“All disease begins in the gut.” These famous words spoken by Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, are more important than ever for us to observe. Gut integrity and the health of the microbiome determine how our internal world is influenced by the external world.
The gut processes food and drink into the building blocks of our body and mind while preventing foreign substances from taking hold. When our intestinal defenses are down, pathogenic microbes as well as unprocessed particles of food can enter the bloodstream where they can trigger inflammation, autoimmune conditions, and alter brain chemistry – resulting in pain, cognitive deficits, and a body prone to attack itself.
Rebuilding the gut begins with understanding the upper digestive tract and taking steps to aid its function. The stomach requires a sufficient amount of acid to break down food. A well functioning liver and gallbladder provide bile to emulsify fats. The pancreas secretes enzymes to cleave proteins and carbohydrates into the smallest possible building blocks. Finally, the small intestine is lined with cells teeming with beneficial microbes that help escort these building blocks into the body or process them in a way that symbiotically provides nutrients for absorption.
Supplementing the stomach, liver, and pancreas can be done externally with supplements that provide acidity, bile, and enzymes. These remedies can take the pressure off your body and aid digestion in a way that buys time for deeper healing to take place. The small intestine, however, requires a threefold approach to remodel the microbiome. These approaches are prebiotics, probiotics, and cleansing of pathogenic microbes.
Probiotics help the small intestine but are largely transient; the repopulation of native gut flora requires that we nurture their growth while inhibiting their competition. Thus, we must begin by consuming what our microbes like to eat, collectively known as prebiotics. Though there is interesting evidence suggesting the therapeutic use of resistant starch, soluble and insoluble fiber from a diet rich in a variety of vegetables, particularly leafy greens, roots, and tubers, is sufficient in most cases.
Resistant starch has one concern in that it could remodel the gut too quickly (dose dependent), and when not done in concert with a protocol to cleanse the gut of pathogenic microbes, has the potential to strengthen pathogenic bacteria and yeasts as well. An effective supplement form of prebiotics is inulin which can be dosed at 2-3 grams, twice daily.
This brings us to a targeted approach to cleansing the gut, which should be done prior to and then during the use of prebiotics and probiotics. Here, I believe we are best served relying on food and herbal therapy. The evolutionary benefit of herbal therapy is a reliance on those remedies that have been in use by humans for generations, thus, our native gut flora has adapted to these herbs unlike antibiotics which can damage beneficial bacteria.
Herbs such as garlic, oregano, anise, goldenseal, and wormwood work strongly and synergistically to produce a gradual gut remodeling. One of the simplest remedies for clearing pathogenic microbes is coconut oil, rich in lauric acid. Several tablespoons a day works towards the same end, albeit a bit slower than the herbal remedies.
Finally, probiotic-rich foods, drinks, and supplements make up the third leg of gut remodeling. They are the reinforcements that aid our native gut flora when under stress or facing a specific health challenge. By helping outcompete pathogenic strains, they allow native gut flora to regain a firm footing. Probiotics are also essential for children born via c-section who miss the main gut flora inoculation period coming through the birth canal.