In the world of functional medicine, it has long been known that gut health is paramount to the health of the rest of the body.
For decades we didn’t fully understand why, although we knew the gut was the seat of the immune system and chronic inflammation. Now with the gut microbiome renaissance underway, we also understand how integral gut bacteria is to health.
As such, addressing gut health has always been one and continues to be one of the first steps in managing a chronic inflammatory or autoimmune condition. However, people tend to fall into the trap of thinking everyone needs to follow the same gut healing protocol, wondering why it works for some and not others.
As it turns out, repairing gut health is not a one-size-fits-all approach. There is not just one diet, one type of probiotic, or one gut healing powder that works for everyone. Although there are some basic foundations to gut healing — remove immune reactive foods, keep blood sugar stable, and create a healthy gut microbiome — the truth is you still need to know why your gut health deteriorated in order to address the root cause.
Examples of root causes of poor gut health
For example, a number of patients can come in with a complaint of constipation. While laxatives may help the patient, it is nevertheless important to understand why they are constipated in the first place. This goes for any digestive complaint and not just constipation.
Here are some different reasons why a person can develop a digestive complaint such as constipation:
- A past brain injury has dampened activity of the vagus nerve, which carries communication back and forth between the gut and the brain. This slows down motility of the intestines and causes constipation.
- The gut’s nervous system, called the enteric nervous system, has degenerated significantly due to chronic gut inflammation from immune reactive foods, too many sugars and junk foods, chronic stress, gut infections, or brain degeneration. Intestinal motility depends on a healthy enteric nervous system, and constipation develops.
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) releases gases that shut down motility.
- Medications impact intestinal motility and cause constipation.
- Dysautonomia, a dysregulation of the central nervous system, prevents the body from getting into the “rest and digest” state that allows for healthy bowel function.
A one-size-fits-all gut protocol can completely heal one person, create improvement in another, do nothing at all for a third, and perhaps make another even worse.
It’s also important to screen for more serious conditions. These can include 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, or Crohn’s disease. Knowing whether these conditions are an issue also impacts how you manage gut health.
Also vital is knowing whether gut autoimmunity is the root cause of your gut issues. You can test for this through Cryex Labs. If so, this changes your expectations of your outcomes and how you evaluate your progress. Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system erroneously attacks and destroys tissue in the body. Eventually this leads to symptoms and breakdown of function.
Although autoimmune disease cannot be cured, it often can be dampened or driven into remission for long periods of time. However, unpredictable flare ups also happen, and the person with gut autoimmunity must have realistic expectations in order not to feel demoralized if their symptoms flare and recede. Also, there is still much we don’t know about autoimmunity. For some people it’s easy to manage and for others it’s a constant battle. In these cases, the goal can be as simple as “more good days.”
This is an overview of why common gut-healing protocols work gangbusters for some people and little to not at all for others. Our digestive system is one of the most fascinating, complex, and influential systems in the body. The more scientists learn about it, the more apparent it becomes that gut health largely determines the health of the rest of the body, including the brain.
This is why we are seeing so many chronic health conditions in modernized societies that subsist largely on industrialized agriculture and food processing. The commercialization of cheap, processed, chemically laden, and highly sweetened “foods” largely void of produce has inflamed and damaged the digestive tract, decimated the gut microbiome (some researchers call it an extinction event), and ravaged the brain in today’s modern populations.
Fortunately, functional medicine excels when it comes to repairing and maintaining gut health. Ask our office how we can help you.
A controversial new study found that high cholesterol does not shorten life span and that statins are essentially a “waste of time,” according to one of the researchers.
Previous studies have linked statins with an increased risk of diabetes.
The study reviewed research of almost 70,000 people and found that elevated levels of “bad cholesterol” did not raise the risk of early death from cardiovascular disease in people over 60.
The authors called for statin guidelines to be reviewed, claiming the benefits of statins are “exaggerated.”
Not only did the study find no link between high cholesterol and early death, it also found that people with high “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) actually lived longer and had fewer incidences of heart disease.
