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Healing Leaky Gut by Understanding Digestion

BY LISA BORG-ANDERSON

Digestion. We have heard the adage that we are what we eat. And, it is true.

But did you know how you eat and with whom you eat is also very important? Let’s dive in and learn more about healing the gut, as it is not only our immunity, nourishment but also our intuition.

The digestive system is one of the most important systems in our body and most influenced by our habits each meal and moment of the day. Because of this, we can also harness our own innate healing power every time we take a bite of food!  

Let’s look at what the digestive system does from a TCM perspective.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we have 4 main organs in the digestive tract. Stomach, spleen, small intestine, and large intestine. The stomach holds the food.

Small Intestine

The small intestine oversees separating the pure nutrients from the turbid or waste products. This function is important and assists the spleen in producing quality nutrients for the body.

Spleen

The spleen is the cumulative name for the pancreas, spleen and all digestive enzymes.

The spleen is also in charge of transforming and transporting nutrients throughout the body. We also say that it helps produce blood. This is a TCM version and essentially it means energy for function as well as blood itself.

It also supports organs by holding them in place - if weakened, the prolapse of organs occurs.

There is also the function of holding blood and those who bruise easily or have anemia should work on supporting their spleen function. If overworked, by too many sweets, dairy or raw/cold foods, you may have a spleen that produces dampness, which can show up in your colon, sinuses or even a foggy-headed feeling.

The emotion that the spleen represents is worry or overthinking. Thus, often we all tend to overwork our spleens just by having busy lives and lots of reading/computer work.

Liver

The liver is also very important and is partnered with the gall bladder which holds the bile produced by the liver.

Do you see the pattern here?

A solid organ pairs with a hollow organ that helps with either storage or passage of nutrients. This holds true of all organ pairs in TCM.

The liver is in charge of moving energy within the body and when it is moving smoothly, we feel normal digestive energy - things moving downward and working through the digestive system to elimination.

When there is added stress in our lives or we eat something that disagrees with us - energy can go upwards (acid reflux), stop moving at all and cause pain/constipation or move too quickly and cause diarrhea.  

Large Intestine

The large intestine oversees holding waste, releasing it smoothly and assisting with the water metabolism within the body.

We often associate the large intestine as having the role of releasing or letting go of big emotions. The liver and spleen relationship is important here for moving energy and keeping dampness out of the intestines.

If there is stuck energy and dampness, there can be many symptoms associated. We call symptoms associated with irritable bowels. If the bowels have been in disharmony for a long time or have been injured by illness or medication, we see symptoms of Leaky Gut.

What is Leaky Gut?

In a nutshell, leaky gut is an imbalance of the digestive tract where large food particles or proteins can move through the intestinal wall and into the body.

Leaky gut symptoms include:

  • Excess weight
  • Impaired immunity
  • Headaches and migraines,
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Body and joint pain
  • Sleep problems
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Gas, bloating and indigestion

Essentially, our gut health determines our overall health and happiness. Not to mention a large portion of our immunity.

Chinese medicine looks at your specific symptoms and patterns versus diagnosis from western medicine. This is always helpful for treating you but not necessary at all.


Let’s look at some ways we can support your body.

Depending on what you are experiencing there are several ways to support your gut. If the above symptoms are of concern, cutting out cold temperature foods or raw foods is another great way to heal. The spleen needs to have warm or room temperature foods before digesting so keeping cooked foods as the majority of your nourishment will not tax the spleen as much. Even switching away from icy drinks can make a huge difference for those with congestion, brain fog or fatigue after meals.

Warm Lemon Water

One of the easiest things I recommend to patients who have digestive symptoms regardless of what they are is starting the day with a cup of warm lemon water. This detoxifies the liver allowing the energy to move which helps the digestion, wakes up the colon and hydrates too. It is a simple step to nourish your digestion.

Regular Meals

Having regular meals or snacks is important and starting the day with a balanced meal of proteins, healthy fats and carbs is essential.

Take Your Time

Eating slowly, chewing thoroughly and not being distracted is important too. I always tell patients to think of a traditional Mediterranean meal; everyone helps cook, eats one course at a time, visits and laughs and makes the night of it. Then, takes a stroll to digest everything. Throw in some red wine and it’s a party. But seriously, be mindful of how, where and with whom you eat. Relax as much as you can. Prepare your food with intention and purpose. Nourish yourself and your family. There is a healing power of cooking or purchasing healthy, organic if possible options.

