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Dr. Cynthia Costa. Photo: Emily Rasmussen
Dr. Cynthia Costa. Photo: Emily Rasmussen

By Cynthia Costa, D.C.

Recent research in functional medicine tells us that our gut is the window to our brain. As the vast majority of the nerves from the stomach go to the brain, the mix and diversity of the bacteria in our gut can greatly influence its power. Therefore, the more diverse the bacteria in our gut, otherwise known as microbiome, the healthier the person typically is, according to Why Isn’t My Brain Working? by Dr. Datis Kharrazian.

Unfortunately, people in the United States have some of the lowest rates of gut microbiome. Low diversity in gut bacteria have been correlated with obesity, heart disease, immune dysfunction and neurological diseases. Therefore, gut health is one of the most important areas of the body to focus on healing since it has a direct correlation to the brain and all bodily functions.

A typical patient question I hear is, ‘why is my gut more sensitive than the guy sitting next to me, consistently eating plates of greasy nachos with beers, feeling just fine?’

Gut symptoms can take a while to develop, as it starts with our genetic profile, but is eventually influenced by many lifestyle choices including, but not limited to: lifetime stresses, injuries, drug exposure, surgery, diet, other diseases, even how you were delivered and whether or not one was breast fed. These all affect the microbiome in the gut. Therefore, it is not practical to compare yourself to the nacho and beer guy.

Simply put, the human digestive tract starts from the mouth to the stomach where acids break down food, sending it to the small intestine, which introduces nutrients to the blood stream followed by the large intestine; which forms unwanted waste.

Severe chronic abdominal pain, excess gas, inability to digest foods, yeast overgrowth and brain fog are some of the most common symptoms associated with gut problems, from “The Neuroendocrine Immunology of Mucosal Activity” lecture by Kharrazian. The digestive tract at this point tends to be unable to release enzymes to break down our food that we need to absorb for fuel. Proper bowel movements and a healthy communication of the nervous and endocrine system are affected. The longer these symptoms are untreated, the more severe the destruction is in the lining of the gut with the potential of triggering a permanent autoimmune disease.

The ‘pro’ in probiotics

I have many patients that come in with gut symptoms and are taking a general probiotic. The initial drawback is that one size does not fit all. There are different types of probiotics for different gut problems. For example, we would administer different probiotic strains for someone who is suffering from small intestine bacteria overgrowth, versus someone who has leaky gut disease in the large intestine, according to “The Neuroendocrine Immunology of Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth” by Datis Kharrazian. There are different strands for different gut conditions. Some conditions even call for probiotic enemas or fecal transplants—yes, it might sound crazy, but this is happening. It is important to first establish a proper diagnosis before deciding on the appropriate protocol.

Other potential natural solutions overlooked prior to adding a probiotic into a regular health routine include:

  • Using an appropriate supplement for a short period of time that helps kill the overgrowth of bad bacteria.
  • Eliminating sugars from the diet altogether, as sugar feeds bad bacteria. Follow a low sugar, low carb diet high in healthy fats.
  • Eating fermented foods that help with digestion or consider digestive enzymes.
  • Ingest L glutamine, collagen, bone broth, short chain fatty acids, butyric acid and MCT oil all heal the lining of the gut and increase the gut microbiome and absorption.
  • Finding tools to help you increase sleep, exercise and sweat while decreasing stress.
  • Do an annual gastrointestinal cleanse to give your gut a break. A cleanse should address food changes with supplements to help maximize the results with agents that help kill bad bacteria and replenish good bacteria.
  • Limit antibiotics, if needed, use a probiotics after consumption.
  • Eat as many diverse kinds of plant foods that you can tolerate. Don’t be a creature of habit; go to the farmers’ market each week, find that plant that you don’t know about, then buy it and cook it.

At Costa Lifestyle Medicine, we use only pharmaceutical, shelf-stable probiotics: Lactobacillus-acidophilus-sporogenes-plantarum, and bifidobacterium breve, saccharomyces boulardii.

There are many possible solutions to initially fixing the gut. Probiotics serve a useful and beneficial purpose, especially when maximized with the proper diagnosis. Diversifying gut bacteria will promote a happy and vital gut life.

Cynthia Costa, D.C., FICPA, of Costa Lifestyle Medicine in San Clemente, offers chiropractic services combined with a functional medicine approach and is committed to helping families and individuals reach their maximum health potential with integrative lifestyle medicine.

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