Intestinal health is extremely important to overall wellbeing. It’s often the root cause of many health issues and goes so much deeper than just how well food is being digested. The gut is largely responsible for critical bodily functions such as the immune system, absorbency of vitamins and minerals, hormone regulations, ability to eliminate toxins and mental health.
The gut is a very delicate ecosystem, with more flora (healthy bacteria) contained within it than all of the other cells in the body combined. When the ecosystem is healthy and flourishing, the gut has the proper balance of stomach acids and bacteria, which allows the body to break down food for nourishment and cell repair.
Issues such as headaches, mood issues, weight gain, menstrual cramps, fatigue, back pain, frequent colds, oestrogen dominance, and many more, are all that could be caused by having an unhappy gut.
It is not just food that can negatively impact the gut flora. Most people have taken antibiotics from a young age; antibiotic medication wipe out all pathogenic bacteria, as well as the good bacteria. Pesticides and herbicides kill good bacteria. Even being ‘over-hygienic’ with anti-bacterial lotions, soaps and household cleaning products can cause gut imbalances as our bodies need some exposure to dirt and germs to build a more robust immune system. Common signs of an unhealthy gut include mood swings, skin issues, anxiety, autoimmune disease, diabetes, frequent infection and digestive issues.
The entire digestive tract consists of 4 basic layers, one of which – the lamina propria – contains GALT (gut associated lymphoid tissue) which contains 70% of the body’s immune cells. The last section of the small intestine is called the ileum, and it contains aggregations of GALT called Peyer’s patches, which defends the body from any ingested pathogens.
What is a leaky gut?
Leaky Gut Syndrome, also known as intestinal permeability, is a condition whereby gaps in the intestinal wall start to loosen, and consequently harmful elements such as undigested food particles, proteins and bad bacteria leak into the bloodstream, having profound long-term effects overtime. The small intestines have small junctions that have the mighty role of absorbing the majority of nutrients, vitamins and minerals from food. If it is functioning optimally, only certain elements will enter through to the bloodstream, thereby blocking any harmful and toxic elements which are eventually excreted. But with a leaky gut, toxins enter the bloodstream which lead to inflammation and immune reactions.
Things to implement to improve gut health:
- Supplement with probiotics. Probiotics assists in replenishing the good bacteria.
- Eat more fibre for better elimination. Good bowel movement means elimination of toxins. Fresh fruits, veggies, chia seeds and legumes are good sources of fibre. Brands I would recommend include Biocare and Organic Olivia.
- Drink liquorice root tea. This sweet and delicious herb helps balance cortisol levels, soothes the digestive tract and improves stomach acid production.
- Eat fermented foods. The good bacteria in fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, organic yogurt and kimchi help to keep microbiome in good condition.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day helps to keep materials moving in the digestive system, supporting nutrient absorption and elimination of toxins.
- Eat slowly and mindfully. The digestive process begins before we even put food in our mouth. The digestive system begins producing the necessary enzymes for the breaking down of food when the brain prepares to eat a meal. Saliva contains enzymes that breaks down starches, and it also contains IgA (an immunoglobulin – an essential component of immune function). Chewing signals the brain to activate the digestion process.
- Eat bitter foods. In the Indian culture, it is common to chew on fennel seeds after a meal because it is known to help with digestive issues like bloating and intestinal gas. Drinking teas that can contain ginger, fennel seeds or peppermint before a meal stimulates the digestive process, resulting in improved nutrient absorption and regular, smoother elimination.
- Avoid overeating. It is not in alignment with the Prophetic example to eat unnecessarily ample amounts of food. ‘Material illnesses arise from an increase of matter which comes to a point of excess in the body whereby it harms its natural functions. They are caused by consuming more food before the previous meal has been properly digested; by eating in excess of the amount needed by the body; by consuming food which is of little nutritional value and is slow to digest; and by eating different foods which are complex in their composition. So when a person fills his belly with these foods and it becomes a habit, they cause him various diseases… The Prophet (saw) has made it known that he found sufficient such morsels as would keep his spine upright, with which his strength would not be lowered or weakened; but if one goes beyond that, then let him eat to fill a third of his belly, and leave another third for water and a third for breath. This is most useful for body and heart. For if the belly is filled with food, it does not have enough space for drink, and when drink is added to it, this leaves little space for breath. Thus it is afflicted by distress and fatigue, and it bears this like one carrying a heavy burden – and this state will lead to corruption of the heart; and the limbs become too lazy to perform the obligations, and instead they move swiftly in submission to desires brought about by fullness of the belly.’
Gut Matters book by Food Matters
Medicine of the Prophet, Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, p.13