Our gut health influences everything from our weight, to our mood, to our cognitive ability. It can be the reason for our back pain, the root of our depression, and of course, the cause of our digestive issues. That’s why testing the health of our gut and then healing our gut is absolutely essential for improving our mental and physical health.
Why I Want to Help You Heal Your Gut
I never thought much about my gut. I’m a psychologist and well-being expert so I focus mostly on what you can do to boost well-being. But this all changed when my gut completely gave out on me. In the blink of an eye, I started getting nauseous, bloated, and belchy anytime I ate anything. I quickly dropped 15 pounds, became exhausted, and developed intense anxiety.
Had I thought more about my gut health, I could have seen the signs and prevented this nightmare. My gut had been screaming, “Pay attention to me!” for years by giving me new food allergies, migraines, and tummy troubles. These were all signs that my gut was unhealthy… I just didn’t realize it yet.
Why You Want to Heal the Gut Before You Get Sick
When my gut got mad at me, I had no idea what the problem was. It took me months to figure it out. Eventually, I took the GI-MAP stool test and learned that I had a parasite called blastocystis hominis (Blasto The Gut Bug), which I likely picked up in Mexico a few years back. I also ate dairy (despite knowing I was sensitive to it) and lived in a moldy apartment—all things that contribute to poor gut health.
Because I ignored the signs, my gut problems snowballed—I developed Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), Estrogen dominance, and an intolerance to dairy, gluten, eggs, and almonds. In addition, I couldn’t eat anything that was difficult to digest (e.g., raw veggies, nuts, popcorn) or anything that fed mold (e.g., mushrooms, grains, even vitamins cased in cellulose capsules).
The GI-MAP stool test also revealed that my gut’s immune system was completely shot. This meant that my body couldn’t clear the toxins in my gut. As a result, I would get so tired that I literally couldn’t keep my eyes open after eating a meal. And when I was awake, I had a hard time concentrating—my foggy brain just could not think. Needless to say, this made it difficult to work, and I often skipped eating on days when I needed my brain and body to function.
Knowing what I know now, I would have done just about anything to heal the gut and prevent this. So I feel compelled to share what I’ve learned in hopes that it might help you or someone you know who needs to heal their gut. Read on to learn more.
Do You Need to Heal Your Gut?
Do you have common gut health issues such as digestive troubles, stomach aches, weight changes, fatigue, skin issues, emotional issues, or food intolerances? Then consider testing the health of your gut and taking action now to heal your gut before your gut issues start to snowball.
Get started healing the gut. In the section below, I’m going to review a bunch of gut healing strategies. These strategies can be even more effective if you know a bit more about the gut. So let’s start by getting to know your gut bugs.
Get To Know Your Gut Bugs
It turns out that our guts are populated by all sorts of bacteria, fungi, and other unknown critters—these “gut bugs” are collectively referred to as the microbiota.
Just like humans, our gut bugs have personalities which are affected by nature (their genes) and nurture (the environment they live in). As a result, some of them tend to be good guys, some tend to be bad guys, and some can be fickle and end up being good or bad depending on the circumstances.
For example, some strains of the often-feared E. coli are good for us while other strains are bad. The potentially deadly bacteria, staphylococcus aureus (i.e., staff) is present in 25% of healthy people—it only hurts us when it overgrows. And even good bugs, when there are too many of them, can cause a world of hurt when they move up into the small intestine and overgrow (causing SIBO).
Why does it help to know your gut bugs? Well, because when we understand what leads to an unhealthy society of microbiota, we can take the right steps to create a healthy society of microbiota and heal the gut. Read on to learn exactly how to do it.
17 Gut-Healing Strategies
When you start healing your gut, it’s best to start by gently supporting and encouraging healthy gut bugs. But if your gut is in a state of distress (as mine was), then you’ll likely need to ramp up slowly to the more harsh gut healing strategies, forcing those gut bullies in your microbiota to get out!
To help you find the right protocol for healing your unique gut, I’ve listed 17 gut-healing strategies below in order from most gentle to most harsh.
I’ve also split these strategies into three phases to help you ramp up slowly and effectively.
What to Expect
If your gut is unhealthy, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. You’re almost guaranteed to get die-off (Herxheimer) symptoms at some point in the gut healing process.
What are die-off symptoms?
Die-off symptoms can include fatigue, brain fog, gastrointestinal distress such as nausea, gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, low-grade fever, headache, sore throat, itching, muscle and joint soreness, chills, flu-like symptoms, lethargy, intense sweet cravings, rashes, and irritability.
Don’t confuse die-off symptoms with a lack of calories or nutrients, which can also make us feel tired and weak. Die-off symptoms tend to come on suddenly whereas insufficient calories can leave us feeling chronically tired and ill. Some people also find that they have die-off symptoms only at a certain time of the day—morning, afternoon, or evening.
When I started healing my gut, I had intense die-off reactions (chills and nausea) each night for six weeks. It decreased to every few days as I moved through the phases, then once per week, and now very rarely and only when I use one of the more intense strategies below to amp up my detox.
