20 Ways To Heal The Gut: The Ultimate Gut-Healing Diet Plan
Got Anxiety? Brain fog? Fatigue? Improving your gut health could be the answer.
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Why I Want to Help You Heal Your Gut
I never thought much about my gut. I'm a psychologist and well-being expert, so I focus mostly on what you can do to boost well-being. But this all changed when my gut completely gave out on me. In the blink of an eye, I started getting nauseous, bloated, and belchy anytime I ate anything. I quickly dropped more than 15 pounds, became exhausted, and developed intense anxiety.
I could have seen the signs and prevented this nightmare. My gut had been screaming, "Pay attention to me!" for years by giving me new food allergies, migraines, and tummy troubles. These were all signs that my gut was unhealthy... I just didn't realize it yet.
Heal the Gut Before You Get Really Sick
When my gut got mad at me, I had no idea what the problem was. It took me months to figure it out and more than year to start feeling significantly better. Eventually I took the GI-MAP stool test and learned that I had a parasite called blastocystis hominis (Blasto The Gut Bug), which I likely picked up in Mexico a few years back. I also lived in a moldy apartment for 6 years and had toxic genes (genes that make it difficult to eliminate toxins from the body).
It was a perfect storm that slowly got worse until I got really stressed one month and developed Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), which then gave me an intolerance to dairy and eggs. I couldn't eat anything that was difficult to digest (e.g., raw veggies, nuts, popcorn), anything that feb SIBO (most veggies), or anything that fed mold (e.g., mushrooms, grains, even vitamins cased in cellulose capsules).
The GI-MAP stool test also revealed that my gut's immune system was completely shot. It cold no longer clear the toxic sludge in my gut.
Poor Gut Health Is Different For Everybody
What surprised me most was how widespread my gut-illness was. I would get so tired that I literally couldn't keep my eyes open after eating a meal. And when I was awake, I had a hard time concentrating—my foggy brain just could not think. Needless to say, this made it difficult to work and I often skipped eating on days when I needed my brain and body to function.
Food became a miserable chore. I wished I didn't have to eat at all. Eventually I ended up consuming mostly tea with collagen and coconut oil... for months.
Knowing what I know now, I would have done just about anything to prevent this gut hell. But now that I'm on the mend, I feel compelled to share what I've learned.
Do You Need to Heal Your Gut?
Do you have common gut health issues such as: digestive troubles, stomach aches, weight changes, fatigue, skin issues, emotional issues, or food intolerances? Or, do you have unexplained fatigue, brain fog, headaches, rashes, or weird chronic issues that doctors can't seem to explain? Then consider testing the health of your gut with the GI-map stool test and take action to heal your gut before your gut issues start to snowball.
If you'd like to know exactly what your gut problems are, you can take a stool test to find out. The GI-MAP stool test even has a report to help you interpret your results.
Get Started With Healing Your Gut
Below, I review a bunch of gut healing strategies. But first, let's get to know your gut bugs.
Get to Know Your Gut Bugs
It turns out that our guts are populated by all sorts of bacteria, fungi, and other unknown critters—these "gut bugs" are collectively referred to as the microbiota.
Just like humans, our gut bugs have personalities which are affected by nature (their genes) and nurture (the environment they live in). Some of them tend to be good guys, some tend to be bad guys, and some can be fickle, and end up being good or bad depending on the circumstances.
For example, the potentially deadly bacteria, staphylococcus aureus (i.e., staff) is present in 25% of healthy people—it only hurts us when it overgrows. And even good bugs, when there are too many of them, can cause a world of hurt when they move up into the small intestine and overgrow (causing SIBO).
Why does it help to know your gut bugs? Well, because when we understand what leads to an unhealthy society of microbiota, we can take the right steps to create a healthy society of microbiota and heal the gut.
Here's a video from an expert explaining a healthy gut
Here's exactly how to start healing the gut
When you start healing your gut, its best to start by gently supporting and encouraging healthy gut bugs. But if your gut is in a state of distress (as mine was), then you'll likely need to ramp up slowly to the more harsh gut healing strategies, forcing those gut bullies in your microbiota to "get out!".
