In functional medicine, we believe that every system in the body is connected. Your digestive and hormonal systems, for example, aren't independent of one another. At the center of it all is a properly functioning digestive system.
When your gut is unhealthy, it can cause more than just stomach pain, gas, bloating, or diarrhea. Because 60-80% of our immune system is located in our gut, gut imbalances have been linked to hormonal imbalances, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, eczema, rosacea, and other chronic health problems.
I believe the gut is the gateway to health, and the first step I take with all of my patients regardless of their diagnosis is to heal the gut. I use a system called The 4R Program, which is a simple approach to repairing your gut and restoring your body’s balance.
10 Signs You Have an Unhealthy Gut
1. Digestive issues like bloating, gas, diarrhea
2. Food allergies or sensitivities
5. Mood swings, irritability
6. Skin problems like eczema, rosacea
8. Autoimmune disease
9. Frequent Infections
10. Poor memory and concentration, ADD or ADHD
The 4 R Program
Remove the bad. The goal is to get rid of things that negatively affect the environment of the gut, such as inflammatory foods, infections, and irritants like alcohol, caffeine, or drugs.
Inflammatory foods, such as gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs, and sugar, can lead to food sensitivities. I recommend an elimination diet as the starting point to identify which foods are problematic for you, in which you remove the foods for two weeks or more and then add them back in, one at a time, taking note of your body’s response.
Infections can be from parasites, yeast, or bacteria. A comprehensive stool analysis is key to determining the levels of good bacteria as well as any infections that may be present. Removing the infections may require treatment with herbs, anti-parasite medication, antifungal medication, antifungal supplements, or even antibiotics.
Replace the good. Add back in the essential ingredients for proper digestion and absorption that may have been depleted by diet, drugs (such as antacid medications), diseases or aging. This includes digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid, and bile acids that are required for proper digestion.
Restoring beneficial bacteria to reestablish a healthy balance of good bacteria is critical. This may be accomplished by taking a probiotic supplement that contains beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacillus species. I recommend anywhere from 25 -100 billion units a day. Also, taking a prebiotic (food for the good bacteria) supplement or consuming foods high in soluble fiber is important.
Providing the nutrients necessary to help the gut to repair itself is essential. One of my favorite supplements is L-glutamine, an amino acid that helps to rejuvenate the gut wall lining. Other key nutrients include zinc, omega-3 fish oils, vitamin A, C, and E, as well as herbs such as slippery elm and aloe vera.
No matter what your health issue is, the 4R program is sure to help you and your gut heal! I have witnessed dramatic reversal of chronic and inflammatory illnesses in a very short period of time by utilizing this simple approach.