While Hippocrates coined the phrase, “all disease begins in the gut” thousands of years ago, current research is finding there’s much truth in this ancient piece of wisdom!
If you think your intestinal tract is only responsible for digestion and waste elimination, think again… your gut also plays a big role in immune system function, the synthesis of essential nutrients, and balancing neurotransmitters important for brain and mood health.
It’s even been referred to as our second brain by experts in the health professional community.
It’s all about the health of our gut
Your intestines are home to billions of bacteria, collectively known as the microbiome. Some of these bacteria are beneficial and some are not, but the balance between the two is really key to normal digestion, proper absorption of nutrients, and promoting a healthy intestinal environment.
The integrity and structure of the intestinal walls is also extremely important when it comes to good gut health – and our health overall.
The gut lining is a permeable barrier designed to allow certain molecules, like broken down nutrients from food, to crossover into the bloodstream for absorption and use in the body. But, the gut lining should also keep harmful molecules, like toxins and pathogens, from being absorbed.
When the gut lining is compromised, it may become thin, inflamed, too permeable, and unable to regulate which molecules should and should not be crossing into the bloodstream. This is known as impaired intestinal permeability or Leaky Gut Syndrome.
A leaky gut allows large food particles, chemicals, and toxins to actually ‘leak’ into your body where they can wreak havoc! Your immune system then swings into action as it identifies these as foreign invaders and launches an inflammatory attack.
This type of inflammation is different than the heat, swelling, and redness you associate with an injury. That’s acute inflammation and it’s pretty obvious when it’s happening.
Instead, we’re talking constant chronic inflammation that, over the course of longer periods of time, is thought to be the root cause of a lot of diseases.
Gut- Hormone Connections
The “root cause” of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may actually be leaky gut and synthetic hormones are one thing that can damage the lining of the gut.
If you are on the pill, it has been shown that certain forms of synthetic hormones can actually increase your risk of IBS. IBS is characterized by:
- Diarrhea, constipation, or both
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Stool urgency or frequency
Research has shown that hormonal birth control pills that contain drospirenone (a synthetic form of progesterone) may increase risk of developing IBS.
What do you do If you are on the pill and are experiencing IBS symptoms? First, let’s think about all the factors involved- other than just pill use. A number of things can contribute to poor gut functioning, including:
- An unhealthy diet, high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, and unhealthy fats, like fried foods and trans fats
- Gluten also contributes to impaired gut lining in those sensitive to it
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Long-term use of prescription and over-the-counter medications- especially NSAIDs, like ibuprofen
- Antibiotics are used to rid the body of bacterial infections, but unfortunately, they do not discriminate and end up wiping out the population of good bacteria too
- Stress can also cause inflammation throughout the body, including your gut.
Another interesting gut- hormone connection is recurring pregnancy loss (RPL). Research has shown a correlation between RPL and gut inflammation. Authors of this study concluded:
Diagnosis and treatment of intestinal disorders underlying leaky gut might improve endometrial environment and pregnancy outcome…The occurrence of cross-talk between the gut and the reproductive system may be an intriguing hypothesis that could suggest a possible new approach to a specific group of patients with idiopathic RPL. Evidence supporting a role for the intestinal-endometrial axis in the pathogenesis of early pregnancy complications has being slowly accumulating over the most recent years
The first step in healing the gut is to dial in your nutrition. It’s been well documented that our gut thrives when we follow an anti-inflammatory diet. This includes:
- Eating a diet rich in whole foods, with a focus on fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 fats. The best source of omega-3 fats are nuts, fatty fish, like salmon, and pastured animal products. If you don’t eat fish or grass-fed animal products, it’s important to take a good quality omega-3 supplement.
- Regularly eating fermented foods, like raw sauerkraut and kombucha, can help boost the number of good bacteria in your gut. Probiotic supplements can also help support the number and balance of bacteria in your gut
- Bone broth or hydrolyzed collagen supplements may help promote an intact and healthy gut lining.
If you are planning to come off the pill with intention to conceive or have experience recurrent pregnancy loss, following an anti-inflammatory diet with leaky gut support is a great way to get your gut on track and set yourself up for balanced hormones and a healthy pregnancy!