The Importance of the Gut

August 29, 2023
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In my seemingly never-ending quest for knowledge and anunderstanding of what true health is and how it can affect performance I was led straight to the center of the issue: the gut. To put it mildly, your gut isone of the most important systems of organs in your body and its importancegoes well beyond simply digesting that quadruple-stack-wooly-mammoth burger andgargantu-fry you shoveled down at lunch.


Your gut is the heart of your immune system, responsiblefor sniffing out intruders (viruses, bad bacteria, parasites, and toxins) and setting your internal army of defenses loose to deal with the problem(s). Infact, seventy to eighty percent of your immune system is located in your gut.Another little-known fact is that almost all of your serotonin (theneurotransmitter/hormone responsible for keeping you happy and positive) isproduced in your gut. With the simple statement of those two facts it can be easierto see why when your gut health is compromised you’re more likely to becomesick and depressed, but it goes even further than that.


When your gut is damaged, the possibility arises that anyundigested foods, toxins or chemicals can pass through your gut and directlyinto your blood stream. This is the main reason behind the epidemic of foodallergies and low-level inflammation we’re seeing today. The broken-down foodparticles can mimic cells in your own body which confuses the immune systeminto attacking not only the invader cells, but also your body’s own cells thatmay bare a resemblance.


The resulting damage causes inflammation; Inflammation isactually a natural and healthy response to injury where the body heals thedamage using cholesterol (among other tissues), forming a scab. Under normalcircumstances this scab would be absorbed back into the body once the internalwound was healed, but with today’s prevalence of chronic damage andinflammation, over time the scabs build up in the arteries and can lead tocardiovascular (heart) disease, among other autoimmune diseases. The heart diseaseand inflammation (and accompanying cholesterol) were merely symptoms of theunderlying problem that rarely gets properly diagnosed: a damaged gut.


To make matters worse, most conventional fixes are simplyBand-Aid medications that mask the symptoms, but unleash yet more syntheticchemicals into the body, which since the underlying problem of a damaged(leaky) gut wasn’t addressed, pass into the blood stream and cause more harmthan good.

This is why the average prescription drug advertisementsays, “Take this drug to lower your cholesterol! Warning, may cause blindness,numbness, dizziness, vomiting, anal leakage, depression, suicide, and/ordeath.” The drug just masks the symptoms while either the disease worsensand/or some other ailment causes more symptoms for which more pills areprescribed. This is just one example of what many people today are unknowinglydoing to their bodies. Modern medicine can be fantastic in a life-threatening situation,but in general health I’m afraid it fails quite miserably.


So, if a damaged/compromised gut is a route cause formany of today’s chronic diseases, what causes it to be damaged in the firstplace? In today’s world there’s unfortunately no shortage of culprits.


As the industrial revolution led to massive improvementsin technology, one negative effect is what I’d like to call the chemicalrevolution.


We’re being bombarded with chemicals and foreignmaterials that our bodies determine to be toxins more now than at any time inour history as humans. There are chemicals being sprayed on our crops, on thecrops that our farm animals eat which then get passed to us as we consume theirmeat; antibiotics and hormones are administered to the animals we consume;there are chemicals and estrogen mimickers in our beauty products, the water wedrink, the clothes we wear; petroleum based chemicals and heavy metals are inthe air we breath and cleansers we use; and there’re plasticizers in thematerials we use to wrap and store our food.


It really is breathtaking when you understand what achemical assault our bodies are under on a daily basis in the modern era.


And having thrown that daunting list of chemical sourcesout there, let’s get a bit more of the bad news into the open: no matter howhealthy or naturally you live your life, you can’t escape the reach of thesechemicals. They’re too pervasive in our modern world and when they enteryour system they wreak havoc on your gut health.


Another cause for damage to the gut is the quantity andtypes of foods that you put in your body. When you continually eat, your bodyhas a hard time digesting everything in your gut and so some of the food sitsthere and ferments. This fermented food feeds detrimental bacteria in your gutand causes damage. Also, consuming a lot of sugars and simple carbs feeds theproblem as harmful bacteria and candida prosper in a sugary/acidic environment.


Luckily there’s good news: your body is incrediblyresilient and has the ability to detoxify most of these chemicals from yoursystem and heal itself from the inside if you understand how.


There are a few methods for repairing your gut that canbe done in isolation or as part of a whole routine depending on your body, yourlifestyle and how much you want to dive face first into detoxification.


