Over 18 years ago, I was pregnant with my first child and newly diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease. Prescribed 12 pills a day, I was informed that I would need these for the rest of my life. Almost a decade later, I was prescribed an immunosuppressant, drugs that come with many harsh side effects.
Determined to find another way to manage my ulcerative colitis, a disease affecting the large intestines, I began researching alternative treatments. I experimented with dietary and lifestyle changes, had the guidance of a health coach, and worked closely with a functional medicine doctor (physician who specialize in finding the root cause of diseases). Now, 10 years later, I no longer require any oral medication, including an immunosuppressant to manage my disease.
While I fully acknowledge that not everyone can, should, or would wish to manage their disease with less or no medication, it should be noted that even small changes to diet and lifestyle (under a skilled practitioner’s supervision) can result in improved health and quality of life. So how did I go from over 12 pills a day to zero?
The Gut Microbiome
On my journey toward an alternative approach to manage my disease, I learned all I could about the digestive system, which I’ll refer to as the “gut” to keep it simple. With that being said, there is nothing simple about the gut! Our gut, specifically our large intestines, is filled with bacteria that help digest our food and furthermore, help regulate our mood, immune system and metabolism. So it is no surprise that a lot can go wrong in the body when this complex network of healthy bacteria, known as the microbiome, becomes unbalanced.
Research has shown that this imbalance of the gut bacteria, implicated in ulcerative colitis, is also linked to many autoimmune diseases (Crohn’s disease, type 1 diabetes, lupus and multiple sclerosis, to name a few). Other conditions including chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, arthritis, acne, anxiety, depression and obesity have also been linked to changes in normal gut flora. Addressing the imbalance of my microbiome was a critical piece to my healing process.
Leaky Gut Syndrome
In addition to an imbalance of the healthy gut bacteria, damage to the intestinal lining, known as leaky gut syndrome, can also play a role in diseases. Marcelo Campos, MD, a contributor to the Harvard Medical School Health Blog, explained how leaky gut syndrome develops: “An unhealthy gut lining may have large cracks or holes, allowing partially digested food, toxins and bugs to penetrate the tissues beneath it. This may trigger inflammation and changes in the gut flora (normal bacteria) that could lead to problems within the digestive tract and beyond.”
In addition to addressing gut flora imbalances, I began addressing the factors that contribute to a leaky gut. Environmental factors that may lead to gut flora imbalance and leaky gut syndrome include:
- Use of antibiotics
- Excessive alcohol
- Excessive sugar and processed food
- Artificial sweeteners
- Excessive exposure to chemicals and toxins
- Pesticides sprayed on produce
- Excessive stress
Healing the Gut: Where to Start
As research continues to reveal more about the connection between an unhealthy gut and disease, you may be motivated to begin making some changes; however, getting started can be stressful. So, where should you begin? Speaking of stress—it may be the most appropriate place to start! Numerous studies have shown that psychological stress can significantly reduce beneficial bacteria, sometimes even more than any other factor.
In addition to minimizing stress, heal the gut by INCLUDING:
- Probiotics or probiotic-rich foods and prebiotics
- Anti-inflammatory foods
- Organic produce as much as possible
- 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise
- 6-8 glasses of purified water daily
- Heal the gut by AVOIDING:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Chemicals and toxins found in household and personal care products
- Food sensitivities and intolerances
- Excessive sugar and processed foods
The above list can seem overwhelming, so I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to take things slow! Start by choosing one thing (yes, one only) on the list above and experiment for about three-four weeks and see how you feel.
Small changes can make a big difference. Email me with your one small change; I’d love to hear how you are doing. Wishing you much healing wherever you may be on your health journey!
Please note: Never make any changes to your medications or health regime without discussing it with your medical practitioner first.