Make your plate a rainbow.

Yes, if you can (I try and often don’t do it unless you count the cranberries and dried fruit in my train mix but give yourself grace) to have 5 to 8 servings of different fruits and veg a day. Seriously, it’s that important. If you want to have fresh fruit room temperature please or try baked fruit with granola and nuts. It’s delicious and will hit the slightly sweet spot for your spleen. Again, I love salads and so do many of you. That’s fine but pair it with a warm piece of fish/chicken or a bowl of soup with it. Make a conscious effort to warm up your meals. 

If you want some ideas, I give you some options here!

Mindfulness

Practice mindfulness or set aside time for relaxation. Figure out what works for you and schedule it in your calendar. Create time for date nights or girls nights or whatever you need to unwind. Try yoga, spin or just go for more walks. Make it consistent and try new things. Also it is important to get enough sleep.

Keep Hydrated

Hydration is always key to good gut health and try to keep a large water bottle with you. If you drink and have your veggies/fruits don’t forget to count that as part of your water intake.  Adding in green tea or other teas such as chamomile, mint or ginger depending on preference and imbalance is great too. Avoid too much dairy or coffee if you have a sensitive system in general. If you do want something creamy in your tea, try nut milk creamers.


Digestion & Supplements

In the video I recently did on gut health, I talked a lot about poor digestion and nutritional supplements. And I often feel that folks try to take too many things at once to support their systems but with an under-functioning digestive system, they often make things worse.

I recommend doing no more than 3 to 5 supplements at a time. Five, only, if you are doing fantastically in the pooping department and feel great…all the time. Otherwise, your spleen is working twice as hard trying to digest food & supplements.

Spacing out supplements is also important so that they have time to digest well and not hinder the digestion of medications or food. Experiment and see what will work for you. There is so much you can get out of healthy eating that I often have patients focus on one area at a time so we know what is working and then add more slowly.

Leaky Gut & Detoxes

If you are having leaky gut symptoms or digestion irregularities, please, do not do a cleanse or detox that is harsh or long term. There are so many of us out there-me included who have tried different detoxes out there to improve our digestion, to lose weight or remove adhesions of old stool in our colons. And in my case, I made my irritable bowel syndrome much, much worse. So, I caution you to work with someone who has a lot of experience in this department and focus on healing not purging things out which can weaken your overall function, kill off healthy bacteria and really created a whole lot more dysfunction.

Healing the Gut

Healing the gut slowly and working on changing the biome of your colon-changing the bacterial colonies that help produce our cravings and trigger neurotransmitters to release is a much healthier and safer alternative. Not to mention, long-lasting and completely natural. I am all for taking herbs but if your gut isn’t healthy you are really not able to benefit from them in the first place.


 

The Prime Challenge

I recommend and use the products in the Prime, which is a program created by neurologist Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary who worked with many patients with systemic symptoms of chronic disease. Her research has shown that the bacterial colonies within our gut are often the reason we cannot stick to “healthy eating” because they have cravings for things like wheat and sugar which are triggering our brains to support their needs before our own. So, we eat what they crave and not what we need. Game-changing research. Because we as humans feel like failures when we cannot stick to a program or cheat occasionally. 

The herbs recommended in her book are primarily spices, berries, and flax seeds. They are gentle, effective and Ayurvedic medicine is holistic and proven to heal slowly returning function to the intestines. Once your gut is healthier and less reactive to foods, she introduces herbs to improve function as well as gently moving out old toxins without a “die-off” effect. This is important because feeling awful for long periods of time with other types of programs is discouraging and unnecessary. Feeling clearer mentally and having more regular bowel movements before adding in herbs is different from other programs for sure, but I for one notice a huge difference in how I feel almost immediately. And feeling better leads to better decisions in what I eat throughout the day.

I will be doing a Prime challenge for those who want to take control of their gut health and make a new path for healing in March. As I continue to work towards a healthier lifestyle each day, I hope you will join me in making the Prime a part of your journey too.

These suggestions are part of a rich tradition in many countries who follow a balanced way of living in harmony with their minds and body. May they help you in your path to taking control of your digestive health. I hope you have had some food for thought and I look forward to hearing what has worked for you or to answer any questions about the upcoming challenge.

 

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