Why I Don’t Take a Diet-First Approach to Healing Gut Issues

You might assume that, as a dietitian who works with those with digestive problems and gut microbiome imbalances like SIBO and dysbiosis, I spend the majority of my time counseling my clients on diets like the low-FODMAP diet, SCD diet, GAPS, or any other number of restrictive dieting approaches out there.

Want the truth?

I spend the majority of my time talking to my clients about things other than the types of foods they’re eating. We talk antimicrobial herbs, stress reduction, sleep, exercise, calorie intake…but specific food choices? We don’t spend much time on those beyond general healthy eating concepts.

In my 7 years of working with digestive health clients, I’ve found that taking a diet-first approach to fixing microbial imbalance in the gut is the wrong move.

Here’s why.

Restrictive Diets Don’t Address the Real Problem

If you have gut issues like SIBO or dysbiosis, heavily restricting your diet doesn’t solve the problem. I’ve written about this concept specifically in regards to a low-FODMAP diet before, but it applies to practically every other restrictive dietary approach out there. The only exception to the “rule” would be the elemental diet (which I don’t even consider to be a “diet” per se;

Probiotics: An In-Depth Guide & The Best Probiotic Supplements on the Market

probiotic

Probiotics have thundered onto the health and wellness stage — you hear about them everywhere now.  With claims running the gamut from “probiotics heal your gut” to “probiotics prevent cancer,” it seems as though they are just about a cure for everything.

But, do they actually do what they claim to? Or are these claims just another way to convince you to buy expensive supplements?

In this article I’m going to answer all of your pressing questions about probiotics. From the very basics of what probiotics are, through the details of probiotic strains, to the ways probiotics work at the molecular level; everything you need to know about this burgeoning field, you’ll find right here.

What are Probiotics?

Alright, first thing’s first. What are probiotics, exactly?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Scientific Association for Prebiotics and Probiotics, probiotics are defined as: “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” (1)

…And what, exactly, does that mean?

Well, basically, it means a probiotic is any species of bacteria,

The Truth About Leaky Gut Syndrome: What is It and How Do You Heal?

leaky gut syndrome

Is leaky gut syndrome real? Here’s what you need to know about this condition, how it affects your body, and how to heal for good.

Please note: there are affiliate links throughout this post. If you buy products through those links you help to support more great content like this!

What is Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Think about your digestive system for a second — from mouth to anus, it’s really just one long tube that dictates what can be absorbed into your bloodstream and what passes through the body. It knows that things like nutrients and water are important to absorb into the bloodstream, while toxic particles and undigested foods should make their way to the large intestine to be passed out of the body in the form of stool.

The gut barrier is one single cell layer thick and is connected by “tight junctions” that hold the cells together. This single layer of cells and the tight junctions between them are the only things preventing harmful particles from entering your bloodstream.

When the gut is functioning normally, these tight junctions hold the cells that make up your gut barrier together and only allow small particles (like nutrients) into the bloodstream.

How Do You Know If You Have Bad Gut Bacteria?

bad gut bacteria

You’ve probably heard the words “gut microbiome”, “gut bacteria”, or “gut flora” quite a bit these days.

Maybe you’ve even read a few articles on why you should pay attention to your gut bacteria and how important they are for your overall health.

You know that “bad bacteria” aren’t great for your health…But now you’re wondering – how do I know if I have bad bacteria? Hint: you might have bad bacteria even if you don’t have digestive issues.

Let me walk you through it!

What is the Microbiome

First, it probably makes sense to go over exactly what the gut microbiome is because this is what becomes unbalanced, leading to chronic health conditions.

The gut microbiome is often referred to as the “forgotten organ” by scientists because it plays such a vital role in your health. Just like your heart and your lungs are required for you to thrive, so is your gut microbiome.

Your gut microbiome is comprised of trillions of bacteria, yeasts, and viruses. We generally classify all of these microorganisms into three different categories:

Normal Flora

Normal flora are exactly what they sound like —

Can the Microbiome Affect Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (IBD)?

ibd ulcerative colitis crohns

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) refers to a group of diseases characterized by changes in the intestinal immune system and chronic inflammation of the intestinal walls.

The most common of these conditions are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. (1, 2, 3, 4)

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease (CD) is an inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the digestive tract, from mouth to anus. (2, 5)  It causes patches of inflammation that extend deep into the intestinal wall, sometimes going all the way through. These inflamed patches are typically separated by areas of healthy tissue.  (2, 5)

The inflamed patches of intestine are very painful and the defining symptom of Crohn’s disease is abdominal pain. Poor digestion and absorption of food by the inflamed gut walls also leads to diarrhea (which can be bloody or mucus-filled), weight loss, and nutritional deficiencies (particularly anemia and vitamin B12 deficiencies). (3, 5)

Though the diagnosis of Crohn’s disease mostly relies on changes in the digestive tract, the overactivation of the immune system in CD is not restricted to the gut. Abnormal immune function in the disease leads to a variety of non-digestive symptoms, as well,

Does Imbalanced Gut Bacteria Influence Psoriasis?

psoriasis microbiome gut bacteria

Psoriasis is a common immune-mediated condition affecting between 1% and 4% of the population. (1)