Here's 20 gut-healing strategies to try. I've also split these strategies into 3 phases to help you ramp up slowly. Because there is no need to be super harsh with you gut if it only just needs a little kindness.
What to expect
If your gut is unhealthy, it's likely going to get worse before it gets better. You're almost guaranteed to get die-off (Herxheimer) symptoms at some point in the gut healing process.
What are die-off symptoms?
Die-off symptoms can include fatigue, brain fog, gastrointestinal distress such as nausea, gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, low-grade fever, headache, sore throat, itching, muscle and joint soreness, chills, flu-like symptoms, lethargy, intense sweet cravings, rashes, and irritability.
Don't confuse die-off symptoms with a lack of calories or nutrients, which can also make us feel tired and weak. Die-off symptoms tend to come on suddenly (whereas insufficient calories can leave us feeling chronically tired and ill). Some people also find that they have die-off symptoms only at a certain time of the day—morning, afternoon, or evening.
If you are having die-off symptoms, it means you are doing too much too fast. Slow down. Your body can't handle all the toxins and it's making you sick.
When I started healing my gut, I had intense die-off reactions (chills and nausea) way too often (this was before I knew my genes couldn't process toxins very well. Once I added supplements to process toxins, I stopped getting any die-off symptoms.
How to minimize die-off
The die-off symptoms you'll experience will depend on the health of your liver, your gut bugs, and so forth.
In this phase, you'll focus on generally improving your gut health. Even though I ended up trying all the strategies in this article, these foundational strategies did the most for me in the long run.
It turns out that stress can actually help bad bugs, like Blasto, to thrive—a phenomenon that I experienced first hand (take the stress quiz to learn a bit more or check out my stress detox program). Stress also hurts the immune system which prevents your gut from being able to fight off problems.
As I mentioned earlier, my gut switched from okay to completely berzerk in the blink of an eye. The cause of this switch was stress—I had a super stressful month. The stress taxed my immune system, enabling Blasto, mold, and a bunch of other bad gut bugs to wreak havoc. They moved up into my small intestine (where they are not supposed to be)—and they even started "leaking" out of my gut.
This is how a short period of stress can snowball into major gut health issues. And it's why creating an anti-stress lifestyle is key to both gut health and emotional well-being.
2. Support Your Immune System
If your gut is unhealthy, your immune system is already churning away trying to heal it. Without proper support, your immune system can get overworked and worn down. So a nice gentle way to heal the gut is to support your immune system in doing its job.
To support your immune system, you can eat immunity supporting foods, like citrus fruits, garlic, and spinach. If your immune system is already weak, it can also be helpful to supplement with key vitamins and minerals that may have become depleted like, Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Vitamin D, and Zinc.
Some people also find success with Igg supplements (to support gut immunity). I also found that taking vitamins to support adrenal function was incredibly helpful as adrenals can get taxed when we are overstressed by gut health issues.
3. Detox The Liver
Our livers are responsible for detoxing us of the harmful byproducts of dying gut bugs. Eating liver supportive foods can help us reduce die-off reactions and kill bad gut bugs with more ease.
To help the liver and body detox, consider taking milk thistle supplements, calcium D-Glucarate, NAC, or liposomal glutathione (I prefer NAC to glutathione). Next, eat bitter greens like dandelion leaves, raw radishes, and mustard greens to promote more bile excretion and process toxins effectively. And be sure to eat cruciferous veggies like broccoli, kale, collard greens, bok choy, and arugula. These contain diindolylmethane (DIM), a substance that helps the liver detox effectively.
Note. If your gut is too unhealthy to eat these veggies, be sure to take supplements with the detox nutrients. I couldn't eat hardly any cruciferous veggies, but I took DIM and could eat broccoli sprouts, which are a great source of DIM.
Note 2. If your body is having a hard time detoxing (e.g., from poor detox genetics like CYP or GST genes) then getting in the sauna or steam room for 10-20 minutes 3-5 days per week can really help speed detox along.
