Healing from Chronic Fatigue: Gut Health

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The story is often so familiar:
“I was fine. I was a type A, perfectionist, who got things done. I never had time to be sick and I don’t have time now. But, all of the sudden, I just couldn’t anymore. I couldn’t keep up the schedule I had made for myself. Honestly, I had a hard time just getting the basics done. My brain was so foggy. I felt like I was losing my mind, and even considered that I may have some form of early dementia. I just felt like my brain cells were dying. I started to back off my extra responsibilities, but the next thing I knew, I was barely able to engage in my life at all. My friends started to give up because I missed so many texts. My kids got used to saying, ‘mommy is just tired again.’ I started to feel like such a failure.”

You have just met my usual chronic fatigue client. Since 2020, this is becoming a story that I hear more and more frequently everywhere I go. In my last blog, Chronic Fatigue, Is Your Brain of Fire, we talked about the brain connections that are affected in the average person struggling with fatigue and exhaustion. We talked about the fact that chronic symptoms of fatigue and brain fog can be indications of neuroinflammation, or brain inflammation.

This is concerning because when we look at any other form of early inflammation, we can easily see the connection with significant pathology later in life. Consider the NFL player who spends his 30’s running, pounding weight, being injured and treated regularly with steroids or anti-inflammatory medications to keep him on the field. What do his knees look like when he is 40 or 50? Most of these pro athletes have to have joint replacements far more frequently and sooner than the average person. This is all due to chronic inflammation.

So what does that mean for our brains? If you are dealing with chronic brain inflammation early in life, it seems plausible that this can lead to earlier loss of normal brain function. I recently came across a terrifying statistic about this:

Did you know that between 2013-2017, according to data collected by Blue Cross Blue Shield, the number of individuals diagnosed with early onset dementia in the ages between 30-64 increased by 373%!! [1]

Y’all, that’s a THREE FOLD increase in YOUNG-ONSET dementia- thirty year olds with dementia!

These statistics bring urgency to my message to pay attention to your symptoms of chronic fatigue, brain fog and exhaustion! So, let’s take a look at some of the ways you can begin to address the root causes of brain fog and fatigue.

The Brain-Gut Connection

I remember researching this gut-brain connection about ten years ago and being shocked and frustrated by the mountains of information showing the connection between a healthy gut and a healthy brain in MEDICAL JOURNALS. But somehow, in my training this was never something we learned.

Today we know that if someone has a leaky gut, they likely have a “leaky brain,” meaning that toxins that were previously prevented from entering the brain are now easily passing into the central nervous system and causing damage.

Even large healthcare institutions, like Johns Hopkins and Harvard are agreeing that the health of the gut affects the health of the brain and is linked to emotions, learning and memory. [2] So, if we are trying to support a healthy brain, a good place to start is to improve your digestive health.

How do you know if you have a healthy digestive system? 

Here are a few questions to help you assess the health of your gut:

Consider seeing your doctor if one or more of the following is true for you:

  1. I have seen blood in my stool recently
  2. I have lost more than 4-5 lbs for no obvious reason
  3. I have feel sick or nauseated frequently for no obvious reason or struggle with a loss of appetite
  4. I have ongoing upset stomach along with occasional fever, shivering, feeling sick
  5. I have had an ongoing and recent change in my bowel movements and habits unrelated to recent travel, stress, medications or changes in diet.
  6. My stomach hurts constantly unrelated to changes in diet and stress.

The symptoms above could indicate a serious issue and should be evaluated by your health professional.

If you are experiencing one or more of the following issues, but have none of the issues mentioned above, consider scheduling a functional health evaluation for a deeper evaluation of root causes:

  1. My stools are not consistent- they are either watery or hard pellets.
  2. When I get stressed, my stomach often gets upset.
  3. I often feel the urge to go, but I can’t go.
  4. I either have several really loose stools several times a day or I don’t go at all.
  5. The bloating I have makes me look several months pregnant.
  6. I get frustrated often because of my chronic stomach issues.
  7. I don’t know what to eat because so many foods make me feel bad and upset my stomach.
  8. I don’t just have stomach issues, I also have a ton of fatigue, muscle pains and other physical symptoms

These symptoms could indicate gut inflammation, leaky gut, poor microbiome, parasites or other reversible conditions.

