It’s normal to take a healthy gut for granted. But, when things go wrong with your digestion, it can be a bit troubling. Fixing an unhealthy gut is no easy task! That’s where the five R protocol to gut health comes in. This method developed by the Institute for Functional Medicine will repair your gut health, transforming your day-to-day experience.
Why Is A Healthy Gut Important?
The gut does so much more than simply digest food: It does everything from absorbing nutrients to elevating your mood to regulating your immune response to an illness.
When things go wrong with the gut, it can feel like your life is falling apart. And if you’re training for an important competition or simply need to be on your best physical and mental game, gut issues are a big problem.
Healthifying your gut requires an understanding of gastrointestinal anatomy. Most people think of the GI tract like a long twisting garden hose. However, it’s more complex than that:
The GI tract is very much alive and filled with bacteria. As many as 500 species and 3 pounds of microflora form a giant ecosystem that helps digest food, regulate hormones, eliminate waste and toxins, and produce immune factors, vitamins, and other chemicals that keep your brain and body healthy. The gut is the site of three-quarters of your immune system, and it produces more than 60 percent of the serotonin that keeps your mood positive and helps your brain feel good.
You’d think that such a pivotal system would be well shielded from the external environment. In reality, the GI tract is a single layer of cells responsible for protecting your body from everything that passes through your gut. The single cell lining is bolstered by several layers of mucous that maintain the integrity of the gut. The mucous helps absorb nutrients and prevent toxins, allergens, and microbes from gaining access to the bloodstream.
Identifying Pitfalls To Gut Integrity
Supporting the integrity of the gut is health goal number one. Working properly, the gut allows your body to absorb the nutrients, amino acids, and healthy compounds from food. Waste products are safely eliminated. A healthy gut does a good job of eliminating all the junk that is harmful to your body.
Things can go wrong fairly easily in modern society. Antibiotics, drug therapies, and high levels of cortisol can break down the cells lining the GI tract. When this happens, the gut becomes more permeable and not as protective, making it more likely that toxins will escape and enter the bloodstream. At the same time, nutrient absorption is compromised.
A classic example is with ibuprofen. Combining ibuprofen and exercise is a bad idea because during exercise, the body reroutes blood away from the GI tract to the skin, muscles, heart, and lungs. For some reason, the combination of reduced blood flow and ibuprofen can harm the cells in the intestines, damaging the integrity of GI tract.
Other factors that can harm gut integrity include the following:
#1: Low Stomach Acid
Your intestines don’t deal well with incompletely digested food. When large food particles hit your intestines, you aren’t getting the advantage of the nutrition, and you’re fueling harmful gut bacteria. There are two main reasons incompletely digested food reaches the intestines: You aren’t chewing enough, or you have low stomach acid.
Everyday factors that we all deal with like aging, stress, and inflammation cause low stomach acid. It's more common than people realize. Doctors often misdiagnose it as too much stomach acid. When partly digested food starts to ferment, it will back up into the esophagus, and doctors commonly think this is acid reflux.
#2: Inflammatory Gut Bacteria
There is harmful bacteria in food and water. When you consume this bacteria, it proliferates and nudges out the healthy bacteria that regulate digestion, gut permeability, and immunity.
#3: Food Intolerances
Factors that cause you to be intolerant of certain foods include genetics and stress. Unfortunately, it’s common to find you are intolerant of multiple foods once your gut health goes bad. This is because the body releases a protein called zonulin in response to foods that it’s not able to digest properly.
Zonulin impairs the permeability of the intestines. When the gut becomes permeable or “leaky,” dangerous compounds pass into the bloodstream. The result is inflammation, brain fog, immune activation, the development of allergies, lack of recovery from training, and metabolic problems.
Restore Gut Health With The Five Rs
It would be great if you could restore gut health by popping a supplement and be on your way. In real life, it takes a more wholistic approach because you need to remove any offending foods, drugs, or stressors that are harming the gut. Can supplements help if you’re not ready to make these changes?
