If you're looking for lasting improvement in any area of your health, it's best not to think of your body parts as being independent compartments. Every cell communicates with every other cell, not always directly, but via the fluids, hormones, and neurotransmitters that travel through the vast network of blood vessels and nerves that course through every part of you. And it all starts with your gut.
Think of your digestive tract as your first physical line of defense against all chronic, degenerative illness.
From your mouth to your large colon, the lining of your digestive tract is continuous with the skin that covers your body. Both your digestive tract lining and your skin act as barriers that protect your blood and inner tissues against undesirable substances.
When you were a baby, if you were breastfed by a relatively healthy mother, your gut had plenty of health-enhancing organisms (lactic acid gram-positive non-motile organisms). Often called "friendly" bacteria, these organisms line the walls of your small and large intestines and serve several functions, some of the most important ones being:
Enhancement of natural immunity via production of natural antibiotics
Production of organic acids that help regulate pH levels throughout your gut
Inhibition of growth of potentially harmful microorganisms like gram-negative bacteria, fungi, and even parasites
The reality is that potentially harmful microorganisms make their way into your intestines on an everyday basis - they just aren't able to flourish to a degree where they can colonize your intestinal walls if you have enough friendly organisms there to compete for space and resources.
What if you don't have sufficient colonies of friendly, health-enhancing organisms in your gut? The bad guys will find spaces along your gut lining where they can take root and form colonies that aren't easily washed away. This is called dysbiosis, which leads to leaky gut syndrome.
As more unfriendly bacteria, invasive fungi, and even parasites dig into your gut lining, your gut can actually begin to "leak" incompletely digested protein and man-made toxins that make their way into your body. As these foreign substances enter your bloodstream through your damaged gut lining, your immune system will begin manufacturing antibodies to combat them, which can lead to chronic inflammation anywhere in your body via "antigen-antibody complexes" getting deposited in your tissues as they circulate through your blood - this is a root cause of a plethora of common health conditions, including but not limited to eczema, psoriasis, alopecia (hair loss), ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, endometriosis, cystitis, and even psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia.
Dysbiosis and leaky gut syndrome are not readily recognized by conventional medicine as health conditions, most likely because there are no patented prescription drugs or surgical procedures that can justifiably be prescribed for them.
In general, you can safely assume that you have some degree of dysbiosis and leaky gut syndrome if you regularly experience one or more of the following symptoms of digestive tract dysfunction:
Excessive, foul-smelling gas production
Ill-defined discomfort in your abdomen following meals or even during meals
Chronic constipation and/or diarrhea
The most common causes of deterioration of gut ecology that allows for dysbiosis and leaky gut to develop are:
Overuse of prescription antibiotics
Regular intake of foods that are rich in sugar and/or highly refined carbohydrates i.e. white flour products
Overconsumption of alcohol
Eating while stressed
Not chewing well
So how do you go about preventing and reversing dysbiosis and leaky gut?
Adopt Eating Habits that Facilitate Optimal Digestion
Perhaps the single most important eating habit that you can adopt to facilitate healing of your digestive tract is to chew your foods thoroughly.
Ideally, you want to chew your foods until liquid. When you chew well, you allow your digestive tract to efficiently break down small particles of food into micronutrients that can pass through the wall of your small intestine into your blood.
Your teeth are designed to mechanically break down food, while the rest of your digestive tract and organs are designed to chemically break down your food. Whenever you don't chew well, your digestive tract and organs take on the burden of trying to accomplish what is much easier for your teeth to take care of.
If you have dental or jaw problems that make it difficult to chew well, consider blending your foods in a blender or a food processor.
Chewing your foods and liquids well allows your saliva and digestive enzymes to mix in with your foods and liquids, which begins the process of digestion right in your mouth.
Chewing well encourages physical and emotional rest while eating. And being emotionally balanced and at rest while you eat allows your body to send a rich supply of blood to your digestive organs during a meal, which helps optimize every step of digestion.
If possible, strive to combine the habit of chewing well with a steady focus on being grateful for your food and other blessings. Just as the connection between your mind and body can cause you to sweat when you are nervous, being grateful while you chew can help your digestive organs break down your food and assimilate nutrients into your blood.
The goal is to prevent incompletely digested foods from sitting in your digestive tract longer than they should, as this promotes breeding of potentially pathogenic microorganisms.
Minimize Intake of Substances that Harm Gut Ecology
The big ones are prescription antibiotics, sugary foods, white flour products, and alcohol.
Ensure Adequate Physical Rest
Simply put, the more you rest, the more energy your body can devote to repairing damaged areas, including your digestive tract.
It's during deep, restful sleep that your body produces large quantities of growth hormone, testosterone, and erythropoietin - all of these hormones are needed in optimal supply to keep your gut lining healthy.
Consider Taking a Quality Probiotic
You can nourish your gut with health-enhancing bacteria via traditionally fermented foods, but if you have a long history of symptoms of dysbiosis and leaky gut, you can likely benefit from taking a professional grade probiotic formula.
So there you have it, a primer on dysbiosis and leaky gut. If you have any questions on this topic, please use the comments section below. Thank you.
Dr. Ben Kim is a chiropractor and acupuncturist living and working in Barrie, Ontario, Canada. Visit his website at www.drbenkim.com