First is the fast. This is probably the least expensiveway to repair your gut and improve your health and it’s incredibly simple todo: don’t eat. Ok, ok, of course it is more complex than that as there are manyfactors that can determine the length of your fast and the type of fast thatmay benefit you. First let’s focus on length.


A fast is simply described as any prolonged period oftime without food. The minimum length of time is usually 14-16 hours after yourlast meal (this number includes digestion time which can last from 5-8 hours)to be considered a fast. The maximum time is 20-24 hours for a fast thatdoesn’t begin to turn your body to a catabolic state where your body breaksdown your muscles for fuel. Of course, it is feasible to fast for longer if youare willing to accept the possible consequences of depleted energy and musclewasting; the flip side would be that you are theoretically giving more benefitto your gut and digestive tract from an extended fast, but it is a bit extremeespecially if you have a life that you’d like to live. A healthy fast wouldlast from the time you wake to your evening meal (dinner).


Next, there are a couple different types of fasts.There’s the water fast, which means you consume nothing but water during yourfast (thank you captain obvious). This has its place, but there’s some evidencethat more benefit comes from an intake of small amounts of low glycemic,antioxidant-rich food (like some berries or vegetable juice).


So that leads us to the juice fast, which is by far themost popular form. This is probably the most beneficial as you ingest somenutrients and antioxidants to help flush away any mobilized toxins in yourbody. The only trick is that you don’t want to have too much and cause aninsulin response, which would negate some of the benefits of your fast. Theidea is to give your digestive system a break so it can heal itself and recycleold cells; you’re simply giving it some nutrients to aid the process.


Fasts are a great idea to incorporate into your life on aregular basis, be it weekly, monthly, or even daily. I’ll have a follow uparticle where I go a bit deeper into fasting in the not too distant future.


Besides fasting, or as a compliment, a great idea is toadd probiotics to your diet. Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria that colonizeyour gut (intestines to be specific) and perform many positive functions: theyhelp to form a tight barrier, keeping food from entering your blood stream;they help digest food and metabolize nutrients from the food you eat,especially B vitamins; they help to regulate your immune system; and they helpdetoxify your gut. You can increase your intake of probiotics by purchasingsupplements from a health food store, by keeping your intake of sugars andsimple/starchy carbohydrates to a minimum (the acidity kills the healthybacteria and promotes detrimental bacterial growth), and by consuming fermentedfoods such as kefir, kombucha, plain organic yogurts, and organic raw cheeses.Adding probiotics to your daily life will help promote and maintain a healthybalance inside your gut.


Another lesser know aid of detoxification is usinghealing clays. Our ancestors, as well as many holistic practitioners, know thevalue of healing clays, the most popular of which are Bentonite, DiatomaceousEarth, and Zeolite, but our modern world has all but forgotten about them.These are clays (volcanic ash) that when ingested attract toxins inside thebody while offering very little to nothing in the way of side effects. To putit in simple terms, they’re able to benefit the body because their natural negativecharge attracts materials with a positive charge, which low and behold mosttoxins and chemicals possess. It’s important to use food grade versions ofthese clays, but using them is as easy as mixing a little clay in water anddrinking the mixture. They can also be quite good at alleviating food poisoningsymptoms for the same reasons they’re effective at cleaning the digestivetract.


Implementing at least one, but preferably all three ofthese techniques, will greatly improve your health, but it’s not the wholestory. There is a lifestyle to follow as well and it starts with being moreeducated about the products you’re consuming. Of course it all begins withbeing more aware of what you’re putting directly into your stomach: eatingorganic produce that isn’t sprayed with chemicals; eating meat that’s raisedwithout hormones and antibiotics and fed a chemical free (preferably free-range)diet; being aware of the beverages you’re consuming, steering clear ofartificial sweeteners and simple sugars; and reducing your simple carbohydrateintake as the acidity of excess sugar in the gut kills the healthy bacteria andpromotes growth of bad bacteria.


It also makes a difference to know the ingredients ofyour beauty products, soaps and cleansers to avoid petroleum products,synthetic chemicals and hormone mimickers; filtering your showerhead to cutdown on the amount of chlorine to which you expose you body can be beneficial;filtering the air in your house can help as well. These are just a few of themany ways you can help to cut down your exposure to chemicals.


It definitely takes vigilance to keep your body free froman over burden of toxins and performing at its peak, but with a little bit oftime, effort and knowledge you can greatly improve not only your own health,but the health of the ones you love. The power is and always has been yours.