In functional medicine, we have long known that overall health is related to gut health. For decades both practitioners and researchers didn’t fully understand why, although it was known much immune activity happens in the gut that can cause inflammation. Now we also know the gut microbiome, or the trillions of gut bacteria we host, is also integral to our body and brain health.
This is why we make a big deal out of gut health in functional medicine. It’s one of the first things we address when it comes to chronic inflammatory or autoimmune disorders. But this doesn’t mean the same gut healing protocol is going to work for everyone.
You can’t expect any one diet, supplement, or detox shake to work for everyone. Although there are some commonalities to gut healing — eliminating foods that cause an immune reaction, stabilizing blood sugar, and fostering healthy gut bacteria — you must know why your gut health is poor in order to effectively repair it.
An example: Constipation as a gut complaint
Many patients complain of chronic constipation. We can give them natural laxatives for relief, but different patients may have different root causes for why they are constipated in the first place. This applies to any digestive complaint, not just constipation. It’s important to understand the root cause because it is likely causing other health symptoms and disorders.
Here are five examples of why a patient can develop a chronic gut complaint such as constipation:
- Past brain injury. A brain injury can dampen the vagus nerve, which sends communication back and forth between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. This causes motility to slow, and thus constipation. Poor vagal activity can cause many different gut symptoms.
- Enteric nervous system damage. The gut has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system. It can degenerate significantly through consuming immune reactive foods, sugars and junk foods, or through chronic stress, bacterial or yeast infections, or brain degeneration. The gut depends on a healthy enteric nervous system to move food through the intestines.
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). SIBO is a bacterial infection in the small intestine that releases gases that can cause either constipation or diarrhea.
- Many different medications affect intestinal motility and cause constipation.
- This is a dysregulation of the central nervous system that prevents the body from spending much time in the “rest and digest” necessary for healthy bowel function.
These reasons are just a few that explain why a cookie-cutter protocol can be a miracle for one person, work so-so in another, do nothing at all for a third, and make a fourth worse than ever.
By the way, when you have gut issues, you should rule out more serious conditions, such as:
- Gastric ulcers from an h. pylori infection
- Intestinal permeability — or leaky gut — from damage to the microvilli of the small intestine
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- Gut autoimmunity
Knowing whether you have one of these conditions also determines your case management.
For instance, you can test for gut through Cryex Labs. If this test comes back positive, then you must have different expectations for your case. Autoimmune disease is a condition in which the immune system attacks and destroys tissue in the body, leading to symptoms and breakdown.
There are no cures for autoimmune disease although you can dampen it or put it into remission through functional medicine protocols. However, symptom flares can still happen, sometimes for seemingly mysterious reasons. In these situations, a reasonable goal is to aim for more good days than bad instead of a complete “cure.”
This article explains why cookie-cutter protocols or pharmaceutical treatments can work great for some people and not at all for others — we must know the cause of the problem.
The good news is functional medicine excels when it comes to repairing and maintaining gut health. Ask our office how we can help you with gut problems, chronic health conditions, Hashimoto’s low thyroid, and other symptoms you have.