How to Fix Your Gut: 7 Steps to Intestinal Health

Mark Hyman, M.D. by Mark Hyman, M.D. | February 11th, 2013 | 45 Comments
topic: Detox, Health & Wellness, Healthy Aging, Healthy Eating

Learn how to have great gut healthThere might be something wrong with your inner tube, and it could be making you sick and overweight. You may not even realize you have a problem … But if you have health concerns of any kind, or you are overweight, your inner tube could be the root cause. Of course, I’m not talking about a beach toy. I mean the inner tube of life — your digestive system.

It is likely that you suffer from (or have suffered from) some type of digestive disorder — irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn or acid reflux, gas, and other things too gross to mention in print. And you are not alone. More than 100 million Americans have digestive problems. Two of the top five selling drugs in America are for digestive problems, and they cost us billions and billions of dollars. There are more than 200 over-the-counter (OTC) remedies for digestive disorders, many of which can create additional digestive problems.

Visits for intestinal disorders are among the most common reasons for trips to primary care physicians. And that’s not even the worst news. Most of us (including most doctors) do not recognize or know that digestive problems wreak havoc in the entire body, leading to allergies, arthritis, autoimmune disease, rashes, acne, chronic fatigue, mood disorders, autism, dementia, cancer and more.

So, having a healthy gut means more than simply being free of annoyances like bloating or heartburn. It is absolutely central to your health. It is connected to EVERYTHING that happens in your body.

That’s why I almost always start helping people treat chronic health problems by fixing their gut, which is what I want to help you do today.

Fixing your digestion is the 4th key of the 7 Keys to UltraWellness, or functional medicine, and it is absolutely essential that you heal this critical system in your body if you want to achieve optimum health.

How your gut keeps you healthy or makes you ill

The health of your gut determines what nutrients are absorbed and what toxins, allergens and microbes are kept out. It is directly linked to the health of your whole body. Intestinal health could be defined as the optimal digestion, absorption and assimilation of food.  But that is a big job that depends on many other factors. Let’s look at a few of them …

First, there are bugs in your gut that form a diverse and interdependent ecosystem, like a rain forest. In fact, there are 500 species and three pounds of bacteria in your gut which form a HUGE chemical factory that helps digest food, regulate hormones, excrete toxins, and produce vitamins and other healing compounds that keep your gut and your body healthy. This ecosystem of friendly bacteria must be in balance for you to be healthy. Too many of the wrong bacteria, like parasites and yeasts, or not enough of the good ones, like Lactobacillus or Bifidobacteria, can seriously damage your health.

Second, there is your gut-immune system. Your entire immune system — and the rest of your body — is protected from the toxic environment in your gut by a lining that is only ONE cell-thick layer. If spread out, this lining would take up a surface area the size of a tennis court, covered entirely by a sewer! If that barrier is damaged, you can become allergic to foods you may normally be able to digest perfectly well, you will get sick, your immune system will become overactive, and it will begin producing inflammation throughout your body. Filtering out the good molecules from the bad molecules and protecting your immune system is yet another important factor in gut health.

Third, there is your second brain — your gut’s nervous system. Did you know your gut actually contains MORE neurotransmitters than your brain? In fact, the gut has a brain of its own. It is called the “enteric nervous system” and it is a very sophisticated piece of your biology that is wired to your brain in intricate ways. Messages constantly travel back and forth between your gut-brain and your head-brain and, when those messages are interfered with in any way, your health will suffer.

Fourth, your gut also has to get rid of all the toxins produced as byproducts of your metabolism, which your liver dumps into bile. If things get backed up when you are constipated, you will become toxic and your health will suffer.

And, last but not least, your gut must break down all the food you eat into its individual components, separate out the vitamins and minerals, and shuttle everything across the one cell-thick layer mentioned above so it can get into your bloodstream and nourish your body and brain.

Your gut has quite a lot to manage. Even in a perfect world, it is hard to keep all of this in balance.  But, in our modern world, there are endless obstacles that can knock our digestive system off-balance, making it that much more difficult to maintain excellent digestive health.

