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Good Health Begins in the Gut

Asked about the importance of diet to over-all health, Dr. Vaidya-Tank, founder of Regenesis MD, responds: “It is profoundly important—the very foundation of good health.

Dr. Vaidya-Tank (left) consults with a patient.

“In integrative medicine,” she explains, “we believe everything starts in the gut; it can actually be described as your ‘second brain.’ In an unhealthy gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the body can’t absorb and process nutrients well. At the very least, poor gut health limits energy and impairs well-being; at worst, it contributes to chronic inflammation and the development of serious, life-threatening diseases—such as diabetes and heart disease. The GI tract is also where many hormones get converted into the active forms necessary for their proper functioning. In short, if your gut is unhealthy, so are you.”

Gut Health

“Many factors influence the digestive process and gut health,” notes Dr. Vaidya-Tank. “But healthy digestion begins with the food we consume, and the principal culprit in poor gut health is the typical American diet. We eat processed bad food—junk!—most of the time. We don’t eat enough fiber to feed good bacteria and we eat too much sugar, which feeds the bad bacteria and yeast.”

Illustrating this, Dr. Vaidya-Tank compares the typical diet eaten here unfavorably with the nutrient-dense foods consumed in other countries. “Good soluble and insoluble fiber can be found in quality grains, like quinoa and oats, or beans and lentils—the complex carbohydrates that most Americans reject in favor of highly processed, nearly fiber-free carbohydrates. This unhealthy combination promotes bloating and diarrhea, in part because we’re not made to eat that way. Instead, it makes the stomach a perfect environment for bad bacteria to grow.”

In addition to the problem of poor diet, Dr. Vaidya-Tank notes another troublesome American habit: “You just eat what you want and pop a pill, right? But those same medications only compound the problem. First, the foods we consume produce digestive problems, then we treat the symptom, furthering harming our GI system. Basically, we treat heartburn and acid reflux backwards! That’s because reducing acid also reduce our defenses against bad bacteria and food-borne pathogens, continuing the cycle of poor digestive health.

“The result of poor dietary habits,” she says, “is that many people walk around, bloated, nauseated, having regular diarrhea or constipation, with excess weight—in short, just not feeling well. Additionally, a damaged gut limits our ability to make serotonin, the feel-good hormone.

“Unfortunately, there is a tendency to blame ‘not feeling well’ on something other than diet and digestive health. The cause is said to be ‘irritable bowel syndrome’ or ‘acid reflux’—which are really simply labels for the symptoms, rather than the true cause of the problem.

“A good example of this is the problem of weight gain,” she notes. “Nine out of ten of my patients complain of weight issues; but they always think it’s about calories. And it’s not really only about the number of calories; it’s about the type of calories, the type of nutrients, and then—most importantly—how the gut metabolizes them.”

Repairing a Damaged Gut

“At Regenesis MD,” explains Dr. Vaidya-Tank, “our goal is to discover and treat the causes—not the symptoms—of health problems. That is what integrative medicine is all about. It is a highly individualized process, and—as I have indicated—it starts with the healing of the gut.

“We begin with a number of different tests, which help us pinpoint specific problems in the digestive system—and these issues will vary from patient to patient. The problem, for example might be a fungal or bacterial imbalance, or the patient may not be able to produce enough digestive enzymes for proper nutrient absorption.

“Through testing,” she explains, “we can also identify what’s known as ‘leaky gut,’ a condition where an unhealthy and inflamed intestinal lining allows toxins to leak back into systemic circulation. Leaky gut can result in many problems, including the development of food allergies.”

Testing, she says, guides the process of healing a damaged, unhealthy digestive system—a process that can take several months. “Some lucky patients,” says Dr. Vaidya-Tank, “can heal through dietary changes alone. But most people have developed other issues, like extreme bacterial or fungal overgrowth, food allergies, and autoimmune responses. And these problems must be addressed.

“When you eat a lot of junk,” she explains, “your body isn’t getting the nutrition it needs to maintain a strong immune system. In order to fix it, you need to give it enough ammunition. There is no magic pill for it.”

The process involves improving nutrition, but also works to address imbalances, which will reduce stress on the body. “We have many tools for repairing and restoring a damaged GI system,” says Dr. Vaidya-Tank.

These include herbs, natural anti-inflammatories, or even adaptogens—which are herbs that can help your body deal better with stress. We also use high-dose intravenous treatments of vitamin C and B vitamins, which provides and healing support, but allow us to bypass—and thus not further stress—the gut.”

Once balance is restored, she says, “we focus on replenishing the gut to allow it to function optimally. Often, at this point, patients report improvements not only in GI symptoms, but in better sleep or less anxiety. The simple truth is that the body is one whole, beautifully cohesive unit, and the gut has an impact on everything—including your mental health, your skin, inflammation, everything.”

A Healing Diet

Healing the GI tract is just the beginning, notes Dr. Vaidya-Tank. “No gut-health treatment can succeed without improved nutrition. And many of my patients will work with a nutritionist in the beginning of the process, when they may be on a more restrictive diet while dealing with the gut dysbiosis. Then they can add foods back as they get healthier.

“Ultimately, the key to maintaining gut health is to develop a healthy diet,” she says. “Our nutritionist will help with this process, addressing the patient’s individual needs. Generally, speaking, however, I suggest following a Mediterranean style diet, which includes healthy fats and lean proteins, along with lots of good fiber and complex carbohydrates. Unlike many of the popular and fad diets promoted today, I find the Mediterranean approach to be a balanced one, supporting a healthy digestive system. The keto diet, for example, concerns me. I don’t find its high-protein/fat and low-complex-carbohydrate approach conducive to good gut health. You’re not a carnivore! You need fiber to keep your gut healthy.

“Developing a healthy eating plan doesn’t need to be complicated,” she says. “I recommend, for example, starting the morning with a plant-based protein smoothie, which helps keep blood sugar stable and reduces excess calorie consumption throughout the day.

“For other meals, an easy rule of thumb—which doesn’t involve counting calories—is to divide your plate in half—and that half should contain some sort of vegetable or greens. Divide the other half equally between lean protein and a complex carbohydrate. It’s a simple, effective way to manage what you eat.”