‘Trust your gut’. ‘Go with your gut feeling’. That’s how the sayings go. But can we really trust our gut to serve us reliably? In recent years, the link between our gut and our health have become much clearer. A ‘leaky gut’ that has become inflamed and compromised by stress (physical, chemical, emotional etc.) can lead to a plethora of many physical and physiological issues. For example, recent studies have linked the quality of bacteria and microbes in our gut to weight loss, depression, autism, Alzheimers and more.
Leaky Gut Syndrome occurs when the lining of the small intestine becomes too inflamed and permeable, allowing toxins to escape into the blood stream and lymphatic system, causing a wide variety of immune responses that can lead to chronic health problems. This inflammation and permeability is typically due to:
- consumption of inflammatory foods (e.g. gluten, sugar, dairy, alcohol)
- mental/emotional stress (kids, working long hours, financial struggles, death of a loved one etc.)
- vitamin deficiencies (e.g. zinc, magnesium)
- intestinal parasites & harmful bacteria
- certain medications
This is all part of a wider problem called Sympathetic Dominance (SD). What is SD?
There are two parts of our autonomic nervous system – our parasympathetic nerve system (rest and digest) and our sympathetic nerve system (fight and flight). Both are necessary parts of our nervous system – e.g. sympathetic to slam on the brakes if a child runs out in front of our car, parasympathetic to switch off and go to sleep at night. When the body is working well, we can switch between them as needed, but SD is when we get stuck in the fight/flight response for far longer than what we should be.
How do you know if you’re stuck in SD? Common symptoms include:
- digestive issues (from a Leaky Gut)
- hormonal issues
- tight shoulders, neck muscles, gluts and calf muscles
- forward head carriage and rounded shoulders
- regular headaches that get worse as the day progresses
- feeling frequently cold, and tired
- being sensitive to light or sound
- feeling constantly wound up or stressed
- adrenal fatigue
- anxiety and depression
- dry skin, brittle nails, hair falling out
Being in SD is not something we choose to be in, it just happens automatically. It is a consequence of our busy lifestyles and the stresses our body and mind are constantly under.
For example, this is how being in SD can mess up proper digestion (and cause Leaky Gut Syndrome):
- Because we’re not thinking about our food while we eat (instead stressing over the events of the day and the other demands on our time), our brain doesn’t send the appropriate signals to kick the digestive process off
- Because we gulp down our food instead of chewing it properly, our mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva to break down the food molecules effectively, thereby forcing the rest of the digestive system to work a whole lot harder
- Because we haven’t sent the right signals, we underproduce stomach acid and our stomach and oesophagus has to deal with things like heartburn and acid reflux, also contributing to leaky gut and food allergies
- Because of the inflammatory foods we eat as a result of poor diet selections springing from leading busy lives, the lining of our small intestine becomes too permeable, and undigested food particles, toxins and microbes are released into the blood stream, causing not only the nutritional components of the foods we eat to become lost but the body to attack the molecules as ‘foreign invaders’
- Because we’re often dehydrated from not making the time to drink enough water, our large intestine holds faeces as the body tries to reabsorb more water, thus causing constipation, and also potentially allowing harmful bacteria to take over the environment, causing further imbalance
The good news is that although a lot of this stuff just happens automatically, we can still make changes to reduce the stress our bodies and minds are under. So if you suspect you have a Leaky Gut and/or are in a state of Sympathetic Dominance, what can you do?
- Examine your diet to see if it’s nutritious or full of inflammatory foods. Food sensitivities such as gluten or dairy can be picked up by seeing a Naturopath, getting a blood or hair test, and/or cutting out the aggravating food for a month or two and then re-introducing it
- Drink plenty of water to promote a healthy gut and a healthy lymphatic system
- Reduce consumption of xenoestrogens – chemicals that increase the level of oestrogen in our body and can play havoc with our hormone levels. Minimise your use of plastics, use glass or ceramic to store food, switch to natural/organic health care products, avoid any products that contain BPA
- Take appropriate vitamins and minerals. Withania, magnesium, zinc are common ones that may help, especially if you struggle with mental health
- Exercising frequently can be a great stress reliever
- Improve your posture. Focus more on sitting up straight rather than being slouched. Take regular posture breaks to stretch. Use a lumbar support to promote sitting upright. Roll your shoulders back and down rather than up and forward
- Calm your brain down by the use of meditation and/or mindfulness techniques – especially helpful if you’re anxious or suffer from depression
- Reduce sound and light stimuli. Switch off unnecessary background noises, use noise-cancelling headphones, dim the lights in your room, use a red screen filter for your computer and mobile phone
- Get adjusted by a Chiropractor. Some good adjustments will promote healthy nerve flow, reduce tension, increase respiratory capability and help you to both physically and mentally deal with everything else on your plate that much better
Healthy Gut Cookbook by Gavin Pritchard