How to know if your gut is out of balance

To fix your digestion, you first need to understand what is sending your gut out-of-balance in the first place. The list is short:

  • Our low-fiber, high-sugar, processed, nutrient-poor, high-calorie diet, which causes all the wrong bacteria and yeast to grow in our gut and damages the delicate ecosystem in your intestines
  • Overuse of medications that damage the gut or block normal digestive function — things like acid blockers (Prilosec, Nexium, etc.), anti-inflammatory medication (aspirin, Advil, and Aleve), antibiotics, steroids and hormones
  • Undetected gluten intolerance, celiac disease or low-grade food allergies to foods such as dairy, eggs or corn.
  • Chronic low-grade infections or gut imbalances with overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, yeast overgrowth, parasites or even more serious gut infections
  • Toxins like mercury and mold toxins, which damage the gut
  • Lack of adequate digestive enzyme function, which can come from acid-blocking medication use or zinc deficiency
  • Stress, which can alter the gut nervous system, cause a leaky gut, and change the normal bacteria in the gut

What happens then is obvious. You get sick.

But what’s important to understand is that many diseases that seem to be totally unrelated to the gut — such as eczema or psoriasis or arthritis — are actually CAUSED by gut problems. By focusing on the gut, you can get better.

7 steps to optimal digestive health

1. Eat whole, unprocessed foods. Make sure to include plenty of fiber from foods like vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains.

    2. Eliminate food allergies. If you think you have food sensitivities, try an elimination diet. Cut out gluten, dairy, yeast, corn, soy and eggs for a week or two and see how your gut feels and what happens to your other symptoms.

      3. Treat any infections or overgrowth of bugs. Parasites, small bowel bacteria, and yeasts can all inhibit proper gut function. You must treat these infections if you want to heal.

        4. Replenish your digestive enzymes. When you don’t have enough digestive enzymes in your gut, you can’t properly convert the foods you eat into the raw materials necessary to run your body and brain. Take broad-spectrum digestive enzymes with your food to solve the problem.

          5. Rebuild your rain forest of friendly bacteria. Take probiotic supplements. They will help you rebuild the healthy bacteria so essential to good gut health.

            6. Get good fat. Take extra omega-3 supplements, which help cool inflammation in the gut.

              7. Heal your gut lining. Use gut-healing nutrients such as glutamine and zinc to repair the lining in your gut so it can resume its normal function.

                Fixing your digestion may take some time, but it can be done. And it is absolutely essential if you want to achieve vibrant health.  So work on your inner tube of life using the steps above and watch as your symptoms (and those extra pounds) disappear.


                1. what pro-biotic supplements do you reccomend?

                  aliza | February 9th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
                2. Good article. I have recently been diagnosed as having ulcerative colitis. Doing as much reading up on “gut problems” as possible. Thank you.

                  Mike | February 9th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
                3. I was trying to get great advise on fixing my inner tube problems, but you have many suggestions on takeing suppliments. shouldn’t we be getting this from the foods we eat if we are eating a great healthy well balanced diet?

                  cindy | March 2nd, 2010 | Comment Permalink
                4. Many intestinal problems can occur due to the intestinal flora being out of balance. If the bad bacteria become too prevalent, this may interfere with our natural digestive process, causing stomach pain, bloating and excess gas.

                  Rob | August 3rd, 2010 | Comment Permalink
                5. Probiotics IBS has proven to be an effective form of treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. Some of the probiotics supplements include tablets, capsules, powders, and certain foods have the microflora naturally occurring. Raw milk, yogurt, and fermented soy beans known as tempeh have the live good bacteria strains.

                  Rudy Shaw | October 26th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
                6. I have heard that iFlora is a good brand. but I was told this buy someone who used to work there. Is it a good company?

                  Gil | November 23rd, 2010 | Comment Permalink
                7. Thanks for the article. I have been suffering all sorts of intestinal problems recently and was diagnosed with ulcers. However, I was not given a reason why they occurred in the first place. You have given me lots of food for thought.

                  Iain | November 30th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
                8. Very good article! Concise and straight information. No non-sense at all about how and what’s there to know about our gut. I hope sites like these have contents written as so. Excellent tips too! Keep it up!

                  blessed herbs australia | January 8th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
                9. Great article except for the recommendation of whole grains – It’s a shame but ALL grains are highly inflammation and damage the gut. Should be avoided.

