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Dr. Colbert's Healthy Gut Zone: Heal Your Digestive System to Restore Your Body and Renew Your Mind
by Don Colbert
Learn More | Meet Don Colbert
Part 1 explains the purpose and power of the gut, along with the health problems that come when the gut wall is breached. What makes the gastrointestinal lining more permeable is entirely preventable. It is also imperative to your health that you take the necessary steps to get your gut healthy again.
THE HEALTHY GUT ZONE BEGINS
The gut always seems to be the backstory, the proverbial “I didn’t see that coming” if it were in a movie. For example, I can’t tell you how many female patients I have treated over the years who complain about swelling, bloating, gas, and other bowel problems. As if that isn’t enough, many of them are wearing shapewear! They eat and immediately swell up, sometimes followed by reflux (especially if shapewear is involved). They, of course, feel miserable, so they start taking antacids and then much stronger acid-suppressing drugs.
What may be happening is that when they eat excessive bread, fruit sugar, or starch after they have taken antibiotics, it usually ferments in their gut and produces hydrogen and methane gases. The swelling is often like a birthday balloon attached to a helium tank!
In the gut, specifically the small intestine, sometimes there is a war going on between beneficial, or “good,” bacteria and harmful, or “bad,” bacteria. The bad bacteria are usually winning, and the bloating and gas are simply symptoms of the conflict.
This discomfort is not the end of it. Doctors are quick to prescribe medication, typically with a ten-day to two-week prescription. Very quickly, the medicine becomes part of the regular daily routine, though the symptoms never go away.
The symptoms often get worse over time. Depending on the person, diarrhea or constipation is typically present, along with constant inflammation in the gut. It is the inflammation that causes untold damage, and it has a way of eventually spreading to the rest of the body.
One common diagnosis at this point is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), though it is certainly not a news flash for those experiencing it. This condition can also be labeled as IBS-D (with diarrhea) or IBS-C (with constipation). The inflammation in the gut can cause either form of IBS.
When you stop the bloating and gas with medication, the result is usually something far worse. A damaged gut creates a host of other symptoms, illnesses, and even diseases that make the initial symptoms pale in comparison.
However, if you treat the gut properly and get it healthy again, then usually the symptoms of swelling, bloating, gas, and other bowel problems eventually go away. A healthy gut will not only take care of your gut-related symptoms but also will often lessen and even eradicate a host of other ailments, even diseases!
As I said, the gut is far more powerful than we ever knew. It has the power to change your health and your life completely.
Your gut is your gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) and runs top to bottom, starting at your mouth, then extending through the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine (colon) before ending at your rectum and anus—the last parts of your large intestine. The purpose of the gut has always been viewed as the digestion of food and absorption of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, simple sugars, fatty acids, and amino acids. What went in was either used or discarded. And there was nothing more to report.
Though not to the same degree as the French entertainer Michel Lotito, who ground up and ate bicycles, shopping carts, TV sets, beds, and even a small airplane,1 it has been assumed for generations that our gut is pretty much indestructible. But that is not the case. Our gut is far less impervious or ironclad than we used to believe. This is so for two significant reasons:
- The gut is designed both to be permeable and to act as a barrier. Absorbing nutrients, simple sugars, amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals from the digested food into the bloodstream through the intestinal wall is part of the gut’s job. It also acts as a barrier, preventing undigested foods, proteins, fats, and toxins from being absorbed.
- The gut can spring leaks. An increasing number of proteins, foods, medicines, and bacteria have been found to, figuratively speaking, punch microscopic holes in the gut wall by damaging the tight junctions between the intestinal cells, allowing undigested food and toxins to leak through.
For us to simply live, our gut must provide us with nutrients from the foods we eat. But understandably, if excessive breaches (microscopic holes) occur in the gut, it becomes more permeable, meaning we develop a leaky gut (called increased intestinal permeability by many), and our health will naturally be compromised.
It makes sense, then, that your gut needs to be healthy for you to be healthy. After decades of treating patients, I have found this to be true. I have also found, generally speaking, that a healthy person has a healthy gut.
What Makes the Gut So Special?
Why is the gut so important, so special that it could play a role in our entire body’s health? Or in “all disease” as Hippocrates argued?
That’s a fair question. The answer is in what we don’t see and until recently did not fully understand. More breakthroughs, Nobel prizes, and health options will come as a result of further research, but what we know so far makes a very compelling case for the gut being the center of health and wellness or sickness and disease.
An excellent place to get a glimpse of the gut’s importance is at the microscopic level. Here we can see what is happening on the inside.
