Image by Andrew Rae
From the moment we are born, our gut is under constant attack. The building blocks of gut bacteria – C-section or natural birth, breastfeeding or formula, prenatal nutrition – these all factor in as we enter the world to create our gut microbiome, the collective of bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract that numbers in the millions.
As we grow, when we get sick, the gut is rarely the first thing that comes to mind as an influencer of our immune system. We’re far more likely to blame what germs we’ve been exposed to in the case of illness rather than the state of our gut and whether it was keeping our immune system strong. Eighty percent of the body’s immune system is in the gut! If we cultivate the right microbes in our gut, the bacteria dominate the pathogens and toxins that enter your body that threaten us will sickness when they inevitably make their way into our bodies.
Raise your hand if you are a serial antibiotic-taker! My whole Italian family is super guilty of this. They self prescribe antibiotics for every ailment and constantly complain of digestion issues. Antibiotics are one of the mega killers of the good bacteria, and their constant use leaves us susceptible to weakened immune function.
Ever hear the saying “gut feeling”? There is a reason behind that; our brains are very closely connected to our guts. Researchers have found that chemical substances used to regulate mood, such as serotonin and dopamine, are naturally found in the gut.
So, if you have unknowingly mistreated and abused your gut all these years and are ready to start the process of repair, what can you do? Probiotics alone are not going to get you back on track, but they are a step in repopulating the gut with the “good bacteria” that we want to stick around. But the road to gut repair starts long before any probiotic or even prebiotic food can work their magic.
The first step is to start removing all the yuck that attacks your gut. The main culprits include sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Take it slow though, don’t just go cold turkey. Wean off of these offenders a little at a time over the course of a week or so. It may be a little rough – you may find yourself tired, irritated, even suffering withdrawal headaches – which is normal while your body detoxes from the chemicals it has become used to consuming.
Opt for an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Dairy and gluten fasting will definitely help keep prepare your intestines to rebuild. Protein can be beneficial, so following a light Paleo diet may also work. One dictum is certain: up your veggies, including jicama, artichokes, radishes, asparagus, carrots and definitely cruciferous vegetables. Healthy fats like avocado, olive oil and coconut oil are always welcome, and even fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and anchovies can make the difference. If you can stand garlic, then add it everywhere you can.
Fermented Foods, Probiotics and Prebiotics
Inoculating your gut with good bacteria will bring the balance of microflora. Fermented foods such as tea, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, yogurt, kefir and kombucha can be implemented into your diet to further promote their growth. Probiotics are live bacteria that can strengthen your intestinal function. They normally come in the form of supplements, and need to be refrigerated since they are live. The normal bacteria you find in the supplements are lactobacillus and acidophilus. Prebiotics promote growth of beneficial bacteria, but with food – artichokes, asparagus, leeks, onions, bananas, flaxseeds.
If you can follow this for at least a month, progress will be made. But just as you eased into the diet, you must be careful to be slow about reintroducing grains and legumes. The longer you can refrain from caffeine, alcohol and sugar, the better. If you can’t resist, try small amounts before really falling off the wagon. What is most important is noticing your body’s reaction to each of the foods you reintroduce. Keep those fermented foods and probiotics in your diet.