By Sarena-Rae Santos, Natural Health Blogger
My gut-healing journey started in 2022. I did two food sensitivity tests that said I was sensitive to 66 food items. Many people have concerns about food sensitivity tests because some claim they pick up on foods you consume most often. This was not my experience.
I was already plant-based when I did my food sensitivity tests, but the tests indicated a sensitivity to most animal products. This sensitivity wasn’t too surprising for me, considering I dealt with migraines simply from smelling most animal products, let alone eating them. Overall, that result wasn’t a big deal for me, but it was a bit more difficult when other foods came up and had to be eliminated.
Of course, after months of planning, I started (and completed) a 66-food elimination diet and found I only had sensitivities to a handful of foods that I frequently consumed. I used my elimination diet to focus on healing my gut. I noticed a drastic difference in my overall health and felt amazing. Interestingly, after focusing on my gut health, I was no longer sensitive to some of the foods I was originally sensitive to.
At the end of this blog, I will discuss the beginner, intermediate, and advanced steps that can be taken to positively influence gut health. When preparing to heal your gut, I highly recommend taking a food sensitivity test and executing an elimination diet to ensure you do what’s best for your body. Now, for the moment you’ve been waiting for – gut health.
Understanding Gut Health
We’ve all heard of gut health, followed by terms like “leaky gut” and “elimination diet,” but we often don’t understand their importance. Gut health is the foundation of health. We have the gut-brain connection, which directly influences your mental health, associating anxiety with stomach problems and vice versa (1). Then you have overall gut health, or the “gut microbiome,” with about 200 different species of microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, and fungi living in your gut (2).
Gut health is an important topic because poor gut health is linked to several health concerns, including:
- Autism (3,4,5)
- Autoimmune diseases (6,7,8)
- Behavioral and mental health disorders (9,10,11)
- Cancer (12,13,14)
- Cardiovascular disease (15,16,17)
- Diabetes (18,19,20)
- Eczema (21,22,23)
- Endocrine disorders (24,25,26)
- Food allergies (27,28,29)
- Gastrointestinal disorders (30,31,32)
- Obesity (33,34,35)
That’s basically everything out there, so yes — gut health matters.
Contrarily, when beneficial probiotic bacterial strains are consumed, the health benefits are endless. For instance, having a large variety of bacteria in the gut may help reduce the risk of conditions like diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and psoriatic arthritis (36). If you read our blog, Which are the Ideal Probiotic Strains, you know that’s where bacteria or probiotic strains come in, so let’s discuss several strains and their benefits:
- Bifidobacterium breve or B. breve is common in the gut flora of infants. This strain is important because this can influence brain development (37). One study showed that early supplementation of B. breve helped colonize the gut up to two weeks sooner when given at 12 hours compared to 24 hours old (38). Another study found B. breve eliminated necrotizing enterocolitis in low-birth-weight babies (39).
- Bifidobacterium infantis or B. infantis is appropriate for nearly everyone, especially infants (especially if not breastfed) and those who suffer from inflammatory conditions. One study indicates B. infantis can slow inflammatory responses throughout the body (40). Another study indicates B. infantis positively impacts IBS and the benefits of inflammatory responses (41). Additionally, studies show that B. infantis doesn’t colonize in the gut, requiring continuous supplementation (42).
- Lactobacillus plantarum or L. plantarum is excellent for anyone, especially adults. L. Plantarum is beneficial in resolving IBS symptoms (43). Several studies indicate L. plantarum may be helpful in recurrent Clostridioides difficile or C. diff infections, a nasty strain of bacteria that causes bad diarrhea (44,45). Another study showed L. plantarum reduced blood pressure and other factors related to cardiovascular disease (46).
- Bifidobacterium longum or B. longum plays a significant role in baby and adult guts. One study shows that B. longum is beneficial when used topically for sensitive skin (47). Another study indicates B. longum slows the progress of ulcerative colitis (48). A final study demonstrates B. longum may be helpful against colon cancer (49).
- Lactobacillus acidophilus or L. acidophilus is a popular strain that most have heard about. Although there’s some conflicting evidence, it’s believed that L. acidophilus positively impacts bowel disorders when combined with different strains (50). Some studies indicate that L. acidophilus can produce D-lactate, which can cause acidosis in the body and isn’t healthy (51). L. acidophilus is best skipped by those who already have unhealthy gut flora.
Signs of an Unhealthy Gut
Many wonder how to know if you need to focus on gut healing. The answer is nearly all of us do, and the body gives us many clues. Of course, we must slow down long enough to evaluate and interpret what’s happening. Some key indicators of an unhealthy gut include (52,53):
- Stomach discomfort
- Abdominal pain
- Unintentional weight changes
- Sleep disturbances
- Constant fatigue
- Mood issues
- Skin irritation
- Autoimmune conditions
- Food intolerances
- Food cravings
If you read Earthley’s guide, The Gut Health Support Guide, you know experiencing more subtle symptoms (usually not associated with gut health) may occur. If you’re experiencing the following symptoms, you may need to focus on healing your gut:
- Low back pain (with no apparent physical cause)
- White/yellow coating on the tongue
- Chronic congestion or mild productive cough
- Bloating/pain in the center of your abdomen, just below your ribs
- Tiny white bumps on arms or legs
- Trouble falling asleep before 2/3 a.m., or waking between 2 and 4 a.m. and being unable to fall back to sleep
- Difficulty waking/feeling alert in the morning
- Mild, aching pain around joints or along the inside/outside of arms and legs (feels like you need to stretch/move, but that doesn’t quite make it go away)
- Urine has a bacon-like smell (this can also be a urinary tract infection)
- Intense and frequent sugar cravings
- Inability to lose weight, despite diet/exercise changes
- Frequent heartburn
- Irregular menstrual cycle
It doesn’t seem like these symptoms could all be related, but they can be. Candida overgrowth, for example, can cause several of the symptoms listed. Now, let’s discuss what influences gut health.
Influences of Gut Health
We live in a modern world, with technology advancing daily. In other words, gut-influencing factors surround us, whether helpful or harmful. If you read our blog, How to Heal Your Gut, you know some of the most common threats to gut health include the following:
- Pharmaceuticals (antibiotics, birth control pills, statin drugs, antidepressants, vaccines, etc.)
- White, refined flour
- White, refined sugar
- Refined polyunsaturated vegetable oils
- Chlorine in tap water and swimming pools
- Triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals
- Herbicides and pesticides on produce
- Food dyes and additives in processed food
- Fragrance and other chemicals in cleaning and household products
- Mold in food or homes
Of course, there are also many ways to positively influence and heal gut concerns. Healing the gut may look different for everyone, depending on where you are on your journey. I recommend starting with the beginner steps and working through the intermediate and advanced steps to maximize your gut-healing potential.
Beginner steps to positively influence gut health:
- Increase filtered water consumption.
- Focus on consuming whole foods (e.g., real food or plant-based).
Intermediate steps to positively influence gut health:
- Incorporate gut-healing herbs (e.g., calendula, clove, and pumpkin seeds).
- Eliminate food toxins (e.g., food coloring, refined flour, sugar, and vegetable oils).
Advanced steps to positively influence gut health:
- Eliminate or limit pharmaceutical medications (do this to the best of your ability with the help of a trusted medical professional).
- Consider supplements like Earthley’s Gut Health Oil or Candida Cleanse.