Your gut. The epicenter of your wellbeing.
If you haven’t yet began making inroads towards better gut health, it’s important to understand that you can eat all the kale on the planet and you’d be no better for it. We’ve piped on about the gut, time and time again and we know that for the most part, you get it, at least you understand that your gut is like the center of your universe.
What the sun is to planet earth, your gut is to your body; everything revolves around its energy.
In the past, having a ‘reaction’ to various foods put them in the ‘never to be eaten again’ basket. But we now know better. We understand that we may be sensitive, intolerant or we may have a digestive illness or allergy. If you have any of the latter, you’re generally aware after a few visits to your doctor and a few cameras placed in regions you’d rather not re-visit, it’s a little more serious than perhaps once thought.
But the less serious, intolerances, are indeed something we can begin to sort out with the right tools. Fact remains however, if we have been unkind to our digestive system, be it by poor food choices, ongoing use of medications (without any TLC to support it), and stress (yup it has a similar effect to antibiotics on the gut), it’s good to learn that all of these things weaken our digestive ability. This information alone may be refreshing; to learn that what you put in your body and what you think about, will impact your gut health; and there are things you can do to get it back on track.
It’s important to understand that intolerances are foods that for a moment in time (be it short or long), your gut can’t deal with adequately. It’s not an allergy or an illness, but simply the inability to process a particular food due to its nature, most likely because it sets off an inflammatory response for you. These foods can absolutely stand in the way of us recovering from larger health conditions like autoimmune illness, pain, and inflammation in the case of something like irritable bowel, arthritis or even period pain. The trick is observing what your body is telling you whilst you’re eating, and shortly after. Generally our gut dishes out signals that it’s unhappy.
It’s a bit like a car. Perhaps you’ve driven the same car for years, always filling it with petrol and all the while, you’ve had issue after issue, until one day somebody kindly enlightens you with the gob-smacking news that your car actually takes diesel. From the minute you make the switch to the right kind of fuel, the constant car issues cease, it begins running like new.
Our digestive systems are much the same and to complicate things a little more, we are all a little different. Meaning what works for your bestie may not actually work for you all because you don’t share the same genes. But if we continue to fuel our body with food that is impossible to digest, we are going to see ongoing issues.
Common symptoms of intolerances include bloating and gas, burping and heartburn, diarrhea or constipation, skin irritation, rashes like eczema and dermatitis, pain be it joint pain, stomach pain or period pain (but not just limited to these), headaches, excess mucus, the list goes on. You may also find yourself craving odd foods or gaining weight rapidly as a result. These may all be key indicators that your digestive system isn’t working optimally, and by simply understanding these are signs (and nothing more) we can start to listen to our bodies better and make some smart choices to commence the recovery process.
Foods that you may be intolerant to most commonly include gluten, sugar, dairy – all the yummy things! You may be sensitive to just one, none or all of these.
For some of us, we have very particular intolerances. Other frequent offenders include nuts, eggs, onions, garlic, cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower or tomato. That’s not to say you don’t have a unique intolerance. I saw a patient yesterday who was intolerant to goji berries. Who knew!
All these foods trigger a response in the gut, that slows down its ability to assimilate and may cause internal inflammation. But most often, foods don’t work alone, it’s a complex combination of diet combined with environmental stress (like constant exposure to pollutants and chemicals), physical and emotional stress and internal stress (unhappy organ or nervous systems). This may be why you can eat all the bread in France whilst you’re on holidays in Paris but when you get back home, the nasty symptoms return. There may be something in your surrounds that is triggering the response, not just the food alone.
You might wonder if testing for intolerances is necessary. Whilst it can take the guess work out of the equation, intolerance testing can be expensive and I find not really worth the effort for most. Once you begin to work on the gut and fix your digestive health it generally starts to sort itself out. That means it’s good news for you since intolerances are generally treatable and Chinese Medicine does an outstanding job of addressing such conditions with wonderful results.
In part two of this series we will dive into how best to treat intolerances and address gut health to improve your digestive system and really make great progress. Be sure to stay tuned, it’s one thing to identify you have a pressing issue, the icing on the [gluten free] cake is fixing it.