An introduction to one of the most important parts of your body

In my seemingly never ending quest for knowledge and an understanding of what true health is and how it can affect performance I was lead straight to the center of the issue: the gut. To put it mildly, your gut is one of the most important systems of organs in your body and its importance goes well beyond simply digesting that quadruple-stack-wooly-mammoth burger and gargantu-fry you shoveled down at lunch.

Your gut is the heart of your immune system, responsible for sniffing out intruders (viruses, bad bacteria, parasites, and toxins) and setting your internal army of defenses loose to deal with the problem(s). In fact seventy to eighty percent of your immune system is located in your gut. Another little known fact is that almost all of your serotonin (the neurotransmitter/hormone responsible for keeping you happy and positive) is produced in your gut. With the simple statement of those two facts it can be easier to see why when your gut health is compromised you’re more likely to become sick and depressed, but it goes even further than that.

When your gut is damaged, the possibility arises that any undigested foods, toxins or chemicals can pass through your gut and directly into your blood stream. This is the main reason behind the epidemic of food allergies and low-level inflammation we’re seeing today. The broken down food particles can mimic cells in your own body which confuses the immune system into attacking not only the invader cells, but also your body’s own cells that may bare a resemblance.

The resulting damage causes inflammation; Inflammation is actually a natural and healthy response to injury where the body heals the damage using cholesterol (among other tissues), forming a scab. Under normal circumstances this scab would be absorbed back into the body once the internal wound was healed, but with today’s prevalence of chronic damage and inflammation, over time the scabs build up in the arteries and can lead to cardiovascular (heart) disease, among other autoimmune diseases. The heart disease and inflammation (and accompanying cholesterol) were merely symptoms of the underlying problem that rarely gets properly diagnosed: a damaged gut.

To make matters worse, most conventional fixes are simply Band-Aid medications that mask the symptoms, but unleash yet more synthetic chemicals into the body, which since the underlying problem of a damaged (leaky) gut wasn’t addressed, pass into the blood stream and cause more harm than good.

This is why the average prescription drug advertisement says, “Take this drug to lower your cholesterol! Warning, may cause blindness, numbness, dizziness, vomiting, anal leakage, depression, suicide, and/or death.” The drug just masks the symptoms while either the disease worsens and/or some other ailment causes more symptoms for which more pills are prescribed. This is just one example of what many people today are unknowingly doing to their bodies. Modern medicine can be fantastic in a life-threatening situation, but in general health I’m afraid it fails quite miserably.

So if a damaged/compromised gut is a route cause for many of today’s chronic diseases, what causes it to be damaged in the first place? In today’s world there’s unfortunately no shortage of culprits.

As the industrial revolution led to massive improvements in technology, one negative effect is what I’d like to call the chemical revolution.

We’re being bombarded with chemicals and foreign materials that our bodies determine to be toxins more now than at any time in our history as humans. There are chemicals being sprayed on our crops, on the crops that our farm animals eat which then get passed to us as we consume their meat; antibiotics and hormones are administered to the animals we consume; there are chemicals and estrogen mimickers in our beauty products, the water we drink, the clothes we wear; petroleum based chemicals and heavy metals are in the air we breath and cleansers we use; and there’re plasticizers in the materials we use to wrap and store our food.

It really is breathtaking when you understand what a chemical assault our bodies are under on a daily basis in the modern era.

And having thrown that daunting list of chemical sources out there, let’s get a bit more of the bad news into the open: no matter how healthy or naturally you live your life, you can’t escape the reach of these chemicals. They’re too pervasive in our modern worldand when they enter your system they wreak havoc on your gut health.

Another cause for damage to the gut is the quantity and types of foods that you put in your body. When you continually eat, your body has a hard time digesting everything in your gut and so some of the food sits there and ferments. This fermented food feeds detrimental bacteria in your gut and causes damage. Also, consuming a lot of sugars and simple carbs feeds the problem as harmful bacteria and candida prosper in a sugary/acidic environment.

Luckily there’s good news: your body is incredibly resilient and has the ability to detoxify most of these chemicals from your system and heal itself from the inside if you understand how.

There are a few methods for repairing your gut that can be done in isolation or as part of a whole routine depending on your body, your lifestyle and how much you want to dive face first into detoxification.