IT’S A FACT
We all have two primary phyla of microbes in our gut: Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes. Excessive Firmicutes (F) make us fat; Bacteroidetes (B) help us stay lean. Your body needs the proper F/B ratio!2
IT’S A FACT
“Microbial health is one of the factors that determines who survives potentially deadly viruses. The very young, whose microbiome is still developing, and the very old, who have fewer microbial species and less diversity, tend to be the most vulnerable.”3
Amazingly, your gut holds one hundred trillion microbes (bacteria), and each one has its own DNA.4 These account for 90 percent of the total number of cells in your body!5 Yes, that means only 10 percent of your cells are human.
Most of these microbes are either harmless or beneficial for you. They provide an invaluable service, which includes breaking down indigestible food, supplying your gut with energy, making vitamins, breaking down toxins and medications, and training your immune system to defend itself.6
The trillions of microbes living in your gut comprise what is called a microbiome. If collected into a single jar, it would weigh up to five pounds and would consist primarily of these four phyla of bacteria: Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria, Firmicutes, and Bacteroidetes.7 The latter two make up more than 90 percent of our gut microbes.8
We all have these microorganisms living in our gut (especially in the large intestine or colon) in differing amounts. Only recently have we found that this ratio or balance of microbes in the gut is a sign of good health or disease.
A healthy gut has a certain ratio, while an unhealthy gut has a different ratio. For example, thinner, healthier people usually have a gut ratio that is high in Bacteroidetes and low in Firmicutes, while it’s the exact opposite with obese, unhealthy people.9
The question then becomes whether having the right ratio would improve our health, help us lose weight, and reduce or even remove many of the symptoms that we suffer from. Yes, that does happen. The gut is indeed special, far more important and powerful than we have ever known.
Gut Problems Can Begin Early
When babies are born, they come down the birth canal and face-plant in their mothers’ healthy vaginal and gut bacteria on the way out. This is good because that brief moment and small amount of fluid are enough for the microscopic bacteria to start to grow in the baby’s tiny GI tract.
Then, as German doctor Giulia Enders points out, “Breastfeeding also promotes particular members of our gut flora—breast-milk-loving Bifidobacteria, for example. Colonizing the gut so early, these bacteria are instrumental in the development of later bodily functions, such as those of the immune system or the metabolic system. Children with insufficient Bifidobacteria in their gut in their first year have an increased risk of obesity in later life.”10
It is simply amazing how the normal and natural processes of birthing and breastfeeding are sufficient to jump-start the baby’s microbiome with all its complexities, immune system, neurotransmitters, metabolism, health, and so much more. Yes, it truly is!
You may be wondering about babies born via C-section who miss the brief bacterial bath with their mother. That is a very real concern. Researchers have found some startling results for babies born via C-section. Here are two quick examples: The average asthma rate in the US for children is 8.4 percent, but with C-section births, the rate is 9.5 percent. Average obesity rates for children are around 16 percent but over 19 percent with C-section births.11
These trends continue. C-section babies also have an increased risk of
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),12
- celiac disease,15 and
- type 1 diabetes.16
Unfortunately, there is an increasing global trend toward C-section births. Well over 50 percent of births are done via C-section in several countries, including Dominican Republic, Brazil, Egypt, Turkey, and Cyprus. C-sections account for greater than 40 percent of births in nations such as Chile, Iran, Mexico, and Romania and more than 30 percent in numerous European countries and the United States.17
IT’S A FACT
You need your gut bacteria because of all these things they do for you:
- Breaking down food so your body can absorb it18
- Making chemicals to curb inflammation19
- Strengthening your gut wall to protect you from harmful bacteria20
- Identifying which bacteria are bad and alerting the immune system21
- Helping immune cells develop22
- Helping to balance hormones23
Does it make a difference if a baby is born naturally or via C-section? Does the initial ingesting of good bacteria benefit the baby all that much? In the eye-opening book Gut Crisis, authors R. Keith and Samantha Wallace clearly state, “If our immune system is deprived of this early education, we are far more likely to develop a wide range of diseases.”24
Nobody signs up for a “wide range of diseases,” but as a medical doctor, I wonder why anyone would risk it. Of course, there are times when a C-section birth is needed for the mother’s or baby’s well-being, but afterward, things can be done to strengthen and grow the baby’s microbiome, with breastfeeding being the optimum choice.
Going into adulthood, a lot of us started at a disadvantage. Through no fault of our own, our gut balance—the ratio of good to bad bacteria—was off. And our bodies paid a price for it that we are only now understanding.
From our first breath, the gut plays a vital role in every single aspect of our lives. Be it our brains, metabolism, immunity, skin, or feelings, it’s all affected by the gut. And if that’s not enough, even our DNA can be altered by the state of our gut!25
Thankfully our overall health is not based solely on how we were born. It does play a part, but it is not the end of the story. How we started out matters a great deal, but how we eat and live from today forward is much more important.
The point is, your gut plays a primary role in your current and future health. Treat it well, make it healthy, and you will reap the many benefits.
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