The defining characteristic of psoriasis is a unique patchy skin rash. The rash is made up of one or more individual “psoriatic plaques”, which are areas of thickened, inflamed skin covered by a layer of silvery-white flakes. (1)

These plaques burn, sting and itch. In some cases, the itching is severe enough to cause people to scratch the plaques open. The resulting wounds may bleed, ooze, scar or even become infected. (1)

In addition to these serious skin symptoms, psoriasis has many less visible effects. These include (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6):

  • social ostracization by those who believe psoriasis is contagious
  • changes in personal and intimate relationships
  • loss of a healthy social life
  • development of chronic joint inflammation (“psoriatic arthritis”)
  • development of clinical depression, anxiety, & suicidal thoughts
  • increased risk for metabolic syndrome (obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure)
  • increased risk for inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
  • severely decreased quality of life

Current Psoriasis Treatments

Thankfully, there are many treatment options available to help people manage the many symptoms of psoriasis.

Is a High-Fat Diet Bad for Your Microbiome?

You probably know by now that the health of your microbiome strongly influences the health of the rest of your body.  

Healthy gut bacteria promote digestive health, metabolic health, immune health, mental health and cardiovascular health. (1, 2, 3, 4) Unhealthy gut bacteria do the opposite, promoting a whole host of serious diseases, including anxiety, depression, obesity, infertility, polycystic ovary syndrome, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and cancer. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) But what determines the health of your gut bacteria?

Factors That Lead to a Healthy Microbiome

There are many factors that play a role in a developing (and maintaining) a healthy microbiome. These include:  

  • Genetics (8)
  • Exposure to tobacco smoke (9)
  • Use of prescription, over-the-counter or recreational drugs (10, 11, 12)
  • Exposure to pesticides, detergents and industrial chemicals (13, 14)
  • Amount of daily physical activity (15)

One of the most important factors, however, is your daily diet.

Different types of diets promote different balances of gut bacteria — some are healthier, while others aren’t. (16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21).   

And these changes in microbial balance can happen quickly —

Can SIBO cause fibromyalgia?

Although fibromyalgia is among the most common causes of chronic, widespread pain (believed to affect an estimated 5 million people in the US alone) it remains one of the least understood. (1, 2)

Researchers generally agree that the key problem in fibromyalgia is a change in how pain signals from the skin, joints and muscles are processed in the brain, leading to the characteristic and diagnostic long-term, body-wide pain. (1, 3) But, to date, no one has been able to definitively prove what causes these changes, and how. (3, 4)

However, growing evidence suggests that fibromyalgia may be caused by poor gut health — specifically, by a condition called “small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)”, in which colon bacteria begin colonizing the normally relatively sterile environment of the small intestine. (5)

Let’s explore this growing body of evidence, what it means, and it’s possible implications for ways to address fibromyalgia symptoms.

Fibromyalgia, SIBO and the Breath Test

The most direct, and perhaps the most important, evidence supporting the idea that fibromyalgia may be caused by SIBO came from a 2001 study by researchers at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center which first linked the two conditions.

Is Intermittent Fasting Really the Healthiest Choice for You?

Altered eating windows are all the rage these days. It’s difficult to go a day without hearing about the benefits of fasting; maybe you’ve already considered trying it (or have tried it) yourself.

There are many ways to fast, but one of the most popular intermittent fasting regimens is to skip breakfast to extend an overnight fast a bit longer. You’d then eat lunch and dinner as usual.

Many people who practice intermittent fasting do this daily or at least a few times per week.

Now, fasting is a way to make a slight caloric deficit a lot easier, which can be beneficial for those who are overweight, but it may not be the right choice for everyone — especially if you’re a woman.

So…how do you know if fasting is the right choice for you?

The Negative Side Effects of Fasting

I’ve worked with hundreds of clients over the last few years, and I can confidently say that almost all of my clients feel better when they eat a solid breakfast.

Now, granted, I work with clients who fall into the following categories:

  • Women
  • Normal weight or very slightly overweight
  • Adrenal Fatigue
  • Digestive issues (usually goes hand-in-hand with adrenal issues)
  • Already eating a healthy diet

Given that I’m working with fatigued women with a normal BMI (or slightly above) who are already eating healthily,

Do Gut Bacteria Influence Autoimmunity?

Autoimmune disorders are conditions that occur when the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissues. There are many different autoimmune conditions, depending on which healthy tissues are attacked. Some examples include multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Autoimmune conditions are often thought of as “rare” (1) because most of the individual disorders affect a relatively small number of people (2). As a disease class, though, autoimmune disorders are actually among the most common conditions in the United States.

In 2012, the U.S. National Institutes of Health reported that a staggering 23.5 million Americans have at least one autoimmune disease. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), however, even this remarkable number may be significantly too low, since it was calculated using data concerning diseases that are entirely autoimmune mediated. The AARDA estimates that, if all diseases believed to have any autoimmune component were included in the calculation, the real number of Americans affected by autoimmunity may actually be closer to 50 million.

That means that up to 20% of the population — or 1 in every 5 people — may suffer from autoimmune symptoms.

And autoimmune symptoms can be extremely severe.