Gut Health and Disease

Have you ever considered that in order to maintain good health you need a well functioning digestive system? Today we want to shed light on two areas of gut health: the gut flora and gut barrier. Having an understanding of what these are and what they do can greatly impact lifestyle choices.

Gut Flora

All food has to go through the digestive process which takes place in the GI tract. I’m sure most of us have heard this is biology class. Inside of our GI tracts live trillions of bacteria. Gut flora, bacteria of the intestines, accounts for half the volume of the contents of the large intestine (1). Now, not all of the bacteria are the same. There are both “friendly” and “unfriendly” bacteria in our gut. We need the friendly bacteria to contribute to good health and immunity.

In the twentieth century, Dr. Eli Metchnikoff popularized the theory that disease begins in the digestive tract because of an imbalance of intestinal bacteria. He was the first scientist to discover the useful properties of probiotics (1). Check out  our Considering Kombucha post where we mention the amazing probiotic functions in the body. According to an article written in Today’s Dietitian called Gut Health and Immunity  the author describes the most basic function of probiotic bacteria:

” Their most basic function is to fight harmful foreign substances that enter the body by detoxifying them and easing their elimination. Probiotics can prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, which thrive and grow within a neutral pH environment (2).”

Development of Unfriendly Bacteria

According to Integrative Practitioner, Chris Kresser  he says there are several modern lifestyle components that are contributing to unhealthy gut flora. These are things generally in our control. He mentions:

  • antibiotics and other medications like birth control and NSAIDs
  • diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugars, and processed foods
  • diets low in fermentable fibers
  • dietary toxins like wheat and industrial seed oils that cause leaky gut
  • chronic stress
  • chronic infections

The problem in our culture today is that modern medicine treats disease with antibiotics and immunization programs. I see this everyday in my healthcare facility. According to the book Digestive Wellness, the author explains that viruses and bacteria are adaptable. She says that:

“If microbes are becoming more resistant, we must increase our own resistance and strength to outsmart them. We must boost immune function so that people will be less receptive to infection (1).”

The issue is that the SAD (Standard American Diet) does not provide optimal nutrition. Without proper nutrients our bodies are left weakened and cannot protect themselves from disease causing organisms.

Gut Barrier

The gut barrier is the intestinal lining that allows substances to come in or stay out. When this barrier becomes compromised it is called intestinal permeability. According to Digestive Wellness:

” A healthy intestinal lining allows only properly digested fats, proteins, and starches to pass through so they can be assimilated. At the same time, it also provides a barrier to keep out bacterial products, foreign substances, and large undigested molecules (1).”

When this lining becomes inflamed it damages the surface allowing “the wrong things” to come in and out, causing your immune function to attack. With more and more damage the gut becomes leaky. This is where the name leaky gut syndrome comes from. This means that what once was supposed to stay inside the digestive tract is now “leaking” into the bloodstream, and it is not supposed to be there. Leaky gut may be an underlying factor in some of these  health problems below:

  • allergies
  • malabsorption syndromes
  • celiac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • eczema
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • skin irriations
  • depression
  • autism
  • IBS
  • acne

Common Causes of Leaky Gut

  • poor food choices
  • chronic stress
  • overconsumption of alcohol
  • environmental chemicals
  • use of medication

It is obvious that to tackle this problem it would have to boil down to lifestyle. So here are some simple ways to restore your gut health.

  1. Take a high quality probiotic supplement or eat more probiotic rich foods (Kombucha, Yogurt, Kefir, etc.)
  2. Eat more fermentable fibers (starches such as sweet potatoes, etc.)
  3. Remove nutrient poor (toxic) foods from your diet (gluten, grains, processed foods, industrial seed oils, soy)
  4. Manage your stress (sleep better and longer, pray, take a bath, laugh, get active)
  5. Switch to all natural household cleaning products and beauty products

Consider This

Our lifestyle plays into every part of our health. If disease begins in the gut, we believe it would be wise to consider how our gut is affected by the way we live. What steps will you take to restore or maintain your gut health? What approach will you begin working on?

1. Digestive Wellness by Elizabeth Lipski, Ph.D., CCN
2. Today’s Dietitian  Gut Health and Immunity- It’s All About the Good Bacteria That Can Help Fight Disease by Lori Zanteson
3. Chris Kresser  9 steps to Perfect Health: Heal Your Gut
Photo Credit: The American Gut Project 

13 thoughts on “Gut Health and Disease

  1. Audrey the Turtle says:

    I have eczema and have had it since I was a really small child. I was just told it was chronic and there was nothing you could do about it, and had never considered that it had anything to do with my gut… this is thought-provoking for sure.

    1. Considering You says:

      Audrey you should do some additional research regarding diet, gut health, and skin. I (mary) think you will be pleasantly surprised at the connection! Let us know if you need additional help!

        1. Considering You says:

          I’ll just add on to Mary’s comment above…my sister suffered from eczema her whole life until she cut out grains (rice, corn, wheat, etc) and now it’s gone! Definitely try it out if you ever have the chance :) – A

          1. Audrey the Turtle says:

            Ahhhh that’s quite the challenge!! Yikes! I have also heard cutting out only dairy will “cure” it. Hmmmm

          2. Considering You says:

            Definitely can be challenging but it’s nice that you can just say you’ll go on it for 2 weeks max just to see what happens!

  2. Jessi Kolouri says:

    Hi ladies! I know I’m very late to this party, but I’m poking around your site for some ideas and to point me in the right direction on this journey I’m on. Long story short, last year I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I want to learn more about diet and immunity and how it all fits together to live with (and heal from!) autoimmune disorders, but I get very overwhelmed with where to start. If you have any more specific resources or book titles you’d recommend I check out, let me know. And, bone broth initially sounds a little gross, but if it works, I’m on board to try!
    Thanks so much!! :)

    1. Considering You says:

      Practical Paleo book is a fantastic resource and has a whole nutritional program for autoimmune disorders! Check out the author’s website,


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