From food triggers to uncomfortable digestive symptoms, here are 5 steps you can take to work towards healing your gut.
I’m passionate about gut health. From a personal perspective, I’ve experienced first-hand the debilitating symptoms associated with a severe case of infectious gastroenteritis and the subsequent struggles with IBS. And as a result, you bet I’ve done a whole lot of work on healing my gut!
The digestive system is one of my favourite parts of the human body as it’s truly the basis for whole body health. It’s where we digest, absorb, and assimilate nutrients and it’s the major home of our immune system, protecting us from harmful pathogens, foreign particles and toxic substances entering our body. Our digestive tract is the primary barrier between us and the outside environment, and that my friends, is why gut health is so critical.
In a perfect world our gut would be happily metabolizing the food we eat, removing waste efficiently and fighting off illnesses effectively. And while many people go through most of their life without much complaint (#jealous), many aren’t experiencing the luxury of a robust digestive system and are instead experiencing food triggers, uncomfortable digestive symptoms, unusual bowel habits, and chronic inflammation.
Fortunately there are some steps we can take to mitigate these issues. And while it definitely involves patience, it’s absolutely possible to make improvements in your gut health. Each of the steps listed below were all things that I did when my digestion was an absolute disaster a few years ago, and some of them are still part of my life to this day.
5 Steps to Heal Your Gut
Healing your gut involves a few specific steps collectively known as the 5 R’s (remove, replace, reinoculate, repair and rebalance). Removing triggers, replacing your digestive system with factors that help it to function optimally, reinoculating your gut with the bacteria it needs to thrive, repairing tissues with specific types of healing nutraceuticals (supplements), and rebalancing the body with new lifestyle habits.
Before we dive in here, I want to point out that this process is best done alongside a qualified healthcare practitioner who has a thorough understanding of your unique situation.
This first step involves removing 3 main categories from your diet IF APPLICABLE.
*Please note that the removal of foods from your diet should be done carefully. This is a step that can lead to disordered eating behaviours if not done with proper guidance. The specific foods eliminated will depend on what’s contributing to your unique symptoms.
- pathogens (if present)
This step involves removing triggers in the form of offending foods (food sensitivities, intolerances, allergies), items that promote inflammation or gastric irritation such as alcohol, and removing any existing pathogenic infections such as bacterial overgrowths or candida. Antimicrobials such as black walnut, oregano oil, grapefruit seed extract, olive leaf extract, berberine, caprylic acid, and garlic can help eradicate these infections.
An elimination diet may be helpful for determining your unique intolerances, such as the low FODMAP diet. This is a period of about 4-6 weeks where common food triggers are avoided and then re-introduced to determine tolerance. Foods are never intended to be avoided indefinitely in this process, unless absolutely required (such as allergy).
Reminder: It’s best to work with a qualified healthcare practitioner for any kind of elimination diet or when undergoing antimicrobial therapy.
Step two is to replace the factors that are lacking or not functioning optimally in our digestive system so that we can restore the proper function of our digestive organs such as our stomach, liver, gallbladder, or pancreas.
This can be achieved via supplements and may include stomach acid support (hydrochloric acid, apple cider vinegar), digestive enzymes, bile salts and/or digestive bitters. These types of supplements are very useful for easing the burden on a poorly functioning gut, enhancing our ability to break down and extract nutrients from food, and reducing symptoms.
Everybody’s requirements are different. Again, speak to your healthcare practitioner if you have questions about taking these kinds of supplements.
Step three is to reinoculate! It’s a fancy word, but it simply means to reintroduce, and in this case, reintroduce friendly bacteria. If antimicrobial therapy (in step 1) was done, then this step would happen after.
Microbes play a critical role in what’s known as our microbiome and disruptions in this delicate bacterial balance from things like antibiotics, stress, food triggers, or a diet low in fibrous plant foods can lead to an array of symptoms and conditions (such as IBS).
Slowly increasing your consumption of prebiotic-rich foods (these are plant foods like vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes that stimulate the growth of our gut flora), probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and yogurt (coconut yogurt is my personal favourite!), as well as good quality probiotic supplementation is very important here.
The repair phase is where you really begin to put an emphasis on repairing the gut even further.
This is done through specific types of nutrients that have very therapeutic uses such as tissue-repairing glutamine (a favourite of mine), zinc, soothing deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) and other mucilaginous herbs, and anti-inflammatories such as turmeric and omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil. Your healthcare provider can help shed some light on which ones may be best suitable for you and your unique case.
The fifth step is to rebalance the body with supportive lifestyle habits, such as reducing stress and getting proper sleep. These are often overlooked when we think about healing because it may not always feel like they make a big difference, but indeed they do. Maintaining a gut-friendly way of eating is also important, including the points mentioned in #3: Reinoculate phase.
Meditation, deep breathing exercises, and adaptogenic herbs are all things that can support this rebalance phase.
It’s important to remember that healing takes time. There’s no magic formula to improving your health nor is there a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s also important to remember that many of the lifestyle changes we make to better ourselves should be part of our lives long-term to continue to support our body (and to prevent us from slipping back to where we were before).
Once again, if you have any concerns, always speak to your healthcare provider.
If you’re looking for guidance on how to improve and support your digestive health, my 4-week Digestive Wellness Program is a great place for you to start. This program was created out of my own experiences overcoming chronic IBS symptoms.
Questions? Got an experience to share? Leave it below in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.