Dr. Vivian Chen is double board certified in internal and family medicine in the UK. She moved to California 5 years ago and now coaches clients back to health by addressing the root causes instead of the pill-for-every-ill paradigm she practiced for 15 years. She is passionate about gut health, nutrition, non-toxic living and detox. You can find her website here and on Instagram at @plateful.health.
Do you have symptoms that you can’t get to the bottom of? Like fatigue, acne, eczema, anxiety, migraines, and autoimmune conditions?
Did you know that your gut health could be contributing to these conditions?
Despite my years of extensive medical training, I didn’t.
It wasn’t until my whole world turned upside down that I realized just how important gut health is for our overall health. My daughter was hospitalized and tube fed at the age of 8 weeks and no doctor (including myself) could help her. I threw myself into the research to find answers — to save her — and eventually realized that she had a rare form of Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy, which caused her gullet to be inflamed. This led me down a huge rabbit hole that has led me to where I am today.
In my research since, I’ve come to truly believe eroded gut health is at the center of the chronic disease epidemics we are witnessing, whether it’s eczema, asthma, food allergies, or autoimmune diseases.
You see, 70-80% of our immune system is in our gut. And there is constant communication between our gut microbiota (the trillions of friendly microbes that live in our gut) and our immune system.
If the immune system is our army, then the gut is the boot camp where the immune system is trained and instructed on how to behave. If the immune system did not receive the right training because something went wrong in the boot camp (i.e. the gut), then we will start to see a confused immune system with downstream consequences like inflammation, allergies, acne, autoimmune conditions, etc.
So what can go wrong in the boot camp?
- Leaky gut: Our gut lining is only one cell layer thick and it’s intentionally thin so that nutrients can be easily absorbed. However, this lining can be easily damaged by things like environmental toxins, pesticides, inflammatory foods, and stress. When this happens, holes start forming in the gut lining, a condition known as leaky gut (or increased intestinal permeability), and now all the bad things like bacteria, toxins, undigested food can pass through into our bloodstream and start to trigger inflammation. Inflammation then contributes to fatigue, brain fog, acne, eczema, and so on.
- Dysbiosis: Our gut is home to trillions of microbes aka the gut microbiota. These bacteria help us digest food, detoxify from hormones, toxins, produce vitamins, and more. Here’s the thing: what happens in the gut does not stay in the gut. These microbes have now been found to communicate with our organs (like the brain), and can release either beneficial compounds that build our health or inflammatory compounds that lead to symptoms like anxiety and depression.
So, Hippocrates really wasn’t far off when he said, “All disease begins in the gut” thousands of years ago.
Which brings us to the question of: what can you do to heal your gut?
The Number One Gut Healing Myth
Probiotics are not the answer. It’s tempting to pop supplements, but the way to gut health is not through probiotic pills. These are made of a few viable strains of bacteria in a capsule when our gut ideally should house hundreds (if not thousand) difference types of bacteria, virus, archae. Probiotics are but a needle in a haystack.
In fact, a study published in 2014 showed that taking probiotics after antibiotics may even impair the healthy recovery of our microbiome post antibiotics. The megadose of the few strains of bacteria in probiotics might actually suppress the bounce back of the other beneficial strains.
Diversity is the name of the game when it comes to gut health. Research has shown that the more types of different microbes there are in your gut, the better.
Here are 5 things to help with microbiome diversity:
- Eat more plants: Our gut microbes feast on fiber and antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables. The more types of fruits and vegetables in your diet, the more types of microbes you are able to nurture and cultivate in your gut. When you go grocery shopping next week, try to find 2 veggies or fruits you don’t normally eat and look up a recipe to incorporate them in.
- Coffee, teas, and spices: Got your attention with coffee, didn’t I? Not only are these delicious, they are packed with polyphenols (antioxidants) which our gut bacteria thrive on. Think of polyphenols as the Miracle Gro for your friendly gut bugs. Just be careful with pesticides — tea and coffee can be heavily sprayed with pesticides, so choose organic when you can. Which brings me onto the next tip…
- Remove things that damage your gut lining and microbiome: In my many years of practice, this is the one step I see people miss time and again on a gut-healing journey. People come to me having spent hundreds of dollars on supplements like probiotics and glutamine, and yet they haven’t removed the things damaging their gut in the first place. If you have a hole in your roof, don’t just put a bucket there to catch the water… repair the hole first! How do you do that?
- Reduce ultra-processed foods like chips, ready-meals, and bakery items. These often contain preservatives and additives that damage the microbiota, not to mention inflammatory ingredients which damage the lining of the gut.
- Reduce refined sugar, which can alter the gut microbiome and encourage the growth of undesirable gut bugs. Refined sugar is most commonly found in packaged foods such as granola bars, cookies, pastries, soda, coffee, sauces, yogurt, and spreads like Nutella.
- Excessive alcohol: I know I’m not going to win a popularity award here, but alcohol can cause inflammation in the gut which changes both the lining and the microbiome. You don’t have to cut out alcohol completely, but maybe minimize the amount you drink if you want to improve your gut health.
- Stress management : Who isn’t stressed? It’s not possible to escape from stress entirely (especially living in the modern world), but it is possible to manage it better so it has less of an impact on our health. Sadly, studies have shown that stress can alter our gut lining and microbiome, so adopting a technique that resonates with you to cope with stress better can help your gut healing journey.
- Get into nature: Not only have studies shown that spending nature can reduce our stress levels, but the abundance of microbes in the fresh air out in nature can also help with our microbiota diversity.
In summary: gut health is central to our health and the great news is that it is possible to heal your gut. Ditch the quick fixes and focus on addressing the foundations that build gut health instead. If you would like to learn more on how to heal your gut and why conditions like candida overgrowth or SIBO are so resistant to ‘treatments’, I have a free guide and video masterclass series here.