                  Anonymous | March 7th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
                10. Great article! Should also include that adding herbs such as parsley, cilantro, garlic, and basil also help to combat yeast and bacteria. Also solaray has some nice herb blends that help with this as well. My favorite is liver blend which contains milk thistle. Milk thistle is one of the best herbs to use in protecting the liver. Anyone who has gut issues surely has a clogged liver and this can lead to a build up of toxins in the body.

                  Anonymous | April 30th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
                11. Your article is extremely helpful. Thank you

                  Aida | August 24th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
                12. It’s not helpful when links don’t work! Please re-link to “What Criminals and Fish have to do with your Health”, which is supposedly linked from the word “Omega-3″, above, or remove the link. It makes a site look like it isn’t cared for when you let your links lapse but don’t remove the hyperlinks. I’ve done a site-wide search for the article, but it’s gone.

                  Thanks for the info that’s here, I followed your “how to” list and lost a dress size in just a couple of weeks, plus someone literally just said to me that I looked “all healthy and glowy.”, after looking quite ill since I caught a cold that would not leave me last Christmas. It’s now August and this is the first time I don’t feel horrible since December/January! I don’t yet have my “gut health” where it needs to be, but at least I’m on the right track now.

                  Telzey Amberdon | August 30th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
                13. Thanks for letting us know about that link, Telzey. I’ve fixed it. Here is the article:|696|959851|816283&digest=5X25wmLFprPLuAgBy3HYNg&sysid=1.

                  Unfortunately, with thousands of articles and blogs on our site, there’s simply no way to know when a link in one of them has been changed, especially when linking to an external site. But please know we’re always doing the best we can to bring you up-to-date information!

                  -Valerie, Gaiam Content and Social Media Coordinator

                  Valerie Gleaton | August 30th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
                14. How do you find out if you have infections or overgrowth of bugs, and then how do you treat it?

                  SW | December 29th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
                15. Try marshmallow root – I use the extract – and it is the most wonderful thing that has been recommended to me since being diagnosed as a celiac 2.5 years ago! :-) It has changed my life! :-)

                  Kiki K | January 1st, 2013 | Comment Permalink
                16. LCHF ; Low carb-high fat. = skip carbohydrates and go back to natural food.

         (english page exist – and this will soon be updated.

         (the “mother” of the Scandinavian lchf success) and the reason for thousands of people being rescued from D2, hearth problems, ulcerous colit – Alzheimer … and so forth (see also the eminent kostdoktor´s page).

                  “100 millions” American with gutproblems – and we are fooled to think this is natural. It is also a goldmine for the pharmaceutical industry who often get their profits from experimenting with – yes us, and staff more focused on payment than genuin interests in their fellow human being. It´s named corruption.

                  No – gutproblems is not natural – neither the deceises that goes with/follow it. It has connections with your foodintake. We were never meant to eat starksproducts or any products loaded with sugar – ….. the foodindustry is another corrupt one – an the american lobby-mafia is just an “mafia” working against human health – sorry.

                  The only remedie is seeking knowledge – also via internet. Try eks. lchf, listen to your body – it never lies and you may find a way to health.

                  Are you on statins? – Another “important” pill you (doctors order) “GOT” t to take – strangling the liver production of the healthbringing colesterol (helping against inflammations) and nourishing your cells. At the same time those pills – are raising the industries (pharm.) incomes to astronomic hights! – Statiner: “Over my dead body I say” …. but that is another story I through knowledgeseeking has revealed. Hurray for internet among other sources.

                  p.s. Good articel with an educational “slant”

                  Hilsen ragnhild, Norway

                  ragnhild | January 3rd, 2013 | Comment Permalink
                17. Garden of life Primal Defense Ultra is a great probiotic and contains saccharomyces boulardii.

                  Jenn M | February 4th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
                18. Try drinking Kefir. Within a day or two of starting to drink about 2 ounces a day of Kefir my stomach/gas/bloating problems have ended. I am only on my third bottle of it but now make it a daily part of my diet. It comes in all flavors or plain, like drinking yogurt, I cannot say enough about it. Full of probiotics. Try it , no pills or doctor needed.

