Everything you eat passes through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the tube-like structure of your digestive system The GI tract is home to millions of microbes including bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses which are known as the microbiome. The microbiome is responsible for a number of important internal functions including synthesizing vitamins B 12 and K and some amino acids. Having the right balance of gut bacteria influences weight, digestion, skin health, and may reduce risk of certain diseases. Dysbiosis, a disturbance in the balance of gut microbes, is caused by infection, poor diet, and prolonged use of antimicrobial medications. When dysbiosis occurs in the body, you become more susceptible to obesity and other diseases not limited to the GI tract: cardiovascular, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune, food allergy and Alzheimer disease.
Gut microbes protect the body against potentially toxic food compounds, and act as immune system modulators. In fact, 70-80% of all immune cells are within our gut, making it the largest immune organ. Additionally, about 90% of serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate sleep and balance moods, is produced in the gut. The gut’s microbiome and nerve cells can directly affect our mood and brain chemistry and are the basis for the emerging science of Nutritional Psychiatry.
Genetics and environment also play a role in the development of a healthy microbiome. During infancy, the microbiome is determined by maternal– offspring exchanges of microbes during the natural birthing process and breast feeding. Practices such as Cesarean section and formula feeding have been linked to an increased risk of metabolic and immune related diseases. Lifestyle factors such as diets high in processed foods, animal fats, lack of exercise and chronic stress lead to a depleted microbiome. Studies have shown that high dietary fat and high fructose disturb the GI barrier, which can lead to fatty liver disease and inflammation. The good news is that you can improve your microbiome with an integrative nutrition approach.
The 5-R gut protocol, developed by the Institute for Functional Medicine, helps alleviate symptoms of digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. It also helps with symptoms related to gut-health such as acne, anxiety, autoimmune conditions, joint & muscle pain, migraines and more. The 5-R acronym stands for remove, replace, repopulate, repair and rebalance. So, what’s involved? The first step is to remove any type of gut irritant including unnecessary medications, alcohol, caffeine, processed food, food additives, or food allergens. The second step is to replace elements that are key to digestion such as digestive enzymes or hydrochloric acid and nutrients, if deficient. Next, it’s time to repopulate your gut garden with prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates and fiber that feed your microbiome. The highest amounts of prebiotics are found in raw garlic, onions, leeks, bananas, seaweed, dandelion greens and asparagus. It is recommended to consume at least 5 grams of prebiotic fiber per day.
Probiotics, are foods or supplements that contain live microorganisms intended to maintain or improve the microbiome. Probiotic rich foods include yogurt, kefir, fresh sauerkraut, tempeh, miso and kimchi. Dozens of different probiotic bacteria offer health benefits. The goal of the next phase is to repair intestinal cells and mucosa in an effort to reduce inflammation and restore health to the microbiome. Consuming nutritious food high in certain vitamins and zinc, bone broth and supplements such as L-glutamine, collagen, aloe vera, marshmallow or slippery elm may assist in gut repair. Finally, the last stage of the model is re-balance. During this phase, focus is on the management of stress, exercise, improved sleep and relationships.
The gut microbiome plays a very important role in your health by modulating your immune system. A disturbance in the balance of gut microbes is caused by infection, poor diet, and prolonged use of antimicrobial medications. Removing or reducing these contributing factors is a first step to improving your gut health. If you are ready to heal your gut through nutrition, lifestyle and supplements, consider seeking the guidance of a Registered Dietitian – Nutritionist who practices in Integrative Nutrition.
Gina Barbetta MS, RD, CD-N is a Registered Dietitian – Nutritionist with over 25-years of experience. She is the owner of Nourish by Gina, LLC located at the Red Barn in Durham – New Earth Holistic Therapies & Art Center. Gina uses an integrative, personalized approach to manage adult and pediatric nutrition issues. She integrates a variety of nutrition therapies including whole foods, therapeutic - grade supplements and mind body modalities into her practice. For further information call 203-206-3873. Most insurances accepted.