Why Gut Knowledge Needs to be Common Knowledge
Gut. Intestines. Fungal overgrowth. Bloating. Gas. Inflammation. Leaky Gut. Bacteria. Intestinal permeability.
Phew, ok, got those BEAUTIFUL terms out of the way. This is probably one of the least attractive topics to talk about, but one that is hella important. As a holistic registered dietitian to be, I'm always looking for the root cause of an issue. For example, I want to know why I'm getting a headache (am I dehydrated? Stressed? Or, well, just trying to recover from too many vodka sodas) rather than popping an Advil to simply drown out what my body is trying to tell me.
After signs from my own body, from clients' stories, or simply from reading, I noticed a prominent trend where the gut was the root of most problems.
Allergies, mood swings, sleep disturbances, weight issues, bloating, skin problems, headaches, autoimmune diseases, nutritional deficiencies (and so many more), are all things that can be traced to your gut.
I can see some of you guys looking at your screens like, is this girl cray? We all know the gut has one function, and it isn't something we need to go into detail about here...
Even though it may be crazy to say something like acne can be traced back to the gut, I want to delve into a couple topics to help explain this point that I find super interesting. Yes I'm a nerd with this stuff, but there's super cool information related to the gut like how about 80% of our immune system lies in and around our gut.
1. Leaky Gut
This sounds like one of those weird things that we're so blessed with getting in our mid 60s as things start to break down, right? Well, even though it's probably not something you want to shout from the rooftops, Dr. Josh Axe states 80% of the population has leaky gut to a degree.
So what is it? When we eat lots of foods like refined sugar or flour, gluten, cow's milk, and genetically modified foods, the lining of our intestines actually gets damaged. Pieces of food and other things from the gut can pass through the intestinal wall, enter the blood stream, and travel to the rest of the body.
Your body is no dummie, and if things are floating around in your blood stream it doesn't recognize, it will treat it like a pathogen. A.k.a it will think it's under attack and turn on the inflammatory response to protect itself.
Every time we bring that food back into the body, we get inflammation, and if this is happening all the time, we get chronic inflammation, which is the cause of almost all diseases and dysfunctions.
We obviously want to avoid this beautifully sounding issue, and thankfully there are ways to do so. I may be biased since I'm studying this stuff, but nutrition is number 1. Let's eat more real foods and choose ones that nourish our bodies more often than not. We also should listen to our bodies. Avocados, other than stopping millennials from buying homes, are chock full of nutrients. But one could still have a food intolerance to them. Listen to your body and the signs it gives you to avoid foods that make you feel this way. Which brings me to....
2. Food Intolerances
Again, I totally understand it sounds crazy your gut can affect your allergies and allergies to food, but hear me out. A client I was working with said he had TERRIBLE seasonal allergies. It was just something that always happened to him at the same time every year and something he dealt with. He hated them, he didn't feel himself at this time in the year, and they would most always lead to sinus infections.
He began eating a more plant-based diet, working out more often, and finding new ways to cope with stress like reading, and simple breathing activities. He said he had no idea why, but for the first time in years he didn't need the allergy medication he's been on. Amazing right? Sure, this could have been a rare season with weird ass pollen that didn't make his face puff up like a balloon, but there's also a better chance his healthy lifestyle had something to do with it.
So anyway, all this inflammation caused by leaky gut can manifest in different ways like achy joints, skin problems, brain fog, autoimmune diseases, and in this case, food allergies/intolerances.
For example, say I use heavy creamer in my coffee every morning, eat loads of cheese after work, and end my night with a big bowl of ice-cream, I'd say that's a lot of dairy in a given day. That may cause some foods to leak out of the gut to the rest of the body. Every time I eat or drink dairy from then on, my inflammatory response will go off, which can become a food allergy or food intolerance.
The thing is, it's pretty damn clear we have a severe allergy when we're like, holy crap I can't breathe, where's my epi pen? It's more difficult to discover food intolerances. Elimination diets can make signs more recognizable when you introduce foods back into your diet making it easier to see if you have an intolerance, or you can utilize an at-home blood test.
3. My Experience with Pinner Test
Elimination diets are pretty freaking awesome, but also pretty freaking difficult. I got to use a Pinner Test, which is an at-home blood test that identifies food intolerances. When I talked about this on my instagram, I got a lot of comments saying how they don't work.
In the past, there were definitely inaccurate tests, but Pinner Test uses microarray biotechnology (fancy, right?) that measures IgG antibody levels (IgG is an intolerance, IgE is an allergy) and has been shown to be very accurate looking for allergies in 200 proteins. Most of us don't think we can have an allergy to kale, zucchini, or sweet potatoes, but it's totally possible.
I took my test, sent it in the mail, and got my results a little over a week later. I got a whopping ZERO food intolerances on my results.
For some reason I was disappointed because I thought it would be cool to avoid a food and see if I could increase my overall ~life quality~. Then for a hot minute I was like YES! I can eat all the gluten, dairy, and those crappier vegetable oils I have sitting in the back of my pantry for years since I don't have an intolerance. That's clearly not the case either. Just because you don't have a food intolerance, doesn't mean some foods aren't still inflammatory.
Another thing I think is pretty interesting is how our mood and stress level can affect our guts and how we digest food. I can still have an inflammatory response even though I don't have a "food intolerance."
4. But now We're Stressed out
(Queue Twenty One Pilots) There's no denying that people in this day and age are stressed TF out. With an increase in technology, higher expectations to do more, and how our culture has changed over the years, we're not only expected to do a lot, we're sometimes expected to do everything.
So I just want to start off by saying you're not alone if you're stressed out. That seems to be something people have difficulty admitting, and want to attribute issues to anything but their stress, but here's how it can even affect how you digest foods and your body as a whole.
Our body works in that "rest and digest" or "fight or flight" mode. When we're stressed from work, deadlines, traffic and relationships, our bodies go all ancestral on us and react the same way as if we're getting chased by a lion. When you're getting chased by a lion, there's no way in hell you're using any energy to digest the Chipotle you had for lunch, so that totally shuts off.
When we're stressed, digestion is one of the last in line of importance. We might not digest food properly, which would cause it to sit in the gut, ferment and cause bloating (you know, all that good stuff). If food isn't being digested, we also won't absorb all the vitamins and minerals from these foods. This is why I like to say you are what you absorb, not you are what you eat (that phrase hasn't caught on to make cute little office posters though lol).
Also, it's said 90% of serotonin is produced in the digestive tract. Dopamine, norepinephrine, melatonin, and over 20 more are also said to originate there.
So when people talk about working on stress levels, as well as what food we're putting into our bodies to cope with stress and balance the body, they're not trying to get all earthy crunchy on you, but this is what they're talking about. Sleep disorders, stress disorders, and anxiety issues can be affected by what's goin' on with your gut.
The Power of the Gut is Not a Joke
Drake reference aside, this stuff is the real deal. I think gut health is SO interesting, and I swear I learn something new about it every week. This post is only the tip of the iceberg to get you more acquainted with this kind of stuff in a less scientific way. Keep researching it, read books about it, listen to podcasts, because this stuff is the root of so many issues. I hope you found this interesting, and if you have a question or suggestion I'm all ears :) Thanks for stopping by!!