In Part I of this series we discussed the links between Fibromyalgia and gut health with regards to your immune system. It is estimated that 75% or more of our immune system strength depends on our gut health.
In Part II of this series I explained what can damage gut health and gave more of an overview of the different factors involved in improving it and recovering a healthy microbiome.
If you haven’t read these, here they are: https://fibromyalgiafree.org/fibromyalgia-and-gut-health/ and https://fibromyalgiafree.org/fibromyalgia-and-gut-health-continued/
In Parts 1 and 2 of my series on gut health, I discussed some of the steps needed to improve our digestive systems and subsequently our immune systems. You’ve probably already heard a fair amount of info about probiotics, so in this section, I’d like to expand on prebiotics and delve into digestive enzymes to explain their roles in the gut.
Probiotics are live organisms (bacteria) that live within our digestive systems; they are the good flora and their main job is to support gut function and improve our immune systems. Our guts also contain “bad” bacteria and the goal is to shift the balance from having an overabundance of bad flora to having an overabundance of healthy, or good bacteria. Our bodies don’t make probiotics on their own so we have to increase the numbers either through diet or supplements. Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as kumbacha, kefir, sauerkraut, yogurt, and others.
Then, there are ways to feed these bacteria and make them thrive. When we eat processed and sugary foods, we are keeping the bad flora happy and their numbers quickly multiply. Over time, this creates chronic digestive issues, a very unhealthy gut, and ultimately a severely compromised immune system.
To feed our “good” bacteria and increase its numbers, we need PREbiotics.
Fibromyalgia and Gut Health – Prebiotics
In a nutshell, a prebiotic is a type of fiber that beneficially changes the gut flora. They pass through the digestive tract, and once in the small intestine, they ferment and feed the good bacteria in the small intestines. It’s during this fermentation process that they are able to provide energy for the cells lining the gut wall and allow nutrients to pass through to the rest of the body. This reduces the inflammation process and can also help to reduce insulin and bad cholesterol.
Generally, if you are eating a diverse diet of whole foods including plenty of fruits and vegetables, you are probably getting enough. However, when we have an unhealthy gut or a compromised immune system, food isn’t always enough and supplementation may be needed to heal the microbiome.
Specifically, prebiotics are found in the following foods:
Leeks Asparagus Oats (steel-cut)
Blueberries Onions Jerusalem artichokes
Apples Lentils Chickpeas
Beans Nuts Green unripe bananas
Supplements containing prebiotics are also available without a prescription and can be taken to ensure that we are getting enough.
So, step 1 is to increase Probiotics, and step 2 is to increase prebiotics to keep those probiotics multiplying and thriving. There is a third piece of the puzzle to healing the gut and strengthen our immune system and it has to do with enzymes.
Fibromyalgia and Gut Health – Digestive Enzymes
Enzymes are found in every part of our bodies and involved in just about every single cell function. There are two types – metabolic, and digestive. They are proteins made up of amino acids. Digestive enzymes break down the bonds in foods to reduce the size of the particles so that they are small enough for nutrients to be absorbed by the small intestine and passed through to other parts of the body. A lack of a particular enzyme can wreak havoc and make for some uncomfortable digestive issues. People who are lactose intolerant have this problem; their bodies do not contain lactase which is responsible for breaking down lactose.
Enzymes are activated in the saliva as soon as we take a bite of food. They are located all throughout the digestive system. There are hundreds of digestive enzymes, but these three main types break down the most common food types:
- Proteases – these break down proteins in meats, eggs, and dairy products. They allow the amino acids to be absorbed in the small intestine and are used to build muscle, maintain healthy skin, and keep the hormones functioning normally.
- Amylases – this enzyme breaks down carbohydrates into energy that’s able to be used by the body. It’s also what’s in saliva where it kickstarts the digestion process. Amylase is also secreted by the pancreas where it is released to further help in digesting food.
- Lipase is found not only in the digestive tract, but also in the blood and fatty tissues where it helps to break down fats and oils and helps to maintain heart health.
It’s important to remember that probiotics, prebiotics, and enzymes all work together in the digestion system. When our guts are unhealthy, a lack of one of these ingredients usually means that others are lacking too, and it’s important to address all three when trying to heal.
Whenever our immune systems are compromised, it’s important to remember that it is going to take time to restore it back to health. However, when we do start making dietary modifications, changes will start to happen in as little as three days! (Remember my gurgling stomach!!)
What is so fascinating about the gut microbiome is that while we can’t change our DNA, it IS possible to change the DNA in the gut. For those of us struggling with Fibromyalgia, this offers hope that this disease can be managed quite successfully, and one of the ways to do this is by improving gut health.
To give you a bit of trivia that shows how much impact the state of our gut can have on our overall health, two different studies have recently been conducted with mice. In both experiments, researchers injected lean, healthy mice with gut flora from obese mice. Both studies resulted in the lean mice gaining weight. The control group that was not injected didn’t show any weight gain.
It all starts by taking the first step, one day at a time. To summarize, here are the key things needed to start rebuilding your immune system through gut health:
- Consume Probiotics.
- Consume Prebiotics.
- Take digestive enzymes.
- Eliminate harmful gut bacteria by avoiding processed foods.
- Take antibiotics only when necessary; they kill off bacteria both good and bad. If you have to take them, increase your intake of probiotics for several days afterwards.
- Begin some physical activity; do what you can and increase as you can.
- Avoid drinking alcohol in excess.
- Stop smoking; cigarette smoking inflames your digestive tract (among other things).
- Look for ways to reduce stress in your life and experience more joy in your life.