The co-author and vascular surgeon went on to say that cholesterol is vital for preventing cancer, muscle pain, infection, and other health disorders in older people. He said that statins are a “waste of time” for lowering cholesterol and that lifestyle changes are more effective for improving cardiovascular health.
Naturally, the paper drew fire and its conclusions were dismissed by other experts in the field. Statins are among the most commonly prescribed drugs — one in four Americans over the age of 40 take statins and the drug accounts for more than $20 billion in spending each year. Statin use has gone up more than 80 percent in the last 20 years.
Statins linked to higher risk of diabetes and other health disorders
In functional medicine we recognize cholesterol as a vital compound in the body for multiple functions, including brain function and muscle strength. Overly low cholesterol is linked with an increased risk of several health disorders, including diabetes.
One study of almost 9,000 people showed that people in their 60s who used statins had an almost 40 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes. They also had higher rates of high blood sugar and pre-diabetes, or insulin resistance. High blood sugar disorders underpin numerous chronic inflammatory conditions, including Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Previous research found a 50 percent increased risk of diabetes in women who took statins.
In addition to raising the risk of high blood sugar and diabetes, statins also may cause such side effects as muscle weakness and wasting, headaches, difficulty sleeping, and dizziness.
Statins do not address the underlying cause of heart disease: Chronic inflammation
Statins may lower cholesterol, but they do not address the underlying cause of heart disease, which is typically chronic inflammation (some people are genetically predisposed to cardiovascular disease). The body uses cholesterol to repair arteries damaged by inflammation — the primary cause of heart attacks and strokes.
For instance, the vast majority of people who have heart attacks have normal cholesterol. In other countries where people have higher cholesterol than Americans, they also have less heart disease. In fact, low cholesterol in elderly patients is linked to a higher risk of death compared to high cholesterol.
Improving heart health through functional medicine instead of statins
Functional medicine is a great way to improve cardiovascular health because it avoids drugs that cause potentially harmful side effects. Although lifestyle changes may require more work than popping a pill, they address root causes of your disorder versus overriding them. This means you feel and function better overall.
What does a functional medicine approach to heart health look like?
- An anti-inflammatory diet
- Releasing feel-good endorphins on a regular basis through exercise (endorphins are anti-inflammatory)
- Targeted nutritional support
- Identifying and addressing the root causes of your inflammation, which are different for everyone. Possibilities include high blood sugar, poor thyroid function, an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder, chronic bacterial, fungal, or viral infections, leaky gut, or a brain imbalance, such as from a past brain injury.
It’s important to address things from this angle because cholesterol is vital to good health. It is found in every cell and helps produce cell membranes, vitamin D, and hormones. It’s also necessary for healthy brain function.
Inflammation promotes heart disease
Chronic inflammation and not cholesterol is the concerning factor in heart disease. The blood marker C-reactive protein (CRP) identifies inflammation. If it’s high, you have a higher risk for heart disease than those with high cholesterol. Having normal cholesterol but high CRP does not protect you from heart disease.
By using functional medicine to lower your inflammation and improve your heart health, you not only avoid the risks and dangers of statins, but also you get to better enjoy your golden years thanks to improved energy and well being.
For some people weight loss is pretty straightforward: They just need to cut out sodas and sweets and hit the gym regularly. For others, especially those with a chronic health disorder, weight loss remains elusive despite and weight gain happens far too easily despite doing everything right.
Weight gain and weight loss resistance are very common symptoms among people with chronic health disorders. Contrary to popular belief, an inability to lose weight or keep it off is not a sign of a character flaw but instead flaws in your metabolic, immune, or neurological health.
Fat shaming is culturally accepted, particularly in the alternative health spaces and against women. The truth is, overweight and obese people may have some of the healthiest diets and lifestyle practices you’ll encounter. They have to — should they dare to eat “normally” they would quickly balloon out of control.
Instead of beating yourself up if you can’t lose the weight or you have mysteriously gained it too easily, consider if any of the following underlying causes may apply to you.
Nine possible reasons why you can’t lose weight — none of which are due to being lazy or undisciplined
- You are a veteran lifelong dieter. The multi-billion-dollar diet industry coupled with unrealistic cultural body image standards have turned low-calorie dieting into a way of life. That works great in your youth, but as you age your metabolism fatigues from constant famines.
