There’s a whole lot of bacteria in your gut. Trillions, to be specific. But they’re not bad for you. Quite the opposite; a lot of this bacteria (i.e. the gut microbiome) is crucial for optimal health. An unhealthy gut can cause issues like inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), diarrhoea, and stomach aches… But of course, you probably already knew that.
What might come as a surprise, however, is the fact that your gut microbiome may also increase your risks of developing the following conditions: autoimmune diseases (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes), skin problems (e.g. eczema and acne rosacea), and even heart disease, to name a few. That’s scary. So, in the bigger picture, how can you restore a healthy gut flora when things go south in your gut?
Thankfully, functional medicine offers a simple-to-understand 5-R programme (Remove, Replace, Re-inoculate, Repair, and Rebalance) that helps both support and heal your digestive tract. More details on the elements of the 5-R approach below.
1. Remove – You want to remove anything that could be irritating to the gut. This includes food allergens (e.g. certain types of carbohydrates, lactose, alcohol), medications (e.g. NSAIDs like aspirin or ibuprofen), or even other ‘bad bugs’ like bacteria and yeast. This stage also involves the removal of infections, parasites, and pathogens. To do all the things as mentioned above, you may have to go through an allergy ‘elimination diet’ to determine which foods are irritating your gut or take drugs/herbs to eradicate a particular bug.
2. Replace – You may be lacking certain elements that are key to optimal digestive health, for example, stomach acid, bile, and digestive enzymes. And so, this stage involves the replacement of these digestive secretions required for proper digestion.
3. Re-inoculate – Foods that help rebalance the microbiome need to be reintroduced once your symptoms have improved significantly. To be specific, 2 types of foods will be re-inoculated: prebiotic and probiotic foods. Prebiotic foods are the type of food that gut bacteria feed on. Prebiotics are available in many foods that contain a fibre called inulin (e.g. artichokes and leeks) and grains (e.g. barley and wheat). Another good prebiotic source is a supplement called ‘fructooligosaccharide’ (FOS). Probiotic foods, on the other hand, are beneficial microorganisms found in the gut. You can think of them as ‘good gut bacteria.’ Fermented foods (e.g. yoghurt and miso) are good probiotics sources.
4. Repair – The purpose of this stage is to encourage the repair of your intestinal cells and mucosa, reduce inflammation, and create an environment that supports gut health and long-term relief. This can be done by supplying key nutrients that can often be in short supply in a diseased state, including zinc, antioxidants (e.g. vitamins A, C, and E), fish oil, and glutamine.
5.Rebalance – Just so you know, your lifestyle habits have an enormous influence on your gut health. So, if you want to keep your gut microbiome in tip-top condition, you’ll also want to address issues like stress management, sleep, physical activity, and social connections.