How to Heal Your Gut
BY KITT WALSH
If you have decided to change your diet and lifestyle to rework your gut bacteria and see what kind of health changes you might bring to your life, you will be assailed by well-intentioned suggestions:
“You must go gluten-free.”
“Become a vegan.”
“Paleo is the only way.”
“Eat sauerkraut at every meal.”
And while some of these suggestions have merit, none should be swallowed hook, line and sinker without examination. The object of the game is to eat in a way that encourages “good” bacteria to grow, helps kill off “bad” bacteria, and remake the lining of your gut into a hospitable environment.
The first offender is sugar: If you haven’t already, you must ditch the sugar and all things containing that sneakiest of sugars—fructose. Sugar feeds bacteria and is found in pretty much anything that comes in a box, bag or can. Go fresh, even to making your own tomato sauces and salad dressings, so that you may control the amount of sugar you introduce into your food. Choose whole fruit instead of juices or dried fruit. Pick berries, cherries, grapefruits and lemons over bananas and apples and stop buying flavored yogurt. Give up dessert, but cushion the blow by falling in love with dark chocolate, which is actually good for you. Allow yourself some squares to curb your chocolate addiction. Take your time, but wean yourself off of sugar entirely and as soon as you can. Substitute Xylitol or Stevia instead of sugar. Nix the cocktails and stick to an occasional glass of wine. Soda is a no-no. Substitute sparkling water with lemon or lime if you need the bubbles.
Get rid of toxins: Avoid unnecessary antibiotics (even those found in non-organic foods and diary products), anti-inflammatory drugs (including NSAIDs like Ibuprofen and Advil) and all pesticides. If you are home gardener, stop spraying for bugs and weeds. Follow Joni Mitchell’s advice about such poison’s effects on all living things when she sang, “Give me spots on apples but leave me the birds and the bees…” Learn everything you can about organic gardening (call your local garden club or County Extension Service, where Master Gardeners are usually available to help educate you free of charge.)
Make a bacteria-friendly environment in your gut: Eat fermented foods like non-pasteurized yogurt, kefir and cheese. Learn about the most popular food in Korea, Kimchi, and add it to your diet. Do introduce more sauerkraut—but go easy on all these at first. Start adding a couple of teaspoons until you have had time to adjust. Start taking daily probiotic supplements. Make sure they contain strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and are potent (at least 8 billion per dose.) Don’t buy the cheapest. Two brands that are often recommended by nutritionists are those by Jarrow and Klaire Labs.
Manage your stress: It might be time to really knuckle down and learn that Transcendental Meditation or at least up your attendance at yoga class. Also get plenty of sleep (new studies say every adult should get between 8-10 hours a night) and schedule regular massages.
Eat foods soothing to your digestive system:
Animal protein, preferably organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed and wild-caught, is extremely healing to the gut. It contains dietary amino acids such as arginine, glutamine and glutamate that optimize the immune functions of the intestine. It also helps acid production, which is critical for healthy digestion.
Turmeric, the beautiful golden herb, is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Take capsules or add it to your food. It reduces inflammation and helps heal your gut. Other herbs, particularly aromatic ones like cloves, rosemary, ginger and oregano, have antibacterial properties to help heal you, too.
Coconut oil isn’t just good for your hair and skin, but cooking with it or adding it to foods (smoothies and shakes) or just chowing down a spoonful or two will offer you its anti-fungal and antibacterial benefits. Some say it even fights pathogens of the type that cause cancer.
Lemons aid in digestion by stimulating bile production and help detoxify your body. Squeeze fresh lemon juice into warm water and drink it instead of coffee in the morning.
Pineapples contain Bromelain a proteolytic enzyme that breaks down and help you digest protein.
Take it easy: Adopt any or all of these suggestions to help improve gut health (and perhaps make a difference in reducing some of the symptoms from which you suffer), but do so with two cautions: Do speak to your medical practitioner about any troubling symptoms you may be experiencing, being sure to discuss the changes you plan to adopt. Also give it time. Healing your gut through these methods will not happen overnight and shouldn’t be rushed (eating a handful of probiotics, for example, will just cause more turmoil inside you). Go slowly and incorporate changes over several weeks.
Here’s hoping you find relief and see improvement by healing your gut.