Take a look at the Bristol stool chart. Number 3-4 is what you want to see when you look in the potty.

The great news is that even those issues that may need a deeper look for root cause issues can experience some decent improvements with some simple, regular home strategies. Firstly, let’s look at your lifestyle:

Breakfast or No Breakfast 

If you are in a regular habit of fasting through the morning, then you need to be careful about how you break your fast. Though excellent for many health issues including chronic fatigue and brain fog, fasting can train the digestive system to slow down its release of enzymes and things necessary for healthy breakdown of food.

A healthy way to break your fast and prepare your digestive system for its job and avoid bloating and worse brain fog, is to drink a healthy organic juice about 15 minutes before eating. THEN, consume a ratio of proteins (40-50%), fats (20-30%) and very little carbohydrate as your first meal.

Move Your Body

Take note of the amount of activity you do. Many of us these days have virtual online work requiring several hours of day sitting in front of the computer. If you are sitting more than 2 hours per day, this is adding to a sluggish gut, increased bloating and decreased regularity.

A standing desk, or desk treadmill is a great option for those of us who must be in front of a computer for many hours a day.  Exercise, not just daily movement,  is another factor to consider. Exercise is additionally helpful for many reasons. Regular exercise, such as 20-30 minutes brisk walking helps move the lymphatics, decreases stagnation in the gut, and reduces bloating.

Food Intolerances and Diet Composition

The best way to really get a finger on the pulse of food intolerance that can contribute to gas, brain fog, fatigue, leaky gut and gut inflammation is to keep a food journal. The goal of this journal is not necessarily to track macros or calories, but to track your response to the foods you eat. Several apps are available to make this easy:

Simple Food Tracker (apple)

https://apps.apple.com/us/app/simple-food-tracker-foodility/id1390760688

iEatBetter (Android)

When it comes to composition, what we are looking at is that you are giving your body a sufficient amount of proteins to help repair the leaky gut damage, but also that you are consuming adequate amounts of naturally occurring fiber such as are found in fruits and vegetables. The ideal amount of fruits and veggies is roughly five portions per day.

Toxins in the Food

If you have read anywhere else on this website, you know that we are dedicated to teaching you about the health hazards associated with toxins in your food, water, home, and lifestyle.

Did you know that glyphosate (round up), the most common pesticide found on your non-organic foods, can cause a change in the cell connections of your gut (the tight junctions), causing them to become more permeable, resulting in leaky gut, increased autoimmune issues, brain fog, chronic fatigue and exhaustion??

What’s worse is that one exposure to glyphosate can cause this change and can last 28-30 days!!!

So, needless to say, one good place to start is to choose a meal that you make at home instead of your on-the-go processed food, bars, shakes, ect. If you want to step it up a little, start making the ingredient switch over to organic food.

Practical Tools to Use to Support a Healthy Gut

Probiotics

Because of the excessive use of antibiotics, many people are struggling with significant dysbiosis which contributes not only to bloating, and digestive issues, but also to cognitive issues, inattention, focus issues, brain fog and more.

Ask any gardener- when you weed your garden, the first thing that tends to grow back are the weeds. Antibiotics pull all the plants out of the garden of your gut, resulting in the overgrowth of certain things like yeast, candida and other undesirable, but necessary bacteria.

Of course you should take a probiotic following a course of antibiotics, but the problem most people are dealing with is that they have had several rounds of them in their life, or they have been exposed to them in their water or food, and as result, the garden of the gut is a mess!

Healthy gut bacteria contributes to the health of your brain, your cardiovascular system, your skin, cholesterol and weight management.

A well-designed probiotic will add and preserve healthy bacteria, make sure the gut biome gets nourished and will support your enzymes. Taking a broad spectrum seed based probiotic is a good place to start to restore a healthy bacterial profile of your gut.

Remember to rotate the probiotic every six months. You can also check with your functional health practitioner to tailor the strains of probiotics to your specific health needs.

