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Why Your Gut Is Inflamed

Why Your Gut Is Inflamed

Why Your Gut Is Inflamed

Both the functioning of the intestinal barrier and the gut microbiome impact the health of your gut, causing gut inflammation and a host of other issues throughout the body. A functional medicine health practitioner can get to the root cause, or causes, of your gut inflammation and help you to take steps to heal.

Let’s find out more.

What is gut inflammation?

“Inflammation is a defence reaction of the body against injury. The word inflammation originates from the Latin word “inflammatio” which means fire, and traditionally inflammation is characterised by redness, swelling, pain, heat and impaired body functions. Redness and heat are caused by increased blood flow, swelling by accumulation of fluid, and pain by the swelling, but also by release of compounds giving rise to nerve signals.”  [1]

When the gut reaches a state of inflammation, it leads to dysbiosis, and a variety of diseases may develop. These may include autoimmune diseases, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, skin conditions, neurogenerative disorders and diabetes. In short, when the gut is inflamed, it has the capacity to affect the whole body and numerous pathways and systems.

Specifically, gut inflammation triggers intestinal conditions. The most chronic being Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

IBD describes disorders that involve chronic inflammation of tissues in your digestive tract. Types of IBD include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis:

Ulcerative colitis

This condition involves inflammation and sores (ulcers) along the lining of your large intestine (colon) and rectum.

Symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea, often with blood or pus
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Rectal pain
  • Rectal bleeding — passing small amount of blood with stool
  • Urgency to defecate
  • Inability to defecate despite urgency
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

Crohn’s disease

This type of IBD is characterized by inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract, which often can involve the deeper layers of the digestive tract. Crohn’s disease most commonly affects the small intestine. However, it can also affect the large intestine and uncommonly, the upper gastrointestinal tract. [2]

Symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Blood in your stool
  • Mouth sores
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss
  • Pain or drainage near or around the anus due to inflammation from a tunnel into the skin (fistula) [3]

So, what causes these debilitating conditions?

Gut health is influenced by two factors: the intestinal barrier and the gut microbiota. Disturbances in either one of these factors can induce gut inflammation, inciting a chain reaction of damage that begins locally and may spread systemically throughout the body. [4]

The intestinal barrier and the gut microbiome – their health and integrity

The intestinal epithelial barrier controls the equilibrium between tolerance and immunity to non-self antigens. The protein zonulin is the modulator of intercellular tight junctions, and when the zonulin pathway is deregulated in genetically susceptible individuals, both intestinal and extraintestinal autoimmune, inflammatory, and neoplastic disorders can occur. [5]

When intestinal inflammation becomes chronic, the integrity of the intestinal barrier is altered. This is often referred to as ‘leaky gut’.

The tight barrier controls what gets absorbed into the bloodstream. If unhealthy, the gut lining may have large cracks or holes in it which allow partially digested food and toxins in the system.

This may cause inflammation and create changes in the gut microbiome which is composed of trillions of microorganisms that live in the intestinal tract. These microorganisms, which as mostly bacteria, are critical to your health and wellbeing.

Reasons your gut may be inflamed

Inflammatory foods and food additives

Every year, 50% of Australians experience gut health problems, and 1 in 7 Australian adults experience distressing gut health symptoms which they can often manage through the elimination of key foods or food groups. [6]

Gluten, sugar, dairy, corn and soy trigger the release zonulin to signal your intestinal lining to open up. By removing these inflammatory foods, your gut lining will be able to naturally repair itself.

Reduce your intake of the above as well as highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates (also acellular carbohydrates which lack cell walls, ie flour and sugar), artificial sweeteners and alcohol.

Choose anti-inflammatory foods such as:

  • Fruits – deeply coloured berries such as grapes and cherries
  • Vegetables – broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower
  • Spices – turmeric, fenugreek, and cinnamon
  • Healthy fats – olive oil and coconut oil [8]

Another culprit to avoid is food additives which harm your gut microbiome. These are plentiful in processed foods.

Some of these include:

  • maltodextrin
  • the artificial sweetener Splenda
  • carrageenan
  • carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80
  • titanium dioxide

These all promote intestinal permeability and cause inflammatory gut bacteria to grow.

Avoid highly processed industrial seed oils, including soybean, canola and safflower oils. When you consume these oils, their by-products cause gut inflammation which can lead to gut infections.

