The phrase "Trust your Gut" doesn't apply to weight loss.
That's because the little-known but widespread condition known as Gut Dysbiosis is telling millions of people to improperly digest their food, eat the wrong foods, and ultimately prevent effective weight loss.
"It's amazing that such a widespread problem goes so widely undetected," said Dr. Chad Oler, a Naturopathic Doctor at the Natural Path Health Center. "Especially since the long-term effects can be so significant."
Do you know there's flora inside your gut?
Perhaps some of the mystery surrounding "Gut Dysbiosis" stems from the term itself.
"Dysbiosis" is an unfamiliar word to most people. Dysbiosis is an imbalance in the microbial environment of the gastrointestinal tract (GI). Inside this environment, you have trillions of bacteria and yeast - called flora - living in your GI tract.
The flora serves a variety of functions, including improving digestion, eliminating waste, maintaining proper body chemistry and optimizing immune status. "The flora help your body make and absorb the nutrients it needs while breaking down toxins and helping excrete waste products," Oler explained.
Dramatic "shifts" in the flora can create dysbiosis. These shifts are caused by a variety of factors, including many medications (especially pain medications, antibiotics and antacids), infections, illnesses, alcohol, chronic stress, foods, chemicals and pollutants.
Flora imbalances can cause weight gain
Once these imbalances occur, Gut Dysbiosis begins. People can suffer from a number of gastrointestinal issues, such as acid reflux, gas, bloating, and indigestion.
Incomplete or improper digestion occurs. Your body then signals for more food, which again is not properly digested. "You don't get the full value from your food, which can cause you to eat more to satisfy your needs," Oler noted.
Even if you're eating the right foods, this inability to break down food correctly can leave you nutrient deprived. The more this occurs, the more weight your body will gain.
Gut Dysbiosis sets the stage for food intolerances
Dysbiosis can also lead to food intolerances or sensitivities. Food intolerances and sensitivities should not be confused with allergies. Allergies are caused by an IgE (immunoglobulin E) reaction in the body that can cause anaphylactic shock and death.
Food sensitivities are caused by other immune reactions to foods, either because of improper digestions, damage to the gut lining, or immune dysfunctions. Food intolerances are generally due to non-immune related reactions to foods, usually caused by improper enzyme production. (i.e., lactose intolerance results from a deficiency in lactase, the enzyme necessary to break down lactose).
Food sensitivities or intolerances can cause a number of symptoms, including a runny nose or congestion, energy or mood fluctuations, joint pain, indigestion, and headaches. "The reactions surprise people," Oler said. "They can't believe it's the result of food."
The body begins to crave the intolerance
Once the food sensitivity begins, the body reacts, although in a rather unexpected way.
Naturally, the body begins to attack these offending foods as part of its immune reaction. But oddly enough, the body grows so accustomed to launching these attacks that it actually begins to crave for the food that causes them.
How does this happen?
When you eat a food you are sensitive to, a number of changes occur on a biochemical level. First, the ingestion of sensitive foods can cause neurotransmitter imbalances, particularly in serotonin.
This can cause cravings not only for the food you just ate, but also for carbohydrate-rich and sweet foods, such as desserts.
Misinterpreting the signals
In addition, the body often releases endorphins when a reactive food is eaten. This is akin to the ‘calm before the storm' as your body ramps up its defense to fight the foreign invader - in this case, the food you just ate.
Our body misinterprets those signals. We want to feel ‘more' of that endorphin rush, so we run back to the foods to which we are intolerant.
Finally, eating foods to which you are intolerant causes the body to produce more cortisol. This causes the uptake of serotonin and other chemicals into the brain in preparation for ‘fight-or-flight'. Again, we misinterpret this signal and run back to the foods that give us this natural ‘high'.
"At this point, not only is your body improperly digesting the right nutrients, it's begun to crave all the wrong ones," Oler said.
The result is weight gain. Because gut dybiosis can cause bloating, it's not uncommon for people to lose 2-9" around their midsection once they've discovered the offending food.
"Basically, you're removing the inflammation in the gut," Oler pointed out. "It's not uncommon for people to lose 2-9 inches around the midsection."
Gut Dysbiosis recovery: Test, identify cause, repair the damage
Complicating the issue is the fact that these reactions occur hours to days after the offending food is consumed, hence the common term ‘delayed onset food allergies'. It makes the food sensitivity difficult to identify without testing.
To effectively break the Gut Dysbiosis cycle, Dr. Oler stressed that you need to identify the cause, remove the cause, and then repair the damage.
A number of different methods can be used to identify the cause.
- You can eliminate all the most common foods that cause sensitivities, and then reintroduce them back one-by-one.
- You can undergo a number of blood tests that can identify your specific intolerances - a much faster process than slowly working through the common foods that cause intolerances.
Once the culprits have been identified, the repair process begins. "By altering the diet and speeding the healing process through supplementation, we can eliminate Gut Dysbiosis," Oler explained. "Over time, the flora can be rebuilt, and the offending foods slowly reintroduced into the diet."
The Natural Path Health Center is based in Madison, Wisconsin. Dr. Chad Oler, ND is recognized by the American Naturopathic Medical Association and is a member of the Wisconsin Naturopathic Physicians Association.