The Gut-Body Connection: How Healing Your Gut Can Transform Your Overall Health with Dr. Mark Stengler (Episode 214)

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The Gut-Body Connection: How Healing Your Gut Can Transform Your Overall Health with Dr. Mark Stengler (Episode 214)

The microbiome plays a crucial role in keeping us healthy, working closely with the gut lining. This is why it's so important to take steps to heal leaky gut.
Leaky gut, often undiagnosed in conventional medicine, is linked to various health issues. Dr. Mark Stengler joins Dr. Doni to discuss the gut-body connection and how healing leaky gut can transform your overall health.

One of the most important things you can do for your overall health is to heal leaky gut. In this episode, I’m talking with my friend and colleague, Dr. Mark Stengler. He is a Naturopathic Doctor who’s been in practice for almost 30 years and has written more than 20 books including his most recent book – The Holistic Guide To Gut Health: Discover the Truth About Leaky Gut, Balancing Your Microbiome, and Restoring Whole-Body Health.

I’m excited to talk with Mark about one of my favorite topics: leaky gut and the microbiome! We also invite you to join the online summit Mark is hosting – The Gut-Whole Body Connection.

The Gut-Body Connection

As naturopathic doctors, we believe that gut health is essential for overall well-being. The idea that gut health is related to health throughout the entire body is not a new concept for us.

There are hundreds of articles in respected medical journals discussing leaky gut syndrome as a legitimate condition. These articles were published in well-known journals and written by researchers from prestigious institutions. However, many conventional doctors still don’t acknowledge this as a real issue or believe it only happens in severely ill patients.

The research is out there, and it helps explain why holistic practitioners like us can help patients on a profound level by focusing on gut health. We now know for certain that it is connected to every part of the body.

This research confirms what holistic medicine has understood for centuries – that the gut deserves attention. The challenge is that leaky gut doesn’t show up on common tests like blood work, endoscopies, or colonoscopies. So, in conventional medicine, it often goes undiagnosed since it’s not visible through standard testing methods.

Identifying Leaky Gut

So, how can people find out that they have leaky gut, that this is even something to be thinking about?

First Mark shares that there are some classic symptoms. Patients who have multiple food sensitivities – that’s a tip-off! They probably have it. If they’ve been on pain medications for long periods of time, many studies show that causes it.

People with unresolved digestive conditions. So many studies have been done on irritable bowel syndrome, for example, the most common digestive condition. If you have IBS, there’s a good chance you have leaky gut. 

Also, people under high stress for long periods of time, people who have been on antibiotics and/or steroids – these all make you very susceptible to leaky gut. 

It’s also possible to NOT have digestive symptoms at all. You could have symptoms in various parts of yourbody beyond the digestive system. For example, joint pain, muscle pain, brain fog, fatigue, and perhaps you’re not feeling better to treatments that typically help. Those are tip-offs that you could have leaky gut.

And yes, there are tests we can use. Integrative doctors can measure certain proteins called zonulin that the body releases when it’s trying to repair leaky gut in the small intestine. It is measured with a specific stool test. There are blood tests. So, there are ways you can objectively measure it and see what’s going on.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Leaky Gut

A lot of times, people are diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and then sent out the door with medications to keep their bowels moving more regularly or to help with some of the discomfort. But the meds are not addressing the root cause of irritable bowel syndrome.

Once we identify leaky gut, we can offer solutions to address the root cause. This is the gateway to actually solving not just gut health issues, but whole body health issues.

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a very common digestive disorder that often leads people to seek medical help. The typical symptoms include stomach pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits like constipation or diarrhea.

Studies have found that many individuals with IBS also have leaky gut. When people learn they have IBS, they often try limiting their diet to manage symptoms. While this can provide some relief, it’s difficult to maintain long-term and can be quite stressful.

As healthcare providers, our goal is to help patients truly heal the underlying problem of leaky gut. By repairing the intestinal lining, people with IBS can expand their diets, get better nutrition, and reduce the stress of living with chronic digestive issues. 

You Can Actually Heal Leaky Gut

Leaky gut is something we develop over time, usually due to: #1 diet, #2 medications, and #3 stress

The good news is that you can heal leaky gut. Our bodies have special cells called stem cells throughout our organs, including in the lining of the small intestine where leaky gut happens.

Recent research has shown that these stem cells can completely rebuild the intestinal lining in just a few days. 

This means the gut has a remarkable ability to repair itself. However, this healing can only occur if the conditions are right and it is no longer being damaged.

