As I reviewed the long list of initial symptoms, I was happy to hear the patient say that everything was “better, better, gone.”
Dr. McMinn: “How is the fatigue?”
Patient: “It’s much better doctor.”
Dr. McMinn: “How is the brain fog and anxiety?”
Patient: “They’re also much better.”
Dr. McMinn: “How is the diarrhea?”
Patient: “It’s gone.”
This patient had been to doctor after doctor for her various symptoms, but it wasn’t until we addressed her gut issues that she got better.
Old fashioned country doctors used to say that “good health starts in the gut,” and as I have become an older and perhaps wiser physician, I have become abundantly convinced that they were right all along.
Other organs may be “sexier” but the gut is where wellness begins. We marvel at the processing ability of the incredible human brain, and the heart amazes us with it heroic pumping marathon. We manicure our nails, and fuss over our hair. However, we take the lowly gut for granted, as if we’d rather not acknowledge, much less to glorify, a mere poop factory. Yet the oft-ignored gut frequently holds the key to good health, and likewise poor gut heath may manifest in all sorts of bodily havoc. I have seen miracle cures for many different maladies by attending to gut issues. Seemingly unrelated diseases and symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, headaches, rashes, asthma, arthritis, autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, ADD, autism, sinusitis and many more health problems may be linked back to poor gut health.
Let’s take a look at some of the issues affecting gut health:
*Diet: Let’s begin with what we put in our mouths. Certainly the MAD diet (Modern American Diet) has not helped the situation. It’s amazing to me that our bodies can survive the daily onslaught of junk food, processed food, transfats, sugar, and toxins as well as it does. The term “garbage in garbage out” frequently applies to computers. However, the same principle is applicable to the human body. We feed our bodies garbage, and yet we expect this to miraculously turn into healthy cells. Instead, our junk diets wreak a heavy toll on gut health, which then dominoes onto other bodily parts and functions.
*Stress: This is one of the main fundamental causes of disease. Stress can take its toll on just about any body part and the gut is no exception. Stress is often associated with issues such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel disease, and chronic diarrhea. Ulcers, leaky gut, cramps, poor digestion, and stomach upset.
Food Allergies and Sensitivities: The gut has the daunting challenge sifting through every single molecule we eat and of deciding what to let in, and what keep out. That’s one reason that we call the gut “the second brain.” To meet this challenge, approximately 70% of our immune system lies in the gut.
For millions of years our ancestors ate a “natural” diet of berries, fruits, vegetables, roots, and leaves. They killed critters and ate fish for lean protein. Now let’s fast forward to the modern American grocery store. Most of the food we might find in the center isles may rightfully be considered by our bodies to be like a foreign body, and thus generate an immune response. This untoward immune response may express itself in all sorts of clinical symptoms. Our food has changed drastically in a relatively short period of time, but our immune system is genetically the same as our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
Poor Digestion: Next time you find yourself at the drug store, take a moment to walk down the isles and look at the over-the- counter medications. You’ll find that by far, the number one item is the digestive and gastrointestinal aids. Year after year, Nexium and its acid blocking cousins are at the top of the charts in terms of prescriptions sold. These powerful acid blockers, as well as the seemingly benign antacids like Tums, interfere with our natural digestive ability. As such, we may not get the nutrients form our food that we need to maintain healthy cells.
Bacterial Imbalance (Dysbiosis): The human body exists in an amazing state of synergistic balance with our gut flora. Perhaps an oversimplification, but this mainly consists of “good bacteria,” “bad bacteria,” and yeast. We cannot survive without our “good bacteria.” Unfortunately, we frequently kill off the good bacteria with the antibiotics that we take. Also, with the sugar ladened diets we frequently find our guts in a miserable state of yeast overgrowth. This can result in bowel wall inflammation, and eventually “leaky gut syndrome.” A cascade of inflammatory and immune reactions then take place which can affect the far reaches of the body, including brain, bones, skin, auto-immune disease, etc.
Similarly, parasites may add another twist to the complex milieu of bacterial flora.
A simple plan for gut health recovery involves the 4R program: Remove, Repair, Restore, and Replace. This program is available in the integrative medical literature, and I have had great success by adopting it in my practice.
Step One: Remove the stressors on the gut such as the drugs, alcohol, sugar, caffeine, tobacco, and other poor food choices that we find in the modern American diet. A gut detoxification program may be helpful in this regard.
Step Two: Repair the damage with optimal nutrition, stress reduction, etc. Targeted nutritionals may help such as aloe vera juice, quercitin, licorice root, garlic, tumeric, digestive enzymes, and fish oils.
Step Three: Restore a healthy bacterial balance with high quality probiotics. Cutting out unnecessary antibiotics, treating yeast, and reducing the sugar in the diet may also help.
Step Four: Replace the deficient elements such as digestive enzymes, which can have a major impact on digestion and utilization of nutrients.
In summary, continue to ignore and abuse the gut and you will reap the unhealthy consequences. Give the gut the respect it’s due, and you will enjoy the many benefits in the years to come. Start today with the 4R program; remove, repair, restore, and replace gut health program in order to achieve optimal overall wellness.