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Good Gut, Great Health

Written by Dr Miriam Mikicki, in Nov 2020

         “Good health starts in the gut” is a mantra that we practitioners in the functional and integrative medicine community often find ourselves repeating. While the topic is at present enjoying much deserved publicity, whether from an integrative practitioner or at your latest dinner party, we can see through many classical foods from cuisines all over the world that this concept is hardly new [1].

In this article, we will explore why good gut health is important, why a good diet is just the starting point to take a closer look at our overall health [2], including our immune system [3], and how a few easy-to-follow everyday tips can help you get the basics right.

Does your digestive system work to its full potential?

         I think its helpful to look at the gut and digestion as a connection of several organs and systems, starting from our mouth and saliva and all the way to the large intestine and elimination of what we have digested. Even simple things such as not chewing your food properly and eating under stress can be the start of poor digestion.

Once the food particles reach our stomach, we need stomach acid to further digest the foods and stimulate the production of enzymes so we can derive nutrients from our food, which can then be processed and absorbed through the lining of the intestines. To help out with the former, we have billions of friendly bacteria – the gut microbiome -  living in synergy with us in our intestines [4].

Nevertheless, many aspects of modern life can negatively affect this delicate process, which can lead us to numerous digestive problems. For starters, if we struggle to produce enough hydrochloric acid in our stomach (hypochloridia), our intestines will struggle to further break down the food. This leads to two detrimental knock-on effects: 1) not enough nutrients to help all our cells function optimally and 2) unprocessed waste clogging up our small intestine. Furthermore, if there is not enough stomach acid in the gut, we often can get bad types of bacteria in our gut, which then overcrowd and outnumber the good bacteria in our gut.

Gut-Body connections

         When particles of undigested food float about and get stuck in the pockets of the intestinal barrier, our body often attacks these food particles, leading to many allergic and autoimmune type reactions. This often causes damage to the lining of the gut and literally pulls apart the tight junctions of the intestinal wall, a concept called “leaky gut” [5]. Compounded over time, this can lead to the erosion of our intestinal barriers, literally causing bad bacteria and toxic particles to leak out into our blood stream. A growing body of contemporary research suggests this can be a source of many chronic inflammatory conditions, including autoimmune ones [5, 6].

         Unfortunately, the prolonged use of certain medications – such as PPIs/acid blockers – can also have undesired effects on the gut microbiome [7]. Furthermore, certain foods can affect the balance of the good vs. bad bacteria in our gut, leading to what we call ‘dysbiosis’.

How to have a happy gut 

         Thankfully, what’s broken can often be fixed. It is very important to look after your gut health due to the connections to all other systems of the body. I strongly advise to take help from a qualified professional to ensure one gets the right treatment. However, there are a few things that we can do to help us get the basics right. Firstly, l like to make sure that the stomach can dissolve the food that passes through it; cases of mild hypochlorydia can normally by remedied through supplementation with betaine HCl [9].

         Next, it’s time to help the gut microbiome. High-quality probiotics are a great place to start as they can help restore its balance [10,11]. These can easily be supplemented but why not consider a little challenge in the kitchen & incorporate some yummy, probiotic-rich fermented foods into your diet? [12] Being of Polish ancestry I have a notoriously weak spot for sauerkraut & sourdough bread but it’s a tough choice pitting it against Korean kimchi… 

         We must not forget about prebiotics - non-digestible food ingredients (such as fibre) that act as food for your microbiome  [13]. While also readily available as supplements, one can also find them through foods. Great examples include green papaya, garlic, leeks, onions or still somewhat green bananas [13].

         In addition to getting prebiotics and probiotics through the diet alone, I often recommend the Fermented Green Papaya Enzyme (Bio-Normalizer) as a great adjunct to gut health. It’s based on green papayas which are also a great source of pre- & probiotics and contain digestive enzymes – all very helpful for gut function [14]. As most times it is not practical to carry around jars of sauerkraut or kimchi, I find Fermented Green Papaya Enzyme (Bio-Normalizer) a great supplement that I can also travel with to optimize gut health!

 

It’s worth mentioning that if symptoms of a leaky gut are more pronounced, a periodic supplementation of glutamine can be helpful [14]. This amino acid is normally the most abundant in our bodies, playing key role in protecting the cells of the intestine. Prolonged periods of inflammation (for example caused by a leaky gut) can however lead to its depletion [15]. 

