Most people know that the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is responsible for food digestion.
However, many people are surprised to find out that over two-thirds of the immune system resides there. Having a highly functional immune system is dependent upon having a healthy gut, so any impairment in our digestive health means that our immune system is not as strong as it otherwise could be.
GI issues may underlie chronic health problems that seem unrelated to digestive health, including autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes, skin problems such as eczema and acne rosacea, and heart disease.
Moreover, few people realize that more than 90% of our body’s serotonin (an important neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, sleep, memory, temperature regulation, appetite, sex drive, and more) is produced in our gut.
How to tell if your gut is unhealthy?
- Feeling bloated after you eat
- Feeling heartburn or acid reflux
- Not moving bowels (comfortably) 1 – 3 times per day
- Any type of skin issues (acne, eczema, psoriasis)
- Experiencing low mood, depression, or anxiety
- Frequently catching colds
- Having a thyroid condition
- Having an autoimmune disease
As our GI tract plays such an integral role in maintaining the health of our bodies, how do we keep it healthy?
The 5R program
In Functional Medicine we use a program that goes by the simple acronym of the ‘5Rs’: remove, replace, reinoculate, repair, and rebalance. When applied to various chronic health issues, the 5R program can lead to dramatic improvement in symptoms, and sometimes even complete resolution.
Remove – Remove infections (fungal, parasitic, and/or bacterial), inflammatory foods and foods you are allergic or sensitive to (may require implementing an elimination diet), environmental pollutants, and excessive stress.
Replace – Replace all the necessary ingredients for proper digestion and absorption (digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid, and bile acids) that your body is lacking.
Reinoculate – Reinoculate with the beneficial bacteria that your gut needs to thrive. This entails introducing healthy probiotics in addition to prebiotics.
Repair – Repair the gut lining by providing nutrients and herbs that support its ability to regenerate and heal. This includes zinc, antioxidants (e.g. vitamins A, C, and E), fish oil, and the amino acid glutamine.
Rebalance – It is important to pay attention to lifestyle choices. Sleep, exercise, and stress can all affect the GI tract. Balancing those activities is important to an optimal digestive tract.
Feeling bloated, gassy, or having any kind of digestive discomfort is your body’s way of telling you there’s something deeper going on.
It’s important to get to the root of those symptoms as soon as possible. With the right mix of testing, supplements, and dietary and lifestyle changes, you can ensure your gut is happy and healthy.