More and more, the health of ones lower digestive tract, or the gut, emerges as the starting point for preventing, treating and sourcing many chronic and acute illnesses. Our gut health may also impact our mental health, however, these conversations are not always breached in a doctor’s office. Often, we look at the symptoms and rush to treat those instead of taking the time to find the source of our ails.
I’m a minimalist when it comes to medicine and doctors. As an individual with an irritable bowel disease, specifically Crohn’s disease, health and nutrition are of great interest to me. Our gut microbiome is essential to our health and well-being beyond conditions that are directly related to our digestive tract. The scientific research surrounding the gut-brain connection and the profound impact our gut microbiome has on our entire health continues to confirm that nutrition is not just a part of a healthy lifestyle, but foundational.
I found Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s research to be profoundly empowering when making decisions regarding my health. The insights she shares on gut health are enlightening and actionable. I highly recommend you stop my her page foundmyfitness.com and listen to a podcast. Her mission as stated on her website:
“Dr. Patrick is dedicated to the pursuit of longevity and optimal health and shares the latest research on nutrition, aging, and disease prevention with her audience. She has a gift for translating scientific topics into understandable takeaways for all levels of education and interest.”
As well-intended as I may be, though, I do love ALL the foods, whether they are beneficial or not. Sugar is probably my weakest point with high-fat cheese products coming in at a close second. Neither of these is good for me and my particular situation as a Crohn’s fighter. At least not in the quantities I would like. Balance is key!
After having back to back surgeries and lots of antibiotics, I not only wiped my gut out but put a lot of stress on my body causing my Crohn’s to go into a flare. After two months of treating it with medication, it was only getting worse. I had a visit with my gastroenterologist, whom I really appreciate for his unconventional approach to medicine. You can read more about his thoughts here. He’s not a straight, follow-the-protocol type. Rather he looks at a patient in their unique situation and addresses their specific needs avoiding expensive, invasive procedures when they are not necessary. And he has a unique payment system, which is affordable. It’s not easy to find doctors like that! After a lot of talk about science and stuff, I left with a very unclear plan of action. It irked me, but the alternative would be to dive straight into steroid treatment. My condition didn’t warrant the “bazooka” steroid treatment, as Dr. J put it. After having done that sort of treatment many times, many years ago, the memory of the negative effects was enough to have me considering my alternatives despite having to let the flare continue for a few more weeks. So, we agreed to try to address the flare through dietary changes, a concerted effort to regrow my good gut flora (antibiotics wipe all of that away), and doubling up on my current medication.
The diet is quite simple, though far-reaching: whole foods (fruit, veggies, protein), no refined sugar. I’m basically to shop in the produce and butcher section only. I’ve done this diet before to control a flare and it helped tremendously. And it’s far better than a liquid diet and steroids! I am seven days in now and I’ve already seen improvement. This time, though, Dr. J specified that I should diversify my diet, find produce I don’t typically eat and give it a go. As my personal choice, I’m focusing on adding prebiotic foods to help feed the good gut bacteria. Prebiotics are foods that are not easily digestible in the stomach. In digestion, prebiotics will make it past the acidic environment in the stomach so that the bacteria in the lower digestive tract can break it down and flourish. I’m also keeping a journal of what goes in (and out of) me each day.
Now, if my condition were more dire, if I was severely nutrient-deficient or in pain, I would take a different course of action. I think so often, we turn to medicine to fix what hurts or bothers us, when really the solution is far simpler even if it inconveniently takes longer to see results. It’s important to understand the science of your health situation, even if it’s mental health. And just because there is science delineating a theory of how your brain or body is functioning, it doesn’t make it truth, at least not your truth. We listen to our gut when it tells us when, or when not, to befriend a stranger or to take a leap of faith in life, but we need to pay attention to our gut when our body starts to fail us too. It’s not always the answer, but it’s a good place to start.