         Remember that our overall lifestyle & diet has the greatest impact on our gut – and by extension - on the rest of our health. Supplementation tends to work best if the other basics, like sleep and regular exercise, are in order and working with a professional will help you select those of clinical quality.

  

🌿Dr. Miriam Mikicki is a Medical Doctor & General Practitioner practicing functional & integrative medicine. She helps patients find the root causes of their health issues, serving them locally in London and internationally through telemedicine consultations from her practice, Mikicki Medical. Dr Mikicki is a proud member of the Institute for Functional Medicine.

 

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for information purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. Please consult your qualified healthcare professional to obtain advice suitable to your personal circumstances.

 

References

 

[1] Gogineni VK. Probiotics: history and evolution. J Anc Dis Prev Rem. 2013;01(02). [doi: 10.4172/2329-8731.1000107]

 

[2] The Institute for Functional Medicine. The Importance of Digestion & Nutrition in Chronic Disease. https://www.ifm.org/news-insights/importance-digestion-chronic-disease/. Accessed 01 November 2020.

 

[3] Thaiss CA, Zmora N, Levy M, Elinav E. The microbiome and innate immunity. Nature. 2016;535(7610):65-74. [PubMed:27383981] [doi:10.1038/nature18847]

 

[4] Shanahan F, van Sinderen D, O’Toole PW, Stanton C. Feeding the microbiota: transducer of nutrient signals for the host. Gut. 2017;66(9):1709-1717. [PubMed:28663354] [doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2017-313872]

 

[5] Camilleri M. Leaky gut: mechanisms, measurement and clinical implications in humans. Gut. 2019;68(8):1516-1526. Leaky Gut Mechanisms [PubMed:31076401] [doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2019-318427]

 

[6] Fasano A. All disease begins in the (Leaky) gut: role of zonulin-mediated gut permeability in the pathogenesis of some chronic inflammatory diseases. F1000Res. 2020;9. [PubMed:32051759] [doi:10.12688/f1000research.20510.1]

 

[7] Haastrup P, Paulsen MS, Begtrup LM, Hansen JM, Jarbøl DE. Strategies for discontinuation of proton pump inhibitors: a systematic review. Fam Pract. 2014;31(6):625-630. [PubMed:25192903] [doi:10.1093/fampra/cmu050]

 

[8] Wosinska L, Cotter PD, O’Sullivan O, Guinane C. The potential impact of probiotics on the gut microbiome of athletes. Nutrients. 2019;11(10). [PubMed:31546638] [doi: 10.3390/nu11102270]

 

[9] Yago MR, Frymoyer AR, Smelick GS, et al. Gastric reacidification with betaine HCl in healthy volunteers with rabeprazole-induced hypochlorhydria. Mol Pharm. 2013;10(11):4032-4037. [PubMed:23980906] [doi:10.1021/mp4003738]

 

[10] The Institute for Functional Medicine. Functional Approaches to Gastrointestinal Conditions. https://www.ifm.org/news-insights/functional-approaches-gastrointestinal-conditions/. Accessed 01 November 2020.

[11] Wieërs G, Belkhir L, Enaud R, et al. How probiotics affect the microbiota. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2019;9:454. [PubMed:32010640] [doi:10.3389/fcimb.2019.00454]

 

[12] Harvard Health Publishing. How to Get More Probiotics. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-get-more-probiotics. Accessed 01 November 2020.

 

[13] The Institute for Functional Medicine. Prebiotic Foods for Postbiotic Abundance. https://www.ifm.org/news-insights/prebiotic-foods-postbiotic-abundance/. Accessed 01 November 2020.

 

[14] Todorov SD, Leblanc JG, Franco BDGM. Evaluation of the probiotic potential and effect of encapsulation on survival for Lactobacillus plantarum ST16Pa isolated from papaya. World J Microbiol Biotechnol. 2012;28(3):973-984. [PubMed:22805818] [doi:10.1007/s11274-011-0895-z]

 

[15] Kim M-H, Kim H. The roles of glutamine in the intestine and its implication in intestinal diseases. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(5). [PubMed:28498331] [doi:10.3390/ijms18051051]