In last week’s blog post I discussed some of the most common causes of gut problems. This included a poor diet, antibiotic use, chronic stress, pathogens, and toxins. I also discussed how having a compromised gut can lead to an autoimmune condition such as Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. As a result, for many people with an autoimmune thyroid condition, restoring the health of their gut can in turn restore their thyroid health. In this post I’m going to discuss some of the things you can do to have a healthy gut.
Strategy #1: It all starts with eating well. One of the most common reasons why so many people have gastrointestinal problems is due to eating poorly. Obviously you need to eat a diet consisting of whole foods, while avoiding the refined foods and sugars. Common allergens such as gluten and dairy should also be avoided while trying to restore your health. Having an intolerance to other foods is also possible, and many times it can be a challenge to find out which foods people are sensitive to. Although food intolerance testing is available, these panels are expensive and aren’t complete accurate. Many times an elimination diet is the best option, although it of course takes time going this route, and one can’t always rely on symptoms to determine if there are food intolerances. In addition to avoiding common food allergens and being cautious about other food sensitivities, some people need to avoid other foods. For example, if someone has small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or a different condition then they might need to be on a low FODMAPS diet. Some people have problems with oxalates and/or salicylates and therefore need to eat foods which are low in these.
Some people can benefit from following a protocol similar to the GAPS diet, which can be an effective diet, although it is very strict. I usually have my patients follow a Paleo type diet. If someone has a lot of food intolerances then this is when I will commonly recommend the GAPS diet.
While I’m sure many people reading this information have already made some wonderful changes to their eating habits, one thing to keep in mind is that if someone has been eating poorly for many years, then sometimes changing their diet alone won’t be sufficient to restore their gut health back to normal. For example, growing up my diet was horrible, as I ate refined foods and sugars on a daily basis, drank plenty of cow’s milk, soda, and fruit punch, and frequently ate fast food. I did this for about two decades of my life, and while I don’t recall having a lot of bloating or gas, I did have chronic constipation. And when I eventually changed my eating habits it took many months to experience positive changes in my bowel movements. But they still were far from normal, and it wasn’t until years later (after I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease) when I began making further changes to my daily eating habits that I was able to have daily bowel movements.
Strategy #2: Do everything you can to avoid taking antibiotics and NSAIDS. Although there are other prescription drugs which can have a negative impact on your gut heath, probably the two worse drugs to take with regards to gut health are antibiotics and NSAIDS. I realize that sometimes taking antibiotics are necessary, but many people take antibiotics when they don’t truly need to. If someone absolutely needs to take antibiotics then they want to take a good quality probiotic supplement during this time. It also is a good idea to eat plenty of fermented foods. Then once they are done taking the antibiotic they will want to continue taking the probiotic supplement at least for a few months, and of course continue to eat fermented foods. For more information on probiotics I recommend reading my article entitled “Can Taking Probiotics Improve Thyroid Health?“.
And of course NSAIDS should be avoided whenever possible. Once again, I realize that there might be times when someone needs to take this medication. But they should be taken on a short term basis due to the severe side effects associated with this prescription drug. If at all possible someone should try to substitute antibiotics and NSAIDS with natural antimicrobials and natural anti-inflammatory foods and supplements. I’ll talk more about natural antimicrobials shortly when I discuss pathogens. As for natural anti-inflammatory foods and supplements, eating plenty of fresh vegetables, drinking green tea, and consuming omega-3 fatty acids, turmeric, ginger, and resveratrol can help greatly with the inflammation. Vitamin D can also play a very important role in inflammation, and many people are deficient in vitamin D.
Strategy #3: Become an expert in managing stress. In last week’s blog post I discussed how chronic stress can affect the gastrointestinal tract. I talked about how stress can cause problems with gastrointestinal motility, have a negative effect on the regenerative capacity of the GI mucosa, and can lead to a leaky gut. So even if you are eating an almost perfect diet, if you are stressed out all of the time then this can affect the health of the gut.
In this day and age it’s a challenge to effectively manage stress. But doing so is necessary for anyone who is looking to restore their health by following a natural treatment protocol. Part of the problem is that many people don’t block out any time for stress handling. It’s a catch-22 situation, as many people are so busy with their job and/or taking care of their family that it’s a challenge to find the time to work on improving their stress handling skills. But doing so is necessary in order to achieve optimal health.
I’m in such a situation, as between consulting with patients, responding to emails, writing articles and blog posts, and trying to spend time with my family I don’t have much time to work on my stress handling skills. But I block out at least 10 to 15 minutes each day to do this, and most people can do this too. Even if you start out with five minutes per day this is better than nothing. And then once you’re in the routine of managing your stress on a daily basis you can gradually increase the amount of time dedicated to this.
