• Julia Davies

Love your guts!

There are many health conditions that don't seem related to our gastrointestinal system, for example autoimmune conditions, allergies, intolerances, skin conditions, chronic fatigue, poor immunity, or even autism, just to name a few.


It is not that surprising, considering 70% of the body's immune cells lie in the gut, just millimetres below the 3-5mm 'thick' wall that lines the gut, starting from the mouth cavity all the way down to the anus. Lying just below the gut wall are tiny blood capillaries, that allow certain sized particles to get through, for example, vitamins, minerals, water molecules, protein molecules, and anything small enough that the body needs.


In some parts of the gut, the lining is only 1mm 'thick'.

That thin lining needs to have the utmost integrity in order to function properly. Each of the trillions of cells lining the gut wall are sealed together very tightly to withstand the physical stress of the food moving through the gut, and all the movements we make. Our microbiome adhere to the gut wall, forming an additional layer that provides a little bit of extra protection, as well as forming part of our immune system, synthesising vitamin K, and many other functions that I won't go into here, as this blog would be way too long to read!


Antibiotics, NSAIDS, antidepressants, other medications, poor diet, chronic alcohol use, and chronic stress, to name a few, can damage the tight seals between each of those gut wall cells, and/or destroy some of the gut bacteria. When this happens, the gut lining is no longer a completely sealed-off system, and these tiny 'perforations' allow food and other molecules small enough to 'leak' out of the gut cavity into the bloodstream. Particles that are too big to fit into the bloodstream 'wander around' within the body cavity. Once in the bloodstream or body cavity, the particle is picked up by the immune system as a foreign invader or pathogen, and so the immune response starts. This is the moment an allergy or intolerance starts to develop, and the first thing that happens is histamine release - a completely normal immune response.


Depending on the type of immune response pathway used, which is different from person to person for various reasons, symptoms may not be immediately noticeable and also vary from one individual to another. Hives/itchy skin, gastrointestinal symptoms, and/or even changes in mood are often noticed some time after the initial exposure to the substance in question. This is because histamine regulates a plethora of physiological and pathophysiological processes, including gut function, anti-inflammatory effects, pro-inflammatory effects, blood vessel dilation or constriction, bronchodilation or constriction, hormonal balance (in particular oestrogen - this is another blog to write in itself, so watch this space if you have hormonal issues!), and histamine is a neurotransmitter itself, meaning that it can cross the blood-brain-barrier, and cause an irritation to the cells there.


The complexities of what actually develops in each person is just an absolute minefield.

In certain circumstances taking an anti-histamine works wonders. But given how much histamine is involved in so many day-to-day physiological processes, it stands to reason that overuse of anti-histamines exacerbate the situation with a never-ending vicious circle of more and more histamine being released, and more and more anti-histamines being taken, especially if the offending substance is not removed, this will just perpetuate and cause further gut-related illnesses that then go on to other health conditions if left untreated.


Luckily, there are herbs that can help...phew!


The Gut Healing Protocol: weed, seed, feed


So we want to 'weed out' the bad stuff, all the excess inflammatory mediators like histamine, and any bad pathogens/bacteria that might be lurking. Anti-allergic herbs stop the mast cells releasing so much histamine, immune regulating herbs help dampen the immune response, and broad-spectrum anti-inflammatories help to reduce the inflammatory processes - all these herbs are extremely important in these cases. Depending on the symptoms and the picture of health as a whole, antibiotic and/or anti-microbial herbs may also need to be taken.


Alongside taking herbs, another very crucial first port of call is healing that gut lining, the 'seed' part of the protocol. Herbs and foods that soothe the gastrointestinal tract and feed the microbiome are excellent here - we want the good bacteria to 'seed', to grow and patch up those tiny holes. Certain supplements, for example zinc, are extremely useful in repairing the lining, but please see your practitioner to get the right form of zinc - there are many forms to take but getting the right specific one is crucial for effective healing, and it depends on the whole health picture of each individual.


Dietary changes are critical

Another bit of the 'weed' part of the protocol would include an elimination diet that is often necessary to try and find the offending substance. Depending on the symptoms, a diet low in histamine can also be something to consider. Again, the whole picture needs to be taken into consideration - if it all stems from chronic stress, the treatment would also need to focus on restoring adrenal glands and relaxing the nervous system, as well as the above herbs and the protocol.


The 'seed and feed' part of the protocol is restoring the balance of the microbiome, which is achievable with pre- and probiotics. Sometimes specific bacteria should be taken, depending on which ones were wiped out in the first place. Prebiotics are available in prebiotic foods, which would need to be checked out if any of them caused the intolerance in the first instance.


If you are having difficulty with your gastrointestinal system, please contact me today.

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© 2020 Julia Davies Medical Herbalist