The human body responds to famines by progressively lowering metabolism and increasing fat storage hormones. As a result, each low-calorie diet can make you a little bit fatter than the last one once you resume normal caloric intake. This explains why diets have such low long-term success.
This phenomenon was most poignantly illustrated in a study of participants from the The Biggest Loser reality TV show. Six years after participating in the show, researchers found they were burning 800 fewer calories per day and the majority of them returned to their pre-show weight and had to under eat by 400–800 calories a day just to not gain weight.
- Your hunger hormones are out of whack
Conversely, if you routinely eat ample sugar and desserts and processed carbohydrates (breads, pastas, white rice, etc.), you likely have leptin resistance and skewed hunger hormone function that causes constant food cravings and hunger. Minimizing or eliminating processed carbohydrates and exercising regularly helps improve leptin sensitivity so your hunger cues and fat burning returns to normal.
- Your thyroid isn’t working well
One of the most common causes of weight gain and weight loss resistance is hypothyroidism, or low thyroid activity. And the most common cause of this is Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks and damages the thyroid gland. This is why many people do not lose weight even after they start taking thyroid medication. It’s important to address the underlying causes of Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism to improve your health and lose weight.
- You are chronically inflamed
Chronic inflammation skews hormone function, metabolism, and gut health in a way that can promote fat storage and prevent fat burning.
Many people enjoy easy weight loss by following an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle. Nutrient-dense foods void of inflammatory triggers also manage pain, gut problems, autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure, depression anxiety, and other health issues.
- You’ve had a brain injury or have compromised brain function
Many sufferers of concussions and brain injuries find they suddenly gain weight after their injury and are not able to lose it. Brain injuries cause inflammation in the brain, which can not only impact brain function, but also disrupt metabolic, hormone, and immune in a way that promotes promotes weight gain and inhibits fat burning. Brain injury victims also often struggle with fatigue, exercise intolerance, depression, and other symptoms that interfere with appropriate fat burning and storage.
- You have mold illness
Mold illness is increasingly being identified as an underlying cause of many health disorders and symptoms, including weight gain and weight loss resistance. Almost a quarter of the US population is susceptible to mold illness. Toxicity from mycotoxins, the byproducts of molds, can seriously impact metabolic, immune, and neurological health leading to unexplained weight gain and weight loss resistance. This refers not just to the dreaded black mold but also the more commonly found strains of mold caused by leaks and water damage in buildings.
- You were born with an obese gut microbiome
Research into the gut microbiome, our trillions of gut bacteria, show they impact virtually every aspect of our health, including whether we are more likely to be thin or heavy.
Studies on both mice and humans have shown that obese subjects inoculated with the gut bacteria of thin subjects went on to quickly and easily lose weight.
Factors that impact your gut microbiome “signature” in a way that promotes obesity include being delivered via C-section, being formula fed versus breastfed, and frequent antibiotic use in childhood.
- You are a victim of childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault or have PTSD
After more than two decades of trying to understand why most obese people regained the weight they lost, an obesity researcher made an accidental discovery — the majority of his study subjects had been sexually abused as children or sexually assaulted right before the time their weight gain began. This can drive complex PTSD and the genesis of a food addiction to cope.
Likewise, researchers have found a correlation between food addiction and PTSD in women.
- You have a brain-based disorder that promotes food addiction and an eating disorder
For many people with weight issues, food becomes the source of torturous addictive behaviors that can then morph into eating disorders. It is increasingly being found that addictions and eating disorders are linked to brain-based disorders such as ADHD. Skewed neurological function triggers the obsessive thought patterns that lay the foundation for addictive eating and eating disorders.
Look for the underlying cause of weight gain and weight loss resistance to develop self-compassion
I hope this article helps you understand some of the factors that play into a chronic struggle with weight gain and weight loss resistance. Our society begs us to gorge on eat sugary foods and drinks through incessant advertising while a multi-billion-dollar diet industry and impossible pop culture body ideals value human worth based on thinness.
