Healthy Gut, Healthy Life

He was constantly scratching. On his arms, legs, and back, eczema ravaged my then 9-year-old son’s skin. For years, we’d tried creams, rubs, and medicines. Then, things progressed – he couldn’t even sit up and focus in class for an hour. Extreme fatigue set in. After spending hundreds of dollars in tests, doctor visits, and treatments, a friend recommended we see a homeopathic doctor to find out the source of his issues. We finally got our answer. My son was suffering from “leaky gut” and his gut health was out of whack.

Fast forward three years later – he’s full of energy, able to focus in class, and eczema is well under control. Medical research proclaims that having a healthy gut can be linked to a strong immune system and staving off other diseases and sicknesses. But what is “leaky gut” and what does it mean to restore a healthy balance?

Healthywomen.org defines leaky gut as “a condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged, causing undigested food particles, toxic waste products, and bacteria to ‘leak’ through the intestines and flood the bloodstream.”

When those foreign objects come in contact with the bloodstream, it triggers an autoimmune response in the body. Inflammation, allergic reactions, migraines, eczema, food allergies, chronic fatigue and rheumatoid arthritis can result, along with other symptoms. Your immune system is unable to fight sickness and disease as effectively. In addition, your body is not producing enzymes needed for digestion, which hinders your ability to absorb proper nutrients. Your gut is affecting your overall health.

In fact, the gut has been called your second brain. The reason is because your enteric nervous system (ENS), which consists of two layers of more than 100 million nerve cells that line your gastrointestinal tract, is tasked with controlling digestion. That includes swallowing, the release of enzymes that break down food, and blood flow that assist with nutrient absorption and waste elimination. Irritation in the gastrointestinal system can send messages to the central nervous system, igniting mood changes. That’s a lot of body control for such a seemingly little area in the body.

In all fairness, some of the symptoms attributed to leaky gut can also be caused by other ailments. It’s important to seek out appropriate medical attention for problems you’re experiencing. It may be necessary to have other medical testing done to rule out other illnesses. In our situation, I’d taken my son to see several doctors, and he’d been sufficiently poked and prodded. I was confident that the answers we were given were not THE answer we needed. When he finally was given very specific testing, we were able to pinpoint the cause of his issues. We learned which foods were adversely affecting his gut health.

Maybe you’ve learned that gluten, dairy, soy, and nuts are not your dietary friends. In fact, they’ve been wreaking serious havoc on your digestive system. What do you do next?

The first step is to create a healthy diet plan. Make sure it is customized for you. We discovered that gluten was a major culprit in my son’s leaky gut, along with cow’s milk. Healthy foods like avocadoes, navy beans, and certain types of nuts were out for him, because of allergic reactions. We had to create a diet that made sense and was attainable for him at his age. Set realistic parameters and do all you can to ensure that you follow your directives.

Keep in mind that when you remove things from your diet, you are creating a bit of a vacuum. You want to replace those items, especially if they were providing needed vitamins and minerals, with healthy alternatives. There are all types of gluten-free breads, rolls, and even pizza dough. Dairy-free cheese and ice cream are easily accessible in grocery stores, and even egg-free and soy-free treats are available. Some restaurants now cater to these needs, offering allergen-free choices.

Along with adding problem-free food items, we also gave my son specific nutritional supplements to help heal his gut. Probiotics were a big part of that picture, helping to support the good bacteria in his gut. Webmd.com notes that doctors often suggest probiotics to help with digestive problems. Exercise also factors in to helping with leaky gut. Two studies from the University of Illinois, published in 2017, showed that after exercising consistently for only six weeks, there began to be a positive effect on gut health.

Another major component on the road to recovery was finding the right professional to support our journey to gut wellness. There are many doctors that practice integrative medicine and combine holistic and medical solutions to restore your optimal health.

Whatever course of action you decide to take, do your research, make informed decisions, and find a provider that supports your methods of obtaining optimal health. Keep in mind that eradicating leaky gut isn’t a one-time fix. That’s why you want to strike a balance that is attainable, healthy and smart. Seek out allergen-free foods and tasteful alternatives. Instead of looking at it as what you’re missing out on, view it through the lens of creating a healthier, happier, you. Your gut, your body, and your health will thank you for it!

October 8, 2019

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