4. Don't Eat Problematic Foods
5. Consume Collagen
Collagen makes up the gut’s connective tissue—or the barrier between what's in your gut and the rest of your body. If this barrier gets "leaky" (leaky gut), particles from the gut can seep into the bloodstream, causing everything from the herxheimer reaction (flu-like symptoms), to mental health issues, to autoimmune disease.
Consuming collagen is likely helpful for everyone, but especially those with an unhealthy microbiota. In general, those with gut-health issues tend to have low levels of collagen. In addition, your microbiota affect which symptoms (or diseases) you might get from a leaky gut. So if you have an unhealthy gut, leaky gut may be more problematic. Indeed, I believe collagen was one of the most important supplements I took to heal my gut (and my fingernails are stronger too!)
6. Eat Gut-Soothing Foods
We often eat with little consideration for what our gut must then do with our food. In fact, our guts must break down all the chunks, absorb the nutrients, and then push along the indigestible fiber to feed the gut bugs in the lower intestine—that's a lot of work for an unhealthy gut.
To help ease the burden on the gut, we can eat gut-soothing foods such as soft foods (winter squash, soup, banana), cooked foods, and juiced fruits and vegetables. My favorites are spinach and cantaloupe juice , celery juice, and carrot juice. These foods are already broken down, which helps ease the burden on the gut.
Here'a a video with some more tips on gut healing to try out:
If the tips in Phase 1 aren't resolving your gut health issues, move on to Phase 2. In this phase, you'll focus on more nuanced strategies to improve gut health.
7. Focus on Macronutrients
When it comes to the role of macronutrients (i.e., Carbs, Protein, and Fat) in gut health, the experts are split. Some say that feeding our healthy gut bugs with carbs like fiber, vegetables, and fruits is the best approach. Others say that starving our bad gut bugs by eating primarily fat is the best approach. Indeed, both approaches seem to have benefits... depending on your unique gut and microbiota. So it's important to pay attention to how specific foods make you feel.
For some folks, consuming fiber can exacerbate gut issues. For others, certain types of carbs exacerbate gut issues. For others, consuming high-fat meals exacerbate gut health issues (e.g., those without the enzymes to break down fats). When it comes to your gut health, the key is to eat mindfully and explore how different foods make you feel.
After being a vegetarian my entire life, I found out that vegetables really hurt my gut and I needed to eat mostly meat, sour dough bread, fruit oils (coconut, olive, and avocado), and white potatoes (Juiced fruit and veggies were ok and root vegetables were better than greens). When the gut is unhealthy, the regular healthy diet advice is often not very helpful. Learn how to listen to your body!
8. Try a Ketogenic Diet
Although a Ketogenic diet doesn't seem to work for everyone, it appears to be a good way to reduce inflammation in the body more generally, improve insulin resistance, and clear gunk from the cells. It's also tends to be good for getting rid of bad bacteria and parasites. Why? Because the Ketogenic diet is a low-carb diet, and gut bugs primarily eat carbs.
Keep in mind that starting a Ketogenic diet can often result in a few days or weeks of Keto flu—headaches, leg cramps, sugar cravings, and some other annoying symptoms. To prevent Keto flu, make sure you're getting electrolytes (especially sea salt, magnesium, and potassium). An easy way to do this is by drinking homemade "ketorade".
And if you don't feel good eating Keto after a few days, stop! If your body is already stressed, Keto can be too stressful for your body to handle. You might instead opt for a moderate to low carb diet just to reduce your sugar intake.
Here's a video explaining a bit more about Keto and gut health:
9. Take Natural Digestive Aids
If your gut is having a hard time digesting, for whatever reason, help it out by consuming natural digestive aids.
10. Eat Less to Starve Gut Bugs
If you have an overgrowth of bad gut bugs, part of the goal is to starve them without starving yourself. Some folks advocate for fasting, intermittent fasting, or eating fewer carbs to reduce bacteria like firmicutes, which have been shown to be linked to obesity. Just be sure you're consuming enough calories not to stress your body out.
11. Remove Toxins from Your Life
Sometimes it seems like we are doing everything right, but we still can't seem to get a handle on our gut health issues. In this case, there is often some hidden toxin that's bogging down our immune system.