These findings highlight just how powerful the body’s regenerative abilities are, especially when it comes to the digestive system. Our intestines are constantly making new cells to replace old or damaged ones. By providing the right environment, we can enable our bodies to heal leaky gut naturally.

What Is Leaky Gut?

Leaky gut refers to an issue in the small intestine where nutrients are normally absorbed into the body. This absorption happens in two main ways:

First, the small intestine has tiny finger-like projections called villi that stick out from the intestinal lining. These villi greatly increase the surface area of the small intestine, allowing it to absorb nutrients more efficiently. In fact, the total surface area of the small intestine is about the size of two tennis courts, thanks to all these villi.

Second, absorption also occurs in the spaces between the villi, where there is a layer of cells called epithelial cells. These cells form a barrier that selectively allows nutrients to pass through while keeping other things out.

However, when the epithelial cells lining the small intestine become damaged, substances that shouldn’t be absorbed – like bits of undigested food, bacteria or toxins – can leak through. This is what happens in leaky gut syndrome.

And as a result, two things happen. You get inflammation right in the intestinal wall. So that can give you digestive problems and absorption problems. But then you absorb these things which shouldn’t be absorbed into your bloodstream. 

And there’s this fancy word that they use called “translocation,” which means these bacteria particles and other things can travel in the bloodstream to your joints, to your muscles, to your brain and to your heart. Then the immune system sees them as foreign invaders, responds like it should, and creates an inflammatory response. So you can get inflammatory problems anywhere in the body.

Dr. Doni adds that research shows that up to 50% of people with leaky gut don’t even have digestive symptoms. They just have symptoms in other areas of the body. The fact is – we most all have some degree of leaky gut. It is more about whether you have mild, moderate, and severe leaky gut.

How to Heal Leaky Gut

I asked Mark, how does he suggest that we can start to heal leaky gut? 

The first step is to improve our diet. The Mediterranean diet is a good starting point. This diet is the most well-studied diet – rich in antioxidants and plant foods and fiber and all that, omega-3s, and olive oil.

Second, we need to start eating prebiotic foods – foods which feed the good microbiome in the gut, which helps to heal up the lining. So for example, there’s one probiotic, or good bacteria, called Akkermansia. And in the research, this is shown to cause signaling to the small intestine and causing the small intestine to repair. So if you’re low in certain good bacteria, again, you don’t get those signals for the gut to repair.

Prebiotic foods – garlic, onions, artichokes – feed the good bacteria. Cultured foods like sauerkraut and yogurt provide the good bacteria right in the diet. 

And then we can speed things up using nutrients shown in research to heal the gut lining. The amino acid glutamine has some very good studies on it. Aloe vera extract, DGL – a type of licorice extract that helps to soothe and heal the lining. Vitamin A and zinc and vitamin D are very important for gut healing. 

How To Know Leaky Gut is Healing

You can tell it is healing when you start noticing improvements in your digestion. Usually the gas and bloating improves, your bowels move better, your energy level starts to improve, and brain fog goes away. 

And then usually the last thing to improve is chronic joint pain, muscle pain, autoimmune symptoms, and allergies. Dr. Doni adds that even HPV goes away when leaky gut heals.

Research shows that our gut health, the microbiome, and hormonal balance are closely connected. When you heal your gut, other aspects of health often improve too – like clearer skin and shinier hair. This makes sense, because a healthier gut means better nutrient absorption and less inflammation throughout the body.

Mainstream medical literature has essentially confirmed what holistic health practitioners have long recognized – that the gut is tied to every part of the body. There are connections between the gut and the skin, eyes, sinuses, mouth, thyroid, lungs, liver, bones, joints, and muscles. Even the reproductive organs, like the testicles and ovaries, are linked to gut health.

This means that by focusing on your gut, you can enhance the health of virtually every organ system and every cell in your body. It is truly central to overall wellness in amazing ways.

The Power of the Microbiome 

The microbiome refers to the trillions of bacteria and other microbes that live in our gut. These microbes play a crucial role in keeping us healthy, working closely with the gut lining. 

Research has revealed a lot about the importance of the microbiome. In fact, even pharmaceutical companies are now investing heavily in studying the microbiome and trying to develop drugs that can change it.

Scientists have found that the microbiome is not only essential for digestive health, but also has a direct link to the brain. This connection goes both ways – the gut affects the brain, and the brain affects the gut.