The result is millions of people, the majority of them women, internalize society’s fat shaming and develop shame and self-loathing around food and their bodies when the real sickness is in the society and not the individual.
The body is a miraculous machine that operates in constant service to us. You can learn to live and eat in a way that honors good health and function regardless of your size. Ask my office how we can help you.
Your gallbladder can cause gut and health problems
People tend not to think about their gallbladder unless gallstones become a painful and debilitating problem requiring surgery. However, your gallbladder could be causing gut problems or chronic inflammatory issues, even if you have no overt gallbladder symptoms.
In fact, gallbladder issues are one of the most common reasons people have chronic gastrointestinal symptoms that are difficult to treat. This is because people rarely consider gallbladder health.
The gallbladder is reservoir for bile, which it secretes to emulsify fats in the diet.
The issue with many cases of poor gallbladder health isn’t gallbladder stones but instead biliary stasis. This is a condition in which the bile becomes overly thick and doesn’t secrete well to help digest fats.
Gallstones are obvious and easy to diagnose. Symptoms of gallstones include:
- Severe and sudden pain in the upper right abdomen and possibly extending to the upper back.
- Fever and shivering.
- Severe nausea and vomiting.
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- Clay colored stools or dark urine.
Typically, gallstones include a trip to the emergency room and gallbladder removal surgery, one of the most commonly performed surgeries today.
However, by paying attention to your gallbladder health, you can not only avoid an unnecessary surgery that raises the risks of developing other health problems, but also you can improve your gut function and lower inflammation.
Sometimes in cases of biliary stasis, an ultrasound can show gallstones that have formed but not yet obstructed the gallbladder. However, for many people, overly thick bile is the problem. This can be identified via symptoms.
Symptoms of biliary stasis include:
- Bloating after meals
- Burping after meals
- Fish oil burps from fish oil capsules
- Fatty foods make you feel worse
- Floating stools
- Chronic constipation
These are symptoms that a conventional doctor may dismiss altogether, and that can also be caused by other imbalances.
Biliary stasis is especially common in overweight women over 40 who have had children due to the effects of hormonal shifts on the gallbladder.
It’s important to address gallbladder function and biliary stasis as sufficient bile flow is necessary to digest fats. When fats aren’t digested, the undigested fats cause imbalances elsewhere in the body.
Undigested fats can lead to poor sphincter function in the digestive tract, which facilitates the transport of bacteria from the large intestine into the small intestine, causing a condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). SIBO causes myriad symptoms, including chronic constipation, chronic diarrhea, or both. Bloating is also common with SIBO.
Biliary stasis also backs up the liver’s detoxification pathways. As a result, the liver cannot effectively detoxify hormones, toxins, and other metabolites. This increases the toxic burden on your system, which in turn increases inflammation.
Many people with poor gallbladder function and biliary stasis naturally start avoiding fats, even healthy fats like olive oil and avocado oil. They also may avoid fish or fish oils because they get “fishy burps.” This increases health risks, particularly for the brain and the hormones, because we need ample healthy fats for optimal function. It also leads to deficiencies in the vital fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
If you are taking all the right GI supplements and doing the right gut health diets but still not improving, your gallbladder health is one thing you may want to consider.
How to improve your gallbladder health
Fortunately, various nutritional compounds support gallbladder health, fat digestion, and liver detoxification, including dandelion root, milk thistle seed extract, ginger root, phosphatidylcholine, and taurine.
These compounds can also help if your gallbladder has been removed, along with ox bile.
- In order to improve and maintain your gallbladder health, also include these practices:
- Eat 25–38 grams of fiber a day.
- Avoid processed and excess starchy carbohydrates (white flour, sugar, potatoes, pasta, etc.).
- Avoid trans fats, hydrogenated fats, and processed vegetable oils.
- Get plenty of essential fatty acids and omega 3s.
- Eliminate foods to which you have an immune response; gluten and dairy are the two most common.
- Support low thyroid function or autoimmune Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.
Ask my office for more advice on how to support your gallbladder health or your general health if your gallbladder has been removed.