Your gut is the foundation of your health overall; it is your first line of protection against the outside world and transforms food into essential compounds needed for life. With the help of your gut, your body extracts ingredients from food to make energy, to rebuild and repair, to make hormones and chemical messengers such as serotonin, to eliminate harmful toxins, power your immune system, make red blood cells and much, much more. Your gut is also home to trillions of bacteria that perform many vital health functions. In fact, so crucial are your gut bacteria, they are now considered almost to be an organ in their own right.
A well-working gut which contains a healthy balance of friendly bacteria sets the scene for optimal health overall. That’s why improving gut health is often the first port of call for a functional medicine practitioner.
BBC ‘Doctor in the House’ uses Functional Medicine
Have you seen Dr Rangan Chatterjee on the recent BBC TV series ‘Doctor in the House’? Dr Chatterjee is one of a growing group of medical doctors and CAM practitioners choosing to adopt a ‘functional medicine approach’ in their practice.
A functional medicine approach recognises that all bodily systems are interconnected and teaches practitioners to dig deep to find the root cause of a problem rather than just address surface symptoms.
Since an optimally working gut is the foundation of optimal health, a functional medicine practitioner will often look here first. Many people suffer from obvious symptoms of poor gut health such as bloating, heartburn, wind, cramping, diarrhoea or constipation, yet even seemingly unconnected symptoms such as low energy, joint pain, skin problems, hormone imbalances, headaches, mood disorders, autoimmune disease (and many more) can stem from the gut.
Taking a functional medicine approach to correcting gut imbalances can improve a wide range of symptoms, right at the root cause. Here’s an overview of how a functional medicine practitioner works to improve gut health.
Functional Medicine ‘5R Approach’ to fixing your gut
The functional medicine ‘5R Approach’ is a comprehensive, yet easy to use, way to fix your gut and improve your overall health. The 5R Approach works on improving five key areas of gut function that often need extra support. Each ‘R’ provides a solid foundation from which to work on the next. The ‘5R Approach’ has been shown to be highly effective at improving both gut symptoms, and wider health too, right at the root cause.
This is an important first step in the 5R approach.
- First, it’s important to remove any infectious organisms such as bacteria and parasites which may be residing in the gut and causing adverse symptoms. A course of broad spectrum herbal anti-microbials including garlic, oregano, grapefruit seed, berberine and caprylic acid is an effective way to do this.
- In addition, remove from the diet, any foods which you may be allergic or intolerant to. Common dietary triggers include wheat, gluten and dairy.
For the second step, it’s important to replace key digestive factors that are often low.
- The stomach produces hydrochloric acid (HCl), which helps to kill off any harmful bacteria still present in food and also starts the process of digestion by partially breaking down food in the stomach. Stomach production of HCl tends to decrease with age. A supplement containing betaine HCl helps to ensure this process is working effectively.
- In addition, gentle plant-based digestive enzymes can be used as a supplement before meals to support the vital digestive process.
A healthy, diverse population of friendly gut bacteria is vital for health.
It’s important therefore to re-inoculate your gut with plenty of friendly bacteria. This can be done by adding extra fibre (fresh fruits & vegetables) and fermented foods (kefir, sauerkraut & kombucha) into your diet. In addition, a high strength probiotic supplement that contains extensively researched probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM®, Lactobacillus paracasei lpc-37, Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07, Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-04 & Saccharomyces Boulardii is recommended.
Often, when digestive factors are low and infectious micro-organisms and/or allergenic foods are present in the diet, the gut wall can become damaged, so the fourth step focuses on essential repair of the gut wall. This is often referred to as a ‘leaky gut’ which can cause more systemic health problems such as food intolerances, inflammatory health problems such as arthritis and eczema and many more. Important gut repair nutrients include the amino acid L-glutamine and the trace mineral zinc. In addition, antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins B2, C, E, manganese, alpha lipoic acid and green tea extract help to protect the gut lining from further damage.
The fifth step involves making an assessment of what you need to do now to retain your new level of gut health. Some people may continue to avoid wheat, whilst others may continue to take a daily dose of kefir. This is the time to assess where you’re at and build on what you’ve achieved. A comprehensive powdered supplement that contains a maintenance level of L-glutamine and zinc alongside easy to absorb vitamins, minerals and probiotics is a great maintenance supplement to retain your newly improved gut health.
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