Instead, eat a wide variety of natural foods in their natural state. Follow a nutrient-dense diet with plenty of organic greens, vegetables and fruits, healthy fats and quality proteins.

Gut infections

You may have an undetected gut infection such as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), Candida overgrowth, which is a type of yeast, or an intestinal parasite. A gut infection can be identified with functional laboratory testing.


The toxic chemicals in our environment such as herbicides, pesticides, GMOs in food, chemicals in water, as well as the ingredients in beauty products and household cleaners, contribute to the increase in inflammation levels, leading to gut damage and leaky gut.

Common microbiome-disrupting environmental toxins to which we are exposed on a daily basis include:

Triclosan: This is found in personal care products such as antibacterial soap, mouthwash, toothpaste and deodorant. It is easily absorbed through the skin and gastrointestinal tract and alters the types of microbes present in the gastrointestinal tract. These alterations impair the immune-regulating activities of gut microbes and predispose to allergic diseases such as allergies and eczema.

Pesticides: These are found on conventionally grown produce and used by many people in their gardens. Reduced levels of beneficial gut microbes have been linked to many chronic health issues, including disrupted immune and gastrointestinal function.

BPA: This is found in hard plastic water bottles and the lining of canned foods, altering the normal gut flora and disrupting the body’s hormonal system by mimicking the hormone estrogen.

Heavy metals: This includes metals such as cadmium, lead, and arsenic which reduce levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut that protect against intestinal inflammation. Chronic exposure to these heavy metals, often from soil and drinking water, may make you more likely to experience inflammatory gastrointestinal disorders. [9]

Too much stress

When you are under physical, mental or emotional stress, your body becomes inflamed and your digestive system slows down, damaging your gut and leading to gut infections like SIBO and Candida overgrowth. This process also suppresses your immune system and can leave your susceptible to gut infections.

Psychological stress and depression can promote consumption of inflammatory, comfort foods such as sugar and carbohydrates. This influences which gut bacteria thrive. Additionally, stress and depression can reshape the gut bacteria’s composition through stress hormones, inflammation, and autonomic alterations. In turn, the gut bacteria release metabolites, toxins, and neurohormones that can alter eating behaviour and mood. [10]

Find ways to manage your stress with activities that can help you to relax, even for just a few moments at a time. Whether its meditation, yoga, going for a walk, spending time with friends, or doing breathing exercises, these practices are key to ensuring you stay healthy in the long-term.

A host of inflammatory medications

Many over the counter medications such as painkillers, NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), oral contraceptive pills, acid-reducing drugs and antibiotics can disrupt your microbiome by killing the good bacteria in your gut.

Persistent use of antibiotics can lead to the formation of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, putting you at risk for allergic reactions and infections because of the disruption to the complex ecology of the microbiome.

Where possible and if not necessary, stop using these drugs and start to restore the health of your microbiome and intestinal barrier with digestive enzymes and HCL. This will help support optimal digestion and nutrient absorption, as well as assist your body’s intestinal repair and inflammation responses. [11]

Getting the right amount of exercise

Its important to get the right amount and intensity of exercise as being sedentary, as well as over-exercising, can be harmful to the bacteria in your gut.

If you are sedentary, there is a higher risk of leaky gut so unwanted particles are more likely to enter the gut. Too much exercise also increases the likelihood of intestinal permeability and encourages the bad bacteria to flourish. If you exercise moderately, it will boost the good bacteria in your gut so try less intense activities such as walking, swimming and yoga.

How we can help

As you can see, the reasons for your gut inflammation are varied and complex. Inflammation is at the root of all disease,  Getting to the root of the inflammation is key to healing your gut and your overall health. Contact us to find out more.

The above information is intended to be general, educational advice only, on topics which are of interest to us. It is not intended to represent specific or individual health or medical advice and is not specific to your situation. The below information is educative and is not intended to advertise any service.

Before making any decisions in relation to your health, you should always discuss your individual situation with your own health practitioners to ensure that any advice you have read is right for you.

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper - ND is the founder of Advanced Functional Medicine Australia. He is a Naturopathic Doctor with extensive functional medicine training from leading practitioners in the USA and worldwide.

He is leading the way with advancements of functional medicine, clinically implementing worldwide best practices in Functional Medicine throughout Australia.

Jarrod consults in person from Perth, Western Australia and also online via Telehealth throughout Australia and worldwide.

If you are looking for personalised treatment, we highly recommend contacting Jarrod Cooper’s Advanced Functional Medicine clinic in Australia.

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