First is the fast. This is probably the least expensive way to repair your gut and improve your health and it’s incredibly simple to do: don’t eat. Ok, ok, of course it is more complex than that as there are many factors that can determine the length of your fast and the type of fast that may benefit you. First let’s focus on length.

A fast is simply described as any prolonged period of time without food. The minimum length of time is usually 14-16 hours after your last meal (this number includes digestion time which can last from 5-8 hours) to be considered a fast. The maximum time is 20-24 hours for a fast that doesn’t begin to turn your body to a catabolic state where your body breaks down your muscles for fuel. Of course it is feasible to fast for longer if you are willing to accept the possible consequences of depleted energy and muscle wasting; the flip side would be that you are theoretically giving more benefit to your gut and digestive tract from an extended fast, but it is a bit extreme especially if you have a life that you’d like to live. A healthy fast would last from the time you wake to your evening meal (dinner).

Next, there are a couple different types of fasts. There’s the water fast, which means you consume nothing but water during your fast (thank you captain obvious). This has its place, but there’s some evidence that more benefit comes from an intake of small amounts of low glycemic, antioxidant-rich food (like some berries or vegetable juice).

So that leads us to the juice fast, which is by far the most popular form. This is probably the most beneficial as you ingest some nutrients and antioxidants to help flush away any mobilized toxins in your body. The only trick is that you don’t want to have too much and cause an insulin response, which would negate some of the benefits of your fast. The idea is to give your digestive system a break so it can heal itself and recycle old cells; you’re simply giving it some nutrients to aid the process.

Fasts are a great idea to incorporate into your life on a regular basis, be it weekly, monthly, or even daily. I’ll have a follow up article where I go a bit deeper into fasting in the not too distant future.

Besides fasting, or as a compliment, a great idea is to add probiotics to your diet. Probiotics are “friendly” bacteria that colonize your gut (intestines to be specific) and perform many positive functions: they help to form a tight barrier, keeping food from entering your blood stream; they help digest food and metabolize nutrients from the food you eat, especially B vitamins; they help to regulate your immune system; and they help detoxify your gut. You can increase your intake of probiotics by purchasing supplements from a health food store, by keeping your intake of sugars and simple/starchy carbohydrates to a minimum (the acidity kills the healthy bacteria and promotes detrimental bacterial growth), and by consuming fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, plain organic yogurts, and organic raw cheeses. Adding probiotics to your daily life will help promote and maintain a healthy balance inside your gut.

Another lesser know aid of detoxification is using healing clays. Our ancestors, as well as many holistic practitioners, know the value of healing clays, the most popular of which are Bentonite, Diatomaceous Earth, and Zeolite, but our modern world has all but forgotten about them. These are clays (volcanic ash) that when ingested attract toxins inside the body while offering very little to nothing in the way of side effects. To put it in simple terms, they’re able to benefit the body because their natural negative charge attracts materials with a positive charge, which low and behold most toxins and chemicals possess. It’s important to use food grade versions of these clays, but using them is as easy as mixing a little clay in water and drinking the mixture. They can also be quite good at alleviating food poisoning symptoms for the same reasons they’re effective at cleaning the digestive tract.

Implementing at least one, but preferably all three of these techniques, will greatly improve your health, but it’s not the whole story. There is a lifestyle to follow as well and it starts with being more educated about the products you’re consuming. Of course it all begins with being more aware of what you’re putting directly into your stomach: eating organic produce that isn’t sprayed with chemicals; eating meat that’s raised without hormones and antibiotics and fed a chemical free (preferably free-range) diet; being aware of the beverages you’re consuming, steering clear of artificial sweeteners and simple sugars; and reducing your simple carbohydrate intake as the acidity of excess sugar in the gut kills the healthy bacteria and promotes growth of bad bacteria.

It also makes a difference to know the ingredients of your beauty products, soaps and cleansers to avoid petroleum products, synthetic chemicals and hormone mimickers; filtering your showerhead to cut down on the amount of chlorine to which you expose you body can be beneficial; filtering the air in your house can help as well. These are just a few of the many ways you can help to cut down your exposure to chemicals.

It definitely takes vigilance to keep your body free from an over burden of toxins and performing at its peak, but with a little bit of time, effort and knowledge you can greatly improve not only your own health, but the health of the ones you love. The power is and always has been yours.

Robby Bell