The Four Rs: How to Restore Optimal Gut Health
You dedicate your life to a routine: you train hard, eat right, supplement right, and try to get enough sleep. But what if all that hard work and supplementation was being sabotaged by poor gut health?
If our gut health is poor, we can end up with impaired immune and nervous systems, and it can also wreak havoc with our hormonal function throughout the body. This is because our gastrointestinal tract is loaded with neurons that release the same neurotransmitters found in the brain. This is why you have "gut feelings" and any upset to this equilibrium can throw your body and mood into chaos.
The digestive system is really the corner stone of our wellbeing, as it is involved in so many processes. If our digestive system is in order, we feel great, we can perform at the level we want, and we can push ourselves to make bigger and better gains in the gym.
How Does This Happen?
The digestive system is a pathway starting at the mouth and ending at the anus. It is responsible for breaking down the foods we eat, extracting the nutrients needed, and then eliminating the waste. The problem is that poor food choices, viruses, parasites, caffeine, alcohol consumption, antibiotics, NSAIDs, and bad bacteria can cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract, which leads to increased permeability or "leaky gut."
This "leaky gut" means that instead of foods being broken down, absorbed, and eliminated, partially digested foods can now cross through the damaged area of the intestinal lining and enter the blood stream directly. This leak can cause intolerances that then initiate an inflammatory response in the body and the release of stress hormones. One of these stress hormones is cortisol, which further taxes the body and starts to impair the body's immune system. This can then lead to a host of issues that may not seem related to the impaired gastrointestinal tract, like allergies, skin conditions, impaired performance, and stubborn weight gain to name but a few.
How to Start Fixing Things
With so many things attacking our digestive system it would seem like an almost impossible task to try and restore its health. Luckily with a bit of planning and time it is possible to restore your gastrointestinal tract to optimal health. Healing the gut lining will allow your body to build a strong immune system again and produce the right amount of neurotransmitters so that you will feel well again. So how do we do it?
First, we need to adopt a new approach to the foods we consume. This can be done by starting with the "Four Rs" - remove, repair, restore, and replace.
Step 1: Remove
In this first step we remove the offending foods and toxins from your diet that could be acting as stressors on your system. This means caffeine, alcohol, processed foods, bad fats, and any other foods you think may be causing issues, like gluten and dairy. All of these all irritate the gut in some form and create an inflammatory response.
Step 2: Repair
The next step is to begin to repair the gut and heal the damaged intestinal lining. You do this by consuming an unprocessed diet and giving your body time to rest by providing it with substances that are known to heal the gut, like L-glutamine, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, antioxidants (in the form of vitamins A, C, and E), quercitin, aloe vera, and turmeric.
Step 3: Restore
This involves the restoration of your gut's optimal bacterial flora population. This is done with the introduction of probiotics like Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis. A probiotic is a good bacteria and is ingested to help reinforce and maintain a healthy gastrointestinal tract and to help fight illness. In general a healthy lower intestinal tract should contain around 85% good bacteria. This helps to combat any overgrowth of bad bacteria. Unfortunately in most people these percentages are skewed and this allows for the gut health to drastically decline. The human gut is home to bad bacteria like salmonella and clostridium, which is fine as long as they are kept in order and don't get out of control.
Step 4: Replace
This involves getting your bile salts, digestive enzymes, and hydrochloric acid levels to optimal levels to maintain and promote healthy digestion. This can be done by supplementing with digestive enzymes and organic salt to help make sure you have enough hydrochloric acid.
Recommended Foods and Supplements:
- L-Glutamine - Helps to heal and seal the gut along with aiding in recovery after workouts, so it's a double whammy supplement.
- Quality Fish Oil - Preferably a liquid, not capsule, if you can stand the taste. This helps reduce inflammation, balance hormones, and supports the immune system.
- Probiotics - They provide live strains of good bacteria to help bolster your defenses.
- Cinnamon - It can help to improve digestion and, as an added bonus, is great at balancing blood sugar levels.
- Mint - Great at soothing the stomach and can help to relax the gastrointestinal tract.
- Zinc - Very important as it is utilized to form digestive enzymes and also used in regulating hormones.
- Prebiotics - In the form of fermented foods. Prebiotics help to feed friendly bacteria and allow them to thrive in a healthy environment. Fermented foods include bio-available yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
- PH Balancing or Alkaline Foods - Anything green is generally okay, like kale, spinach, broccoli, wheatgrass, parsley, chlorella, and spirulina. These are all great at keeping high stomach acid levels in order.
So remember with a bit of time and work on your part you can obtain optimal gut health, which will make sure that all that hard earned work in and out of the gym pays off and isn't wasted down the toilet.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.