If you have low stomach acid, using a HCL (hydrochloric acid) supplement is certain to help, but if you don’t make a concerted effort to thoroughly chew your food, the results will be underwhelming. Same goes for repopulating the gut with healthy probiotic bacteria. If you’re fueling your bad bacteria with sugar and refined carbs, it will be much harder for your healthy bacteria to proliferate.
That’s where the Five R Protocol for gut health comes in. This approach asks you to do the following for up to 6 weeks:
Step #1 is Remove
During this stage, you remove all known or suspected allergens.
This includes foods you might be intolerant of, chemicals, and other toxins.
Common foods to consider eliminating are dairy, anything containing wheat or gluten, tree nuts, shellfish, peanuts, and soy.
Medications are a big one here. Of course some therapies can’t be eliminated but it’s worth identifying any meds you don’t need and transitioning away from them, especially, NSAIDS, aspirin, pain meds, and antacids.
Stress is another factor to consider. High cortisol impairs the gut lining, wreaking havoc on GI health. This is why an upset stomach goes hand in hand with stress and anxiety.
Step #2 is Repair
Once you’ve removed the gut offenders, it’s time to repair the integrity of your gut. The goal here is to provide building block nutrients to repair cells and intestinal mucosa while reducing any inflammation.
Zinc -L-Carnosine accelerates wound healing in the stomach and prevents damage to the intestinal tract due to medications such as NSAIDs. It is used to treat gastric ulcers.
Cat’s Claw Bark kickstarts the body’s natural GI repair process. It may help relax the intestines and protects against inflammation.
L-Glutamine is a fuel source for cells in the gut and supports a healthy mucosal layer. It can be used to repair gut tissue and enhances immune barrier function of the GI tract.
These nutrients are all available in GI Full Spectrum, a gut repair product specifically designed to restore the health of the GI tract.
Step #3 is Replace
Now it’s time to figure out what is missing based on your health condition and replace it. Stomach acid, bile, and pancreatic enzymes are critical components of a healthy gut that many people don’t naturally produce enough of.
You can supplement a broad-spectrum digestive enzyme, such as Enzyme Full Spectrum, to supply the enzymes and bile needed to digest protein, fat, carbohydrates, and fibrous vegetables. Enzymes also help with elimination of waste products. For example, protease enzymes squelch harmful proteins that are found in unwanted bacteria, reducing risk of infection. Supplementary enzymes may also spare the body’s natural enzyme reserves, aiding organ regeneration.
Stomach acid is available in a product like Ultra HCL that combines HCL from betaine—a supplemental source of hydrochloric acid—with gentian root, an herbal bitter that promotes normal release if gastric acid.
Step #4 is Repopulate
Once you’ve laid the groundwork for a healthy gut, it’s time to repopulate with good bacteria. During the first three steps of this gut health protocol, you “weeded” the garden, and now it’s time to “seed” the garden.
You can start by incorporating fermented probiotic foods, like sauerkraut, kim chi, kefir, and yogurt. Adding a high-quality probiotic supplement is also a good move. If you’ve taken antibiotics in the past, using a probiotic that contains S. boulardii is a no-brainer because it is designed to restore bacteria that are abolished during antibiotic use.
Don’t stop there! You also need to make sure you’re getting plenty of prebiotic foods that your gut bacteria like to eat. These include most fibrous foods, but especially, garlic, onion, apples, bananas, asparagus, leeks, oats, and leafy greens.
Step #5 is to Return to Real Life
Now that you’ve repaired your gut, it’s time to return to real life while maintaining your healthy habits. Slowly reintroduce foods while maintaining your nutrition, supplementation, and lifestyle habits. If you begin to slip, remember that your gut is a foundation of wellness. Having a healthy gut makes everything better.
It can seem complicated but it’s completely possible to create the ideal environment that supports long-term relief and gut healing. Go step by step through the Five R program to restore your gut health with a targeted approach that combines nutrition, supplementation, and lifestyle.