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Dr. Don Colbert’s Healthy Gut Zone

Leaky Gut and Why It Matters

“The symptoms are not the root cause. Every doctor knows that,” states Dr. Don Colbert, who speaks from personal experience. As a young doctor in the 80’s and early 90’s, he says he ran himself ragged trying to build his practice, meet payroll, and cover all his business and personal expenses. Each day he saw 30-40 patients and ate spicy Mexican food for lunch, which took a toll on his immune system. Every few months Dr. Colbert would contract a sinus infection or bronchitis, take a course of antibiotics, feel better, and the cycle would start again. Eventually, he developed severe IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), diarrhea, and psoriasis all over his arms and legs. It was then he started studying nutrition, learned which food triggered inflammation in his body, changed his diet, and saw results. His psoriasis cleared up and in time, he figured out how to heal his IBS as well. “Eventually, I figured it out: if I have a healthy gut, then I will be healthy as well.”

Dr. Colbert says that 75% of our immune cells are in the gut, and quotes neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter: “Up to 90% of all known human illness can be traced back to an unhealthy gut.” Given those stats alone, it’s clear that gut health factors heavily in overall health. Dr. Colbert says the gut’s primary function is to break down nutrients from what we eat into simple sugars, amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals, and absorb them into our bodies through and between the cells of the gut wall. “When the microscopic tight junctions between these cells of the gut wall are damaged and pried open, the result is tiny holes that let bacteria, proteins, partially digested food, chemicals, yeast, toxins, and more directly into your bloodstream.” This process is known as “leaky gut” and is the state of an estimated 80% of Americans. The result of those escaping nutrients is inflammation, which Dr. Colbert says is the root cause of most chronic diseases of the brain, lung, heart, mouth and body.

Main Causes of Leaky Gut

Most people have heard that gluten causes leaky gut, which Dr. Colbert confirms. While it’s one “common enemy” of gut health, he first shines a light on seven other causes:

  • Antibiotics – An estimated 30% of all antibiotic prescriptions in the U.S. are for illnesses that do not require an antibiotic. Use natural supplements and narrow-spectrum antibiotic alternatives.
  • NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) – These damage the mucus layer of the gut by dissolving microscopic holes through the gut wall.  Curcumin and Boswellia are natural alternatives.
  • Acid blockers – Though they provide temporary relief from heartburn or reflux, they also allow bad bacteria to multiply, causing inflammation.  Many natural alternatives. 
  • GMO foods – They increase gut permeability, damage the immune system, increase infection rates, negatively affect mood, and disturb thyroid production.  Choose organic, non-GMO foods. 
  • Chlorine -  It kills the beneficial bacteria in the GI tract.  Drink bottled water, get a shower filter. 
  • Pesticides – U.S. farms apply an estimated 287 million lbs. of it every year.  Kills good bacteria, allowing bad bacteria to overpopulate.  Buy organic or wash/soak produce, especially the “dirty dozen.”
  • Intestinal infections – From foreign travel, food poisoning, or living in group homes. Causes IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and dysbiosis, an excessive amount of bad bacteria. Eat probiotic-rich foods.

The nine most common gut diseases are: acid reflux, ulcers, IBS, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, SIBO/SIFO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth/fungal overgrowth), celiac disease, brain-related diseases (like stroke and Alzheimer’s) and auto-immune diseases. Achieving a healthy gut usually improves or even clears up these maladies, Dr. Colbert states. To “clean up” the gut, he says we need to starve bad bacteria and feed the good. The main way to do this is, of course, through a healthy diet.  He offers a long list of things we need to avoid: alcohol, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, artificial sweeteners, chlorinated water, all dairy products, excessive meats, gluten, GMO foods, high-lectin foods, acid blocking meds, processed foods (excessive starches and carbs), saturated fats, sugar, and for some people, even fluoride toothpaste.     

How to have a Healthy Gut  

To build good bacteria, he recommends five “power tools:”  

  • Fiber – helps food pass through more quickly, need both soluble and insoluble / not beans, wheat bran, or grain-based fibers, but psyllium husk powder, carrots, some citrus fruits, pressure cooked beans and peas, cauliflower, nuts
  • Probiotics – live microorganisms that boost good bacteria / kefir, kimchi, kombucha, miso, natto, pickles, sauerkraut, some cheese, tempeh, buttermilk 
  • Prebiotics – the non-digestible part of foods which ferments in the colon and produces good bacteria /  apples, asparagus, bananas, barley, chicory root, cocoa, dandelion greens, flaxseeds, garlic, etc.
  • Polyphenols – antioxidant phytonutrients found in plants / berries, black and green teas, coffee, dark chocolate (72% or more), olive oils and olives, many fruits, veggies, and whole grains 
  • Resistant starches – carbs that are not digested until they reach the colon, where they ferment and feed good bacteria / extra-virgin olive oil, green bananas, green mangoes, green papaya, green plantains, sweet potatoes, yams  

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