Gut health is a buzzword that you hear a lot about but do you know what it really means? To me gut health means having a balanced microbiome to produce compounds needed for immune and hormonal health as well as having healthy cells so you can absorb and assimilate the food you eat in order to provide nutrients for your body. If you’re dealing with thyroid and adrenal issues you don’t have a healthy gut. In order to restore gut health first you need to know what your gut does.
What Your Gut Does
- houses about 70% of your immune system so keeping it healthy is important in keeping your immune system strong to fight off invaders
- is responsible for the conversion of thyroid hormones to their active forms to give you energy to do everything.
- Excretes chemicals, toxins and all the waste products from your body
- Has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system which directly affects the brain
- Contains over 100 trillion bacteria (called the gut microbiome) which affects every system in your body
Wow! That’s just about everything in your body!!
Keeping your gut healthy is key in keeping the rest of you healthy. Unfortunately our gut is constantly being damaged from:
- Pathogenic bacteria
- Foods and food additives
This damage leads to gut permeability which is commonly known as Leaky Gut.
What Is Leaky Gut
Leaky Gut is when the tight junctions between the cells of the gut wall loosen which allows large particles into the bloodstream. These larger particles are seen as invaders to the body which causes an immune response which leads to inflammation. This inflammation leads to autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s, Grave’s, Addison’s, Crohn’s, Celiac as well as many others. No bueno.
So how do you know if you have leaky gut? Well, if you have any of the symptoms listed below you have a leaky gut.
Symptoms of Leaky Gut
- Chronic constipation and/or diarrhea (usually a combination of the two)
- Gut/abdominal pain
- Food sensitivities
- Fatigue/low energy
- Chronic bloating
- Headaches or migraines
- Mood imbalances / depression / irritability
- Skin rashes, eczema, acne
- Joint pain
Any of these sound familiar to you? They did for me so I started formulating a plan to restore gut health for myself.
How To Restore Gut Health
Restore Gut Health Step One: Remove
In order to restore gut health you need to remove anything that could be worsening your gut health including irritating foods. This way of eating is called an elimination diet where you will avoid eating certain foods for a period of time.
I usually recommend a minimum of 30 days, but preferably 90 days, before experimenting with adding food back in. Working with a health practitioner who is familiar with healing leaky gut can be helpful. Working with a registered dietitian for accountability and food guidance is very valuable as well. (Yes I’m biased)
Foods to remove (at least initially) These foods are inflammatory and can worsen leaky gut.
- Gluten containing foods (whether they’re naturally there or added. This includes any grains containing gluten (wheat, rye and barley) and any foods made with them or ingredients that contain them.
- Dairy products
- Soy and soy products
- Corn and any foods containing corn products including cornstarch and high fructose corn syrup
- Peanuts and peanut butter
- Artificial sweeteners-xylitol, mannitol, erythritol, aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, etc. If it’s not found in nature in the form you’re ingesting it don’t eat it.
- Processed or highly refined foods
- Added sugar
- Any foods that you know you’re allergic to
- Caffeine-remove any beverages with caffeine including coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks as well as foods like chocolate. Caffeine is a stimulant and gut irritant.
- Alcohol-not surprised are you? Besides further loosening those tight junctions which contributes to leaky gut, alcohol impairs your ability to absorb nutrients from your food. Those nutrients are gonna help you heal so you need all you can get.
Non food things to remove
- STRESS-both physical and psychological stress releases hormones that can worsen leaky gut. Intense exercise is a big stressor on the body so cutting that out while healing is helpful. Removing any psychological stressors that you can by ending negative relationships, removing activities that don’t bring you joy and finding work that feeds your soul are also elements that can heal your gut.
Restore Gut Health Step Two: Replace
To restore gut health it’s not just what you take out but what you add back in that’s important.
Food to eat more of:
- Bone broth-full of gut healing amino acids proline, glycine and glutamine which are essential to healing the gut lining. It also feels really good on an inflamed gut.
- Soups and Smoothies can be easy to digest so can be helpful when starting to heal your gut. The foods are already broken down which makes them easier to digest.
- Grass fed, pasture raised meats that don’t have added hormones.