My favorite brand of seed-based probiotics that works for most people is MegaSporeBiotic ($57). For the standard, non-seed based probiotic that also contains a prebiotic fiber, try doTERRA brand probiotic or Restorflora.

Enzymes

Healthy gut enzymes often result from a healthy gut flora and contribute to proper absorption of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Enzymes enhance the healthy breakdown of food and also liberate important hormones, converting them to their active form. Enzymes are important to a healthy gut, brain, hormone function, detoxification and more.

It is often necessary to supplement enzymes to correct nutritional deficiencies and rapidly correct digestive irregularities. Enzymes are best taken with each meal and should also be rotated occasionally. You can simply try ½ teaspoon of Apple Cider Vinegar in a glass of water prior to eating. The best enzyme supplements contain a combination of the following:

  • Amylases
  • Proteases
  • Lipases
  • Other enzymes like bromelain, cellulase, lactase, peptidase, alpha-galactosidase

Other things to consider when choosing an enzyme supplement includes what kind of diet you consume or whether you eat a restrictive diet. For example, vegans typically produce very little hydrochloric acid (HCL) in the gut. HCL is critical for the absorption of certain minerals and vitamins such as vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, selenium and boron, so it is necessary to seek an enzyme supplement that includes HCL if you are eating a standard vegan diet.

Magnesium

The reasons we need magnesium for healthy gut function is extensive. Magnesium is a necessary cofactor for over 300 enzyme reactions in the body. It is considered one of seven essential macrominerals in the body that we need in large quantities in our diet.

Because it is necessary for enzyme function, it is critical for a healthy gut function. You can increase your dietary consumption of magnesium by consuming more magnesium dense foods such as:

  • Dark chocolate
  • White and black beans
  • Mackerel
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard

Supplementing is often necessary for folks suffering with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, lyme disease, or other chronic health issues. This happens because the body increases its metabolic demand as it works to heal itself. In this case, a balanced magnesium supplement should be taken.

For general health support, look for a combination of magnesium citrate, glycinate and malate. Soaking in a bath with epsom salt daily will also increase the magnesium available to your body.

Castor Oil Packs

Considered the coup de grâce for digestive health, castor oil packs decrease inflammation, enhance the healthy detoxification and ease mast cell issues related to food allergies, environmental allergies and more.  It has been used for a number of other ailments such as skin conditions, blood circulation issues as well as digestive issues.

Castor oil is made from the Ricinus cumminus plant and has been used topically and as a supplement, though caution should be exercised when consuming castor oil. A castor oil pack  is a safe, effective and relaxing way to improve your digestive health.

Castor oil packs are made by soaking flannel in castor oil, applying the soaked flannel to the area of concern with the addition of heat (heating pad) and resting.

My preferred castor oil is Baar Castor Oil.  Be sure to pick up a flannel and an electric heating pad as well!

Essential Oils

In our previous blog, Essential oils and Binders: the perfect combination, we did a deep dive about the energetic (electron) benefits of essential oils. The fact that pure essential oils are able to donate electrons to the cell at the most fundamental level, the mitochondria, means that they are a powerful tool to support normal cell function.

Essential oils can also exert their effect via the limbic system and hypothalamus, where the aromatic chemistry will trigger the brain centers to release digestive hormones, release digestive juices and enzymes. Lastly, many essential oils promote a healthy parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system function. This helps balance the chronic fight or flight response that dominates the nervous system of many people struggling with chronic health issues, like chronic fatigue, lyme, and fibromyalgia.

Each plant has a unique chemical signature that determines where it will be most effective in the human body. The top essential oils that support a healthy digestive function include ginger, fennel, peppermint, spearmint, geranium, lemongrass, oregano and cardamom.

To learn more of the science and proper use of essential oils, register for a free course on essential oils here. Visit our shop to order the essential oils we recommend to our health clients.

Conclusion

In order to begin to reverse brain fog and chronic fatigue and exhaustion, as well prevent early cognitive changes from long term brain inflammation, it is critical to develop a healthy gut. There are several simple steps you can take TODAY to begin the processes of healing your gut. For more customized support, schedule a Functional Health appointment today.

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