                  Richard Guidone | February 18th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
                19. I was having horrendous migraines and entire body pain which was dibilitating. After seeing an acupuncturist, I found out that I had a gluten and cheese allergy and that yeast overgrowth from food was causing many side effects that you speak of in skin related concerns. After eating a diet filled with fruits and vegetables and also high in lean protein (I also have a sugar issue and need to make sure I’m giving my body enough protein), I have been able to turn around all of the issues. So, this is excellent advise! Highly recommend and thanks so much for sharing!

                  Mary | February 20th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
                20. Try drinking probiotic milk like Yakult. It’s delicious and can really be a big help in digestion and it’s contain Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota that helps equalize your metabolism and brings wondrous improvement in digestive system.

                  Yakult girl | March 17th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
                21. What do you think about foods that promote probiotics? LIke Yakult for example (…would you recommend a probiotic drink like that?

                  Janet | March 31st, 2013 | Comment Permalink
                22. I have acne on my forehead (where the Chinese facing map says I have problems) so I’m trying to see what’s going on. Also, it says I have kidney/ bladder issues. Its my forehead I know but I mean I don’t get it I take very good car of my skin… I want to eliminate processed carbs and maybe dairy. Idk about that (pro biotic) but maybe I have a dairy issue? I have milk every morning and cheese on my sand which so… oh well. I also have a really flat stomach until the bottom part and its this bump. So weird! I think its all clogged up… i probably over eat. Thanks for telling me all this though.

                  Allison | May 11th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
                23. I am a self diagnosed sufferer of Candida overgrowth. I eat extremely well, very few processed foods and low sugar, no gluten and lots of raw veg, very little dairy (mainly organic yoghurt) and almost no alcohol. Yet I am bothered by rashes and bloating and almost always on the verge of a yeast infection. I have been doing the anti-candida diet but still struggle with symptoms – do you have any suggestions? Oh, I also take a good pro biotic.

                  Lisa S. | May 19th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
                24. I once read in one article that If you have IBS with diarrhea, you may find it helps to cut down on the insoluble fibre you eat. It may also help to avoid the skin, pith and pips from fruit and vegetables and If you have IBS with constipation, increasing the amount of soluble fibre in your diet and the amount of water you drink can help.

                  Kate More | June 24th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
                25. [...] an exact science. What we do know is that upwards of 80% of our body’s energy goes toward digestion in any given meal. We also know is that waste equals weight. To keep the good cleanse vibe [...]

                26. what pro-biotic supplements do you reccomend?

                  Md.Jahangir Hossin | December 1st, 2013 | Comment Permalink
                27. I have been suffering from hemorhhoid since 4 years,Initialy I relied over strong laxative but I switched over homeopathic laxative called yelo tab 2 years back so I am entirely depended upon laxative,no wonder my acne problem is’nt getting away,my digestive system has damaged,NO bowel movement without yelo tab even a single day coupled with hemorhhoidal problem. Help Me!

                  tanmay | March 1st, 2014 | Comment Permalink
                28. Im having minor piles(non bleeding), and digestion quiet ok .
                  i frequently getting pimples on face ,chest ,hands etc.
                  If i have chilies i face big problem in anus area also face get lot of pimple .

                  for this to get rid i have Ayurveda local medicine which help me avoid this all problems ,but not 100% ,but without its impossible ,i need permanent solution ,if u can please me permanent cure .

                  thank you

                  deepak | March 8th, 2014 | Comment Permalink
                29. Taking care of our digestive system to eliminate all other diseases and infections wreaking havoc in our body is a perfect fit on the principles of dieting and detoxification. It is logically reasonable that if we take care of our inner tube we take care of our whole body. Everything that goes into our mouth ends in our digestive system wherein all nutrients are being processed and absorbed. It all boils down to what we eat so choose the food that’s good for you.

                30. [...] and not an exact science. What we do know is that upwards of 80% of our body’s energy goes toward digestion in any given meal. We also know is that waste equals weight. To keep the good cleanse vibe flowing, [...]

                31. Dear …

                  I tried everything