Gut health has grown by leaps and bonds over the past decade as concepts such as “leaky gut” and the microbiome gain mainstream acceptance. It wasn’t too long ago that “leaky gut”, aka intestinal permeability, was completely disavowed by mainstream medicine. People who talked about it were quacks, and now it’s probably the hottest area in immunological research. It seems almost weekly that a study comes out on gut health and it completely flips conventional wisdom on its head.
But with rapid growth comes therapies that probably aren’t all that effective. We get catch-all solutions like fiber, probiotics, glutamine, and digestive enzymes. While these therapies have some utility in certain situations, a lot of them fall in to the same trap that many therapies in conventional medicine suffer: They only manage symptoms. And under certain situation, they may set some people back because they’re inappropriate for their particular case.
My approach is to gut health is completely different. I’ve identified some fairly substantial endogenous mechanisms by digging through pharmaceutical research. I think a lot of people get bogged down in whether they’re feeding this or starving that, but the real question should be, “Is my gut working the way it should be?”
Commensal bacteria are commensal to us because they’ve evolved with us. The environment we create in our GI tract is perfect for them and not so perfect for pathogenic bacteria. As a result they perform many functions that keep us healthy such as:
- Immune regulation
- Nutrient digestion and absorption
- Micronutrient synthesis
- Maintain the intestinal barrier
- Regulate mood/anxiety via the vagus nerve
- And much more
My thought process is that you are not solely eating a diet that feeds “bad” bacteria, it’s that something is going on with your digestion that throws the GI environment off. In many of my blogs I use the analogy of mold in a basement. Drywall is the perfect “food” for mold and most basements have it all over the place. But you don’t see mold growing in every basement despite mold spores being everywhere. Other environmental conditions are at play such as:
- Air flow
If any one of these factors is off, the likelihood that a basement will grow mold drops. This is why people who get mold in their basement often use dehumidifiers to dry out the air. It’s also why people with central air in their basement don’t get mold despite plenty of mold spores and plenty of drywall. Food is simply one environmental factor of many.
I think there are a few substantial factors in the gut that regulate the environment, and few people cover these topics. These topics include:
- Enterohepatic circulation
- Bile flow/Bile acid pool
- Fat soluble vitamin status
- Cellular biotransformation
Not only are these factors important, they can be manipulated with diet and lifestyle management. We’ll eventually get to that.
Before I go on I have to lay down something important. If you have IBD/IBS, or SIBO, I am not implying that just playing around with these things can cure your problem. What I’m saying is that these factors are necessary for proper gut function and anyone looking to have healthy digestion needs to attend to these factors. My personal situation is that I like eating and drinking things that aren’t necessarily good for my gut, and I want to keep doing that while maintaining good digestion.
That doesn’t mean that pharmaceutical drugs aren’t part of the answer if you have a bowel disorder. Another good analogy is a garden. If you have a garden that’s growing weeds, you definitely need to pull them. But if you don’t want them to grow back you need to make sure that the environment you create doesn’t allow them to. The space I’m trying to enter is how to create that environment. It doesn’t mean you won’t have to weed too. If you are interested in exploring this analogy more, I cannot recommend the book The Hidden Half of Nature enough.
With that said, I hope you enjoy my blogs and learn something from each of them. I love reading and researching about this stuff, but writing it down and trying to explain it to others helps further my knowledge. I’ve also created a private facebook page you can check out here. I want to use that group as a hub to communicate with people who read my blogs.
You can ask question and I’ll ask for feedback about what I should write about and if I can improve my writing style. Just do me a favor, don’t ask me which supplements you should take. I’ll post which nutrients I think are important and which nutrients manipulate the mechanisms I write about, but telling you what to take steps over a line. In the future I hope to develop a general plan for gut health, but that’s a bit off. Thanks, and enjoy!