As for what you can specifically do to manage your stress, I’ll refer you to an article I previously wrote entitled “7 Stress Management Tips To Help Restore Your Thyroid Health“. Although three of the tips involve 1) being aware of the impact stress has on your health, 2) eating a healthy diet, and 3) exercising regularly, in addition to doing these, just about everyone should incorporate at least one additional stress management technique into their daily routine. I personally do biofeedback, but others might do some deep breathing and meditation on their own, while other people might prefer to do yoga, tai chi, or something else on a daily basis to manage their stress. But it is important to do this every day, even if it is only 10 to 15 minutes per day. Obviously it would be better to block out 15 to 30 minutes a couple of times per day, but even spending 10 minutes per day on stress management will be beneficial.
Strategy #4: Cautiously eradicate pathogens. Since pathogens can potentially trigger an autoimmune response, then it would make sense to eradicate any pathogens which are present, right? Well, if someone with an autoimmune thyroid condition has a pathogen such as H. Pylori present then I agree it needs to be eradicated. However, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. First of all, antibiotics are frequently used to eradicate pathogens. And as I mentioned earlier, one should try to avoid taking antibiotics whenever possible. In most cases antibiotics should be reserved for acute infections (although not everyone who has an acute infection needs to take an antibiotic).
However, if someone has a chronic gastrointestinal infection, while antibiotics might help, they will also disrupt the gut flora. And so whenever possible I will first try to use natural antimicrobials such as garlic, turmeric, oregano oil, and/or berberine. Be aware that some natural antimicrobials can cause problems with the good bacteria of the gut. For example, taking high doses of citrus seed extract can affect both good bacteria and bad bacteria. I mentioned garlic and turmeric before, which are relatively safe. But I also mentioned oregano oil and berberine, and while I commonly use these as antimicrobials, taking high doses of these for a prolonged period of time might have a negative effect on the gut flora. In addition, certain herbs can be toxic if taken for too long, including wormwood, which is commonly recommended by natural healthcare professionals (including myself) to help with parasites.
While taking natural antimicrobials can be beneficial, probably the most important thing you can do is to improve the overall health of your immune system. And while one can take immune modulating supplements and herbs on a short term basis to help with this, the best way to improve the health of your immune system is by following all of the other advice I have given in this post. In other words, eating well, managing your stress, and minimizing your exposure to toxins will do wonders in keeping your immune system healthy and strong. Getting sufficient sleep is also very important.
Strategy #5. Detoxify your body on a frequent basis. There are so many different toxins we’re exposed to on a daily basis, and while you can do things to help minimize your exposure to toxins, you also need to do things to help detoxify toxins from your body. Eating mostly organic food, using natural household products, and doing other things to minimize your exposure to toxins can help. Just keep in mind that organic food isn’t completely toxin free, and of course many homes are toxic as well. And even if you take measures to minimize the toxins in your home, simply stepping outside of your house and breathing the “fresh” air will expose you to numerous toxins. As a result, you always need to work on eliminating toxins from your body.
I have written a separate blog post entitled “3 Ways People With Thyroid and Autoimmune Thyroid Conditions Can Detoxify Their Body“. In this post I spoke about how you can detoxify your liver through eating certain foods such as cruciferous vegetables, garlic, and cilantro. You can also take certain supplements and herbs if necessary such as chlorella, milk thistle, and N-acetylcysteine. I also discussed colon cleansing and sauna therapy.
However, if someone has a condition such as leaky gut syndrome then they want to be cautious when detoxifying their body. While doing things to increase glutathione levels and eliminate toxins is usually fine, I would refrain from using more aggressive detoxification methods such as colon hydrotherapy. Keep in mind that I’m not opposed to colonics, as they can be a very effective method of eliminating toxins. But if someone has an increase in intestinal permeability then this should be addressed first.
Strategy #6. Implement gut repair strategies (if necessary). If someone has a condition such as leaky gut syndrome then eating well can help, but it also might be necessary do certain things to assist with the gut repair. L-glutamine is one of the most commonly used nutrients to help repair the gut, as it serves as fuel for the enterocytes. Certain probiotics can also help with gut repair, such as Saccharomyces Boulardii. You can also heal the gut by eating certain foods such as bone broth.
Strategy #7: Don’t forget about the gallbladder. The gallbladder plays a big role in digestive health, as it stores bile, which is important with regards to the digestion of fats. Even though bile is stored in the gallbladder, it is actually produced by the liver. Some classic gallbladder symptoms include pain between the shoulder blades, although the person might also experience some discomfort on the upper right side of the belly. Sometimes the pain can become quite severe. Frequently there are digestive problems upon eating greasy foods, and sometimes even healthy fats. Hundreds of thousands of people have their gallbladder removed each year, and most of these could have been prevented if the person were to clean up their diet and receive support for the liver and gallbladder.
In summary, having gut problems can lead to many chronic health conditions, including autoimmune thyroid disorders such as Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. As a result, you want to do what is necessary to restore the health of the gut, such as eat well, manage your stress, try to avoid taking antibiotics and NSAIDS, be cautious when eradicating pathogens, detoxify your body on a frequent basis, implement gut repair strategies when necessary, and to optimize the health of your gallbladder. All of these factors can be important when it comes to restoring the health of your gut. Of course there are other factors I didn’t discuss in this post which can have an impact on gut health, and I will cover many of these factors in future articles and blog posts.