- Healthy fats like avocados, olives and olive oil are helpful for healing the cells of the gut. Fats are an integral part of the cell membranes so eating good source of fat is essential to repair the gut.
- Fermented foods (as tolerated) can help to balance out the gut microbiome by introducing species that might not be present. Go easy tho as some folks can’t tolerate fermented foods in the beginning. Start by taking a teaspoon of the juice from sauerkraut once a day. If it doesn’t worsen any symptoms up it to a tablespoon once, then twice a day. If all is good then eat 1-2 tablespoons of the sauerkraut once a day then build up to every meal.
- Organic well cooked veggies. Raw veggies can be hard to digest for people with damaged guts. Cooking them helps to make them easier to digest. As you heal you can try adding in uncooked veggies to see how you tolerate them.
- Beans are a great source of soluble fiber which binds with bile to bring out the trash from your body. I know that beans can sound scary to you if you’re bloated and gassy already but trust me on this one. Start slowly with 1 tablespoons of lentils or mung beans 2- 3 times a day. Slowly (I mean SLOWLY) work your way up to ¼ cup 4-6 times per day. This has been a game changer for me especially since I don’t have a gallbladder and that nasty bile is always dripping into and irritating my gut.
Supplements that can be helpful: I think these are helpful during initial stages of healing and as you heal work on getting more of the nutrients you need from food
- L-glutamine is an amino acid that has been shown in research studies to increase the growth of intestinal lining cells and strengthen them. Eat high protein foods like meat, chicken and fish to get good amounts of glutamine.
- Digestive enzymes help you to digest your food which prevents large pieces from entering your intestines. You don’t want to become overly dependent on them so take them mid meal so your body has a chance to produce its own enzymes first. Think of these as supplemental to what your body can make.
- Zinc can help to keep the cells of the gut lining stay strong and is an important part of the immune system. Oysters, beans, red meat and poultry are good sources.
- Probiotics can help to rebalance the gut microbiome by adding in missing strains of bacteria necessary to keep the gut healthy and balanced. Having a healthy microbiome keeps the gut lining healthy and reduces inflammation. Fermented foods are good sources of probiotics and high fiber foods like beans help to feed the microbiome.
- Vitamin D can play an important role in gut and immune health although it’s not totally clear. What has been shown is people with low levels of vitamin D have higher levels of gut permeability and increased symptoms in those with IBS and IBD. Get plenty of sunshine and eat oily fish like salmon, egg yolks and liver to keep your vitamin D levels up.
- Gentle movement like walking, yoga and gentle pilates. Movement is important for healing and keeping your body strong so don’t give up on it just aren’t doing HIIT workouts.
- Breathing practice to help calm the nervous system. Remember that the gut has it’s own nervous system that’s directly linked to the brain. Deep breathing helps to calm the whole system down and decreases hormones that can be irritating to the gut.
- Sleeping 7-8 hours a night is a huge help in healing leaky gut. If you aren’t able to sleep the whole time just rest in bed for 8 hours.
Restore Gut Health Step Three: Rebalance
Rebalancing your life to restore gut health is key to long term health. Your gut is always responding to the foods you eat, the movement you do and the stressful events that you’re faced with. Making these changes to heal your gut only to return to your old habits won’t work. You need to make this gut healing protocol your lifestyle now which is going to take permanent changes in your lifestyle.
If you choose to deviate from your protocol that’s ok once in a while but know that some of your old symptoms may return. Get back to your gut protocol as soon as you can and keep deviations to a minimum to feel your best.
Some tips for long term success:
- Only keep foods in your house that promote gut healing.
- Let your family and friends know why you made these changes and how they have positively impacted your health
- Keep a journal throughout the whole process starting with all of your symptoms and how you felt. Keep journaling as you make changes and heal. You’ll be surprised of all the little changes and how much better you feel overall.
- Find a health practitioner who can support you in keeping the changes that you’ve made
Since we’re all unique, healing your gut isn’t the same for every person. It can take time and experimentation and will have ups and downs but is it worth it.
Want more information and support for healing? Reach out to me by email or on Instagram and let me know how I can help. Also join my private Facebook group Thyroid, Adrenal and Gut Healing for Women.