One interesting discovery is that improving the microbiome can help treat digestive conditions. But the influence of the microbiome extends far beyond. It’s becoming clear that these microbes are tied to all aspects of our health.

So a healthy microbiome is vital for overall well-being. People can support their microbiome through diet, lifestyle, and other healthy practices. As we learn more about the complexities of the microbiome, we’re also learning how to better nurture it for optimal health.

Researchers have found that we have a unique microbiome in different organs of the body. So for example, we have a microbiome in our eyes, sinuses, mouth, which in dentistry is a big thing now. If the microbiome is off in the mouth, we’re more prone to cavities and gum disease, which can even affect the heart.

However, the great influence comes from the gut, because it influences everything in the body and different microbiomes.

A New Understanding of the Microbiome

In the past, we used to think of the microbiome as just the roughly 100 trillion bacteria living in our gut. We knew these bacteria worked together with our bodies in a mutually beneficial way. However, newer research has shown that the microbiome is even more complex. It’s not just bacteria – there are also yeasts and even viruses that are part of a healthy microbiome. 

When the various microbes in our gut are balanced, they support our overall health. But when they become imbalanced, it can lead to problems both in the digestive system and throughout the body.

Scientists are constantly learning more about the intricate relationship between our bodies and our microbiome. What’s becoming clear is that for optimal health, we need to maintain a balance of these microbes.

The good news is that with a nutritious diet, stress management, regular exercise, and proper supplementation we can support a balanced microbiome. By focusing on these foundations, we can cultivate a healthy gut environment.

Restoring a Healthy Microbiome

I asked Mark, what does he recommend we do to help our microbiome when we have to take antibiotics?

He said to take a high-potency probiotic supplement at least two hours apart from the antibiotic dose. This helps maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria during the course of treatment and even after a month of the treatment being over. 

If a patient has a history of digestive issues like bacterial overgrowth, irritable bowel syndrome, or frequent yeast infections, using antifungal herbs while taking the antibiotics is a good idea. This prevents fungal overgrowth and recurrent infections that can happen when antibiotics throw off the microbial balance.

By addressing the underlying imbalances in the gut, we can stop this vicious cycle of needing antibiotics in the first place by getting to the root cause of the problem.

When we look at stool test results, we often see certain bacteria present at higher levels than normal. The first instinct might be to think, “How do we get rid of those bacteria?” But that approach of trying to kill off the unwanted microbes can actually do more harm than good.

Instead, the goal should be to create an environment that supports a healthy balance of microbes. We do this by promoting good digestion and absorption through diet and supplements. 

By nourishing the beneficial bacteria, they are able to keep the problematic microbes in check naturally. This approach is much more effective in the long run. It doesn’t come with the side effects that harsh antimicrobial treatments can cause, and it’s better for lasting gut health.

In conventional medicine the focus is often on eradicating any “bad” microbes. But in holistic medicine, we recognize that while there are times when targeted antimicrobial therapy is needed, in most cases the emphasis should be on restoring the balance.

Take the Next Steps to Heal Leaky Gut

If you would like to learn more about Dr. Mark and how he can help you check out his website here. You can also find him on Instagram @markstengler and Facebook @Dr. Mark Stengler, N.M.D. And you can check out his book The Holistic Guide to Gut Health here.

You can also sign up for his FREE online summit “The Gut-Whole Body Connection.” I, Dr. Doni, am proud to be a speaker at this event! 

To learn more about my approach you can listen to my Leaky Gut Masterclass. Adults and children both can benefit from healing leaky gut and balancing gut bacteria.

I also created an online Leaky Gut Program so you can start implementing for you and your family right from home.

I also believe it is possible to eliminate the effects of stress, trauma, toxins and infections by resetting our stress hormones and helping our body and mind to recover. I help patients with chronic complex illness in my practice every day – by phone and zoom, anywhere in the world. You can set up a one-on-one appointment here.

To learn more about my approach using my Stress Recovery Protocol® which involves optimizing cortisol and adrenaline levels to heal the adrenals, as well as neurotransmitters, using nutrients, herbs and C.A.R.E.™ – my proprietary program to support clean eating, adequate sleep, stress recovery and exercise – I encourage you to read all about it in my latest book Master Your Stress Reset Your Health.

Thank you so much for joining us for this episode of How Humans Heal. Please subscribe if you haven’t already, so you don’t miss the next episode. And I look forward to connecting with all of you again very soon.

We’re here to help you!

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