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Holistic Support for Optimal Gut Health

Jun 30, 2020 ● By Carrie Jackson

Photo by Kurhan for AdobeStock

The gastrointestinal (GI) system works around the clock to keep the whole body healthy. It turns food into energy and eliminates toxins and waste. A healthy gut is critical for vitamin absorption, immune response, hormone regulation and many other body functions. Gut function can become compromised by factors such as stress, food choices, lack of sleep or exercise, and even mental issues. Here, local practitioners offer simple tips for proactively taking care of the GI system holistically and optimizing gut function.

Make Nourishing Food Choices

Heidi Smith, a certified integrative nutrition health coach and founder of Integrative Wellness Studio, in Oak Park, says, “In my practice as an integrative health coach, it is imperative to help my clients understand the connection between gut health and brain health. When we have good gut health, we experience better memory, higher productivity, more efficient sleep and overall health. By adding in more natural probiotics and prebiotics, along with an anti-inflammatory-based diet, and by managing stress and environmental toxins, it is possible to dramatically improve your gut health for a longer and healthier life. Foods that are helpful are things like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, garlic, onions and asparagus. Focus on clean eating as much as possible by adding in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish and healthy fats to replace processed foods that are full of hidden sugar, sodium and artificial ingredients. Incorporating these pre- and probiotic foods into your meal planning will increase your level of gut health and overall wellness.”

Acupuncture and Herbs for Balance

Dr. Lana Moshkovich, director of Nirvana Naturopathics, in Deerfield, says, “Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine are safe and effective ways to holistically treat many acute and chronic gastrointestinal conditions. Problems such as Crohn’s disease, IBS, GERD, heartburn, peptic ulcer disease, lactose intolerance and many more can be attributed to disharmony in the stomach, spleen or both organ meridians which lead to symptoms such as indigestion, nausea, burping, bloating, constipation, abdominal pain and loose bowel movements. I treat gastrointestinal problems with acupuncture by nourishing related organs, reducing inflammation of the stomach and pancreas and improving digestive functions. During a treatment, I will identify specific acupuncture points on the body; typically those that speed up metabolism, increase gastrointestinal muscle contraction and relaxation, reduce gastric acid secretion, regulate small and large intestine function, and restore stomach acidity to normal levels. Additionally, I may prescribe Chinese herbs such as Chinese yam, wild cardamom, atractylodes, magnolia bark, pinellia, evodia and codonopsis to use in collaboration with acupuncture. These herbs coordinate stomach and spleen functions and improve the breakdown of food, uptake and transformation of nutrients and qi, and elimination of wastes. When reflux and indigestion are present, the stomach qi is moving upwards, rather than in its usual downwards direction.”

Eat Mindfully and Gently

Reneé Barasch, digestive health consultant and founder of Digestive Health Solutions, says, “Proper digestion of specific food groups helps you absorb the nutrients you are putting into your body. When digestion is compromised, you have nutrient deficiencies and detoxification back-up. How you break down your food affects how you’re absorbing and getting rid of toxic waste. If you’re eating a healthy diet but still feeling lethargic, your digestive system may not be working to its capacity. I encourage people to be mindful and conscious of their eating. Even if you’re just having a snack, sit down and take a few minutes to enjoy and experience it. Thoroughly chewing your food is the first step in breaking down food and turning it into energy. This helps liberate digestive enzymes from under the tongue and kickstarts the digestive process, instead of sending down large particles the body can’t handle. Being gentle to your body and your GI system encourages it to function at an optimal level. Some people can also benefit from the right blend of enzymes for digestive support.”

Address Bacteria and Infections

Dr. Gregory Seaman, medical director of thrive MD, in Schaumburg, says, “Lifestyle changes and diet modifications can often make a big difference relatively quickly to improve gut function. Things as simple as eliminating processed foods, eating more fiber-rich foods and even chewing better and being more mindful when eating are often some of the best solutions to improve digestion. When lifestyle changes are not getting the patient relief, we must consider the possibility of deeper stressors such as a bacterial infection, which can occur from bad bacteria or even too much good bacteria in the wrong place. This condition is called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO, and probiotics may actually be counterproductive in treating it. We look for other types of infections caused by parasites or an overgrowth of yeast, such as candida. Another major concern is the possibility of toxic chemicals like glycophosphates which can annihilate a healthy gut lining. When this lining is compromised, as with leaky gut syndrome, it can lead to all the other symptoms a person is experiencing, even ones that do not appear to be gut-related. Good gut health is really the foundation of optimal overall wellness.”

Carrie Jackson is an Evanston-based writer and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine. Connect at