Supporting Gut Health to Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation is considered to be a major contributing factor in the development of most chronic diseases in the United States today. The process of inflammation is inherently designed to protect us by upregulating our immune system in response to injury, pathogens and toxins. Therefore, the presence of inflammation indicates that there is a physiological problem that needs our attention. With more and more evolving research focusing on the gut as the center of health, it has been shown that supporting the function of this organ system is crucial for optimal well-being.
Research shows that gut dysbiosis, an imbalance of good and bad bacteria, is a contributor to inflammatory responses. Diet and lifestyle are the largest factors that can help or harm our bacterial balance. The factors that contribute the most to microbiome disruption include high intake of processed foods, refined sugars, hydrogenated/ trans fats, over use of antibiotics or acid blockers, stress, smoking and alcohol.
A good balance of bacteria can be supported by having a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, stress reduction, smoking cessation and avoiding unnecessary medication with antibiotics and acid blockers. Another strategy is probiotics, which are live beneficial bacteria. They can be an excellent addition to a supplement routine or easily ingested through fermented foods, such as kefir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut. They are especially important for those that eat a diet full of processed foods, have taken antibiotics, have irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune or chronic diseases.
Prebiotics, substances that feed bacteria, are also a worthwhile addition and include onions and garlic. An overgrowth of bad bacteria can be seen with gastrointestinal (GI) upset such as acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea, bloating or gas. However, inflammation can become systemic and may be felt in other ways beyond the GI tract that may manifest as joint pain, headaches, neurological symptoms and other chronic conditions. Depending on the individual case, some may be helped by adding a specific type of probiotic called saccromyces bouldardii, or antimicrobial herbs such as oregano.
Another marker of gut health can be evaluated when determining the presence and level of inflammation. Zonulin is a protein that is responsible for controlling the gut’s permeability. Specifically, it has the power to disassemble the tight junctions that keep a gut intact making sure undesirable proteins do not get through to the bloodstream. However, when gluten or other inflammatory proteins are ingested, zonulin is released and tight junctions become loosened allowing the proteins access to the bloodstream.
This sets off the entire inflammatory and immune cascade. If zonulin is consistently high, you may be diagnosed with “leaky gut”. As a result, other food proteins that may have previously caused no problem and were generally anti-inflammatory may then cause a similar reaction and later determined to be food sensitivities. Predisposing factors to leaky gut are consumption of a highly processed diet especially rich in gluten, refined sugars and rancid vegetable oils, stress, alcohol, frequent pharmaceutical use and environmental toxins such as pesticides.
Each person should seek a healthcare practitioner that will take an individual approach to reducing inflammation. Dysbiosis and leaky gut are conditions that should be evaluated with a functionally trained provider that can tailor recommendations specifically for each individual and their situation. In some cases, a comprehensive stool test is needed which can take out the guesswork and provide answers to help guide a plan towards optimal health. With their nutrition and biochemistry education, functional dietitians are ideally suited to guide and support individuals with diet and lifestyle changes that may reduce inflammation and restore health.
Bridgitte Carroll, MS, RDN, LDN is an integrative and functional dietitian in Waltham. She works one-on-one with clients utilizing a systems approach to get to the root cause of bodily imbalances. She is currently accepting new clients at Johnson Compounding and Wellness. To schedule a complimentary 15-minute consult, visit calendly.com/bridgitte-carroll.