods are full of gut-friendly fiber. Not eating enough fiber increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Fiber plays lots of roles in our gut, including whisking away some of those pesky bad bacteria and toxins so they can be eliminated. Fiber also helps to feed our friendly resident microbes that help us absorb and digest our food better. What foods have a lot of fiber? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even cacao.
And don’t forget the uber-important lifestyle factors like getting enough sleep, stressing less, and getting the right amount (and intensity) of exercise for you. It’s easy to forget some of the simple, but key links there are between what we do with our bodies and how well they function.
The function of your gut is key to your overall health. There are two pillars of gut health: maintaining a good barrier and maintaining healthy gut microbes.
The main ways to improve both of these naturally is by eating nutrient-dense whole foods. Foods filled with nutrition, probiotics, and fiber. And eliminating common gut irritants like added sugar, processed foods, and alcohol.
Looking to get a head start on easing your digestive issues?
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Now I'm going to leave you with a tasty side-dish recipe that will get to work feeding those friendly gut microbes for you :)
Recipe: Fermented Carrots:
1 litre of warm water
4 tsp salt
4 carrots, medium, peeled, sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed (optional)
Make a brine by dissolving the salt in water.
Place carrots into a clean canning jar, packing them in tight. Make sure to leave about 1 inch of head space at the top.
Fill the jar with brine, making sure to cover the carrots completely. Weigh the carrots down to make sure they don't float (you can use a "fermenting weight").
Close the jar and let it sit at room temperature for 1-4 days. The longer it sits, the more the flavor will develop. Feel free to open and taste.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Use this as a side dish, or even a snack