How do you minimize die-off?
The die-off symptoms you’ll experience will depend on the health of your liver, your gut bugs, and so forth.
- If your die-off symptoms are making you feel miserable, then you’re killing bad gut bugs too quickly. Slow down, support your liver (with supplements like Milk Thistle), take Epsom salt baths to support your body’s ability to get those dead gut bugs out of your body as quickly as possible, and eat foods with collagen (e.g., bone broth) to keep the bad stuff in your gut and out of your bloodstream.
- If you feel fine one day and then complete crap the next, you might be getting die-off from parasites. It can be confusing because they have weird lifecycles; they die, reproduce, and create symptoms at weird times.
- If your symptoms are consistently getting worse or staying the same over time, even though you haven’t been adding new gut healing strategies, then it’s likely not a result of die-off. See a doctor to make sure your symptoms are not a result of another health issue.
Healing the Gut Phase 1
In this phase, you’ll focus on generally improving your gut health.
1. Decrease Your Stress to Heal the Gut
It turns out that stress can actually help bad bugs, like Blasto, to thrive—a phenomenon that I experienced first hand.
As I mentioned earlier, my gut switched from okay to completely berzerk in the blink of an eye. The cause of this switch was stress—I had a super stressful month. The stress taxed my immune system even further, enabling Blasto, and a bunch of other bad gut bugs to grow. They moved up into my small intestine (where they are not supposed to be)—and they even started “leaking” out of my gut.
2. Support Your Immune System to Heal the Gut
If your gut is unhealthy, your immune system is already churning away trying to heal it. Without proper support, your immune system can get overworked and worn down. So a nice gentle way to heal the gut is to support your immune system in doing its job.
To support your immune system, you can eat immunity supporting foods like citrus fruits, garlic, and spinach. If your immune system is already weak, it can also be helpful to supplement with key vitamins and minerals that may have become depleted like Vitamin B, Vitamin D, and Zinc. I also found that taking vitamins to support adrenal function was incredibly helpful as adrenals can get taxed when we are overstressed by gut health issues.
3. Reduce Inflammation to Heal the Gut
Another way to heal the gut is by removing inflammatory foods. This helps your immune system decrease its workload so it can spend more energy on healing the gut.
Although each of us has different problem foods, wheat and dairy tend to be problematic for many people with gut health issues. Sugar feeds many bad bacteria (all carbs are digested as sugar). And partially-hydrogenated oils are toxic, so they busy the immune system leaving other problems in your body unaddressed. That’s why it can be really helpful to remove these inflammatory foods if we want a healthy gut.
4. Consume Collagen to Heal the Gut
Collagen makes up the gut’s connective tissue—or the barrier between what’s in your gut and the rest of your body. If this barrier gets “leaky,” particles from the gut can seep into the bloodstream, causing everything from the herxheimer reaction (flu-like symptoms) to mental health issues or an autoimmune disease.
Consuming collagen is likely helpful for everyone but especially those with an unhealthy microbiota. In general, those with gut-health issues tend to have low levels of collagen. In addition, your microbiota effect which symptoms (or diseases) you might get from a leaky gut. So if you have an unhealthy gut, leaky gut may be more problematic.
For example, research shows that one type of autoimmune arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis is caused by the bacteria, Klebsiella. Many of us have Klebsiella in our microbiome, so researchers hypothesize that’s it’s only when these bacteria “leak” into our bloodstream that they cause arthritis. So eating collagen or high-collagen foods like bone broth can potentially prevent these negative outcomes.
5. Eat Gut-Soothing Foods to Heal the Gut
We often eat with little consideration for what our gut must then do with our food. In fact, our guts must break down all the chunks, absorb the nutrients, and then push along the indigestible fiber to feed the gut bugs in the lower intestine—that’s a lot of work for an unhealthy gut!
To help ease the burden on the gut, we can eat gut-soothing foods such as soft foods, cooked foods, and juiced fruits and vegetables. These foods are already broken down which helps ease the burden on the gut.
6. Focus on Macronutrients to Heal the Gut
When it comes to the role of macronutrients (i.e., Carbs, Protein, and Fat) in gut health, the experts are split. Some say that feeding our gut bugs with carbs like fiber, vegetables, and fruits is the best approach. Others say that starving our gut bugs by eating primarily fat is the best approach. Indeed, both approaches seem to have benefits…depending on your unique gut and microbiota. So it’s important to pay attention to how specific foods make you feel.
For some folks, consuming fiber can exacerbate gut issues (e.g., those with an overgrowth of Firmicutes). For others, certain types of carbs exacerbate gut issues. For others, consuming high-fat meals exacerbates gut health issues (e.g., those without the enzymes to break down fats). When it comes to your gut health, the key is to eat mindfully and explore how different foods make you feel. Only then can you know that you’re eating to heal your gut.
This is Part One of a Two-Part series. Find Part Two here.