Most aches, pains, discomforts and dysfunctions in your body are connected to the gut. Even how you think or feel is affected by the health of your gut. We generally spend precious little time caring about or for our gut and expect it to work hard for us day in, day out without complaint. If that sounds like you, I have good news for you: You can change this and begin to feel better, instead of letting things get so out of hand that you will undermine your health. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

But first, let’s ask why that is. The gut is the common name for your digestive system, a rather complex tube running from your lips to your anus. It’s made up of several different organs and tissues that collaborate to provide your body with the needed moisture and nutrition to be alive. Your gut is also in charge of keeping out anything that does not belong inside your body and eliminates it as waste. To perform these tasks, your digestive system produces many different substances, including enzymes, stomach acid and bile, that break down molecules in the food you eat to allow passage of nutrients into the blood and also help keep pathogens under control. The gut also moves rhythmically to propel its contents along. This complex movement is called peristalsis.

There’s more to your gut

Seventy percent of your immune system is found in the lining of your intestines, and the gut has a close connection to the brain via the vagus nerve. The gut even has its own complex network of nerves called the enteric nervous system, which is sometimes considered our second brain. Having a gut feeling is not just a figure of speech, it’s real!
Last but not least, the gut hosts an enormous number of friendly (and not so friendly) bacteria called the microbiota. In fact, there are more bacteria living in our bodies than we have cells. The composition and health of our individual microbiota are influenced by genetics and environmental factors, including what we eat, where we live, and what medications we’re taking.

What could possibly go wrong?

At this point, you’re probably getting a sense that due to the complexity of our gut, a lot can also potentially go off rail. Occasionally, something dramatic may happen out of the blue but, most of the time, the health of your digestive system deteriorates slowly and gradually, maybe even over the course of months or years. You may be noticing more gas and bloating, changes in your bowel habits, weight gain (or loss), foods that don’t seem to agree with you anymore, or changes in your wellbeing that don’t appear directly related to your digestion, such as sleep disturbances, low energy and fatigue, hormonal imbalances, pain, autoimmunity, skin issues, or mood swings—symptoms seemingly all over the map!

The bad news is that there’s no quick and easy fix, no magic pill. So, if you’re hoping that taking medications like proton pump inhibitors (PPI), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID) or antidepressants will get you back on track, don’t hold your breath! At best, these drugs will provide temporary relief, but that relief certainly comes at a price. None of these pharmaceutical drugs will address the root cause of your problems, and they all have side-effects that can affect some people quite severely.

Natural medicine shows the way

Now, the good news is that there’s a lot you yourself can do to nudge your body back to improved functioning and better health. This is an approach informed by functional medicine and modern naturopathy. It is a path that helps you become aware of your body’s needs and implement steps that allow it to heal itself. Most of the elements of this approach you can safely put into practice on your own after you’ve learned what to look out for. Some of the more advanced components should be guided and monitored by a healthcare professional educated and experienced in this healing approach. This strategy may take several months because we don’t throw the kitchen sink at your gut but usually take one step at a time to enable us to observe your responses. Some of the aspects of this approach will become part of your lifelong habits.

What are the parts of this healing strategy?

We first assess what’s out of balance by taking a really thorough history of your health. An experienced clinician can usually come to an understanding without extensive lab testing, which allows us to get started sooner and save those expenses for later, in case testing is still needed for recalcitrant issues. Once we have a good picture of your needs, we will start with the first steps.

Every journey starts with a first step

We will ask you to do a short fast or cleanse to allow your intestines to move waste out of your body. This will give you and your body some quiet time. We will then select an eating strategy that eliminates foods that are hard to digest, are known to trigger food sensitivities or allergies, or that feed unfriendly critters in your gut. Even this simple change in eating habits can yield amazing improvements.

Over the next several weeks, we will add certain appropriate supplements, botanicals and digestive aids to your personalized protocol to help create a healthier environment in your gut and restore balance to your microbiota. You will be the most important participant in this process because you will not only experience the effects of the therapy but will also monitor them so that we can fine-tune our approach.

Once your digestion is functioning more normally and you’re feeling better, we will gradually reintroduce foods that you’ve been avoiding for some time to find out if you can now better tolerate them. We will also gradually reduce your intake of herbs and supplements to focus only on those you should consider taking in the long term.

The rewards you’ll reap

If this sounds like a lot of work, well that’s because it is. It will take patience and persistence over the course of at least several weeks, but more often several months. On the upside, you can expect to feel much healthier once you’ve made progress on this journey, knowing that you’ve been addressing the root causes of many of your health concerns and established a foundation for lasting wellbeing and resilience. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

© 2024 Christiane Siebert