For example, are we eating all of our food out of plastic with BPA, a known gut toxin? Or are we living in a home that's covered in gut-harming mold? Or are we sleeping on a new bed that sprayed in toxic flame-retardant chemicals? Turns out I had a toxic bed that also had mold on it. Yuk!
Gut-harming toxins are all around us. The electromagnetic waves from our smartphones can even mess with our guts. It's tricky but finding and removing these toxins is often instrumental in healing the gut.
If the tips in Phase 1 and 2 aren't resolving your gut health issues, your gut bugs just aren't going to go quietly into the night—now it's time for war! In this phase, you'll focus on evicting unhealthy gut bugs from your body... by force.
12. Break Up the Biofilms That House Bad Gut Bugs
When bad gut bugs just won't leave, it's often because they have a protective home, or biofilm, to hide in. Often times when we take antibiotics or anti-microbials, the bacteria hide in the biofilm and come back immediately afterwards. This is why it's so important to take biofilm disrupting supplements. The biofilm disrupters include:
We might also try to include garlic and coconut oil in most of our meals. That way when the bacteria come out of the biofilm to eat, they are bombarded.
13. Eat Probiotic Foods
Consuming probiotic foods is probably the best thing you can do for gut health. Although probiotic supplements can be helpful, they are usually too small to make much of an impact. If you do want to try pills, get pills with 50 billion colony forming units (CFUs). I suggest the probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii, which has been shown to combat digestive issues.
The reason I include this strategy in Phase 3 instead of Phase 1 is because probiotics can often be intense and cause bad die-off symptoms. So, how do you add probiotics to your diet successfully? Try the sauerkraut protocol.
The Sauerkraut protocol
When I did the sauerkraut protocol, it took me about 6 weeks to get through step 3 and about 2 months to get through all the steps. But everyone is different.
14. Eat Anti-Bacterial Foods
Probiotics crowd out bad bacteria; anti-bacterials kill bad bacteria. To eradicate stubborn bad gut bacteria, try taking some anti-bacterial herbs.
Some experts recommend you start with less aggressive anti-bacterials like cinnamon, clove, or garlic. Test each of these a little at a time to see how they make you feel. If these don't help, try more intense anti-bacterials like oregano oil, olive leaf, berberine, or grapefruit seed extract in small doses. That stuff is powerful!
15. Eat Anti-Parasitic Foods
One great, and cheap, way to find out if you have parasites is with anti-parasitic foods, specifically, papaya seeds. You can even test yourself for parasites or do the papaya seed test.
The papaya parasite test
For more, read up on how to do a parasite cleanse.
16. Eat Anti-Fungal Foods To Kill Gut Candida and Yeast
Just as papaya seeds kill parasites, anti-fungal foods kill gut fungi like candida. A great, and cheap, way to find out if you have problems with gut fungi is with the coconut oil test.
The coconut oil test
17. Combine Anti-Microbial Supplements
Since we don't know which approaches and which herbs will work best on our unique gut bugs, it's helpful to combine different herbs to see which ones work best for us. Here's a few more anti-microbial herbs to explore. But follow the directions on the bottle carefully; these are potent herbs.
A Few More Things That Can Help The Gut
18. Try Some Gut-Healing Foods
Some people swear by celery juice as a way to detox and heal the gut. Others do better eating more meat, bread and white potatoes. Each person is different, so it's key to figure out which foods help you. Sometimes the healthiest foods (like broccoli!) can be the hardest on your gut.
19. Try A Gut-Healing Diet
The Fodmap Diet, GAPS diet, SCD diet, low-fermentation diet, low-residue diet, and Autoimmune Paleo diet might be some diets to look into. Not every diet will work for every person, but usually at least one of these diets will help some.
20. Remember, Healing The Gut Takes Time
The gut is huge. By the time it's hurt, it will take a good amount of time to heal, possibly even years. Try to be self-compassionate, and try not to stress if you have some ups and downs.
Here's 5 more tips keep your gut healthy
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at Berkeley, she started creating online content & programs to boost well-being—some of these have reached more than a million people. As author of Outsmart Your Smartphone, and contributor to Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis aims to share her insights on happiness & health with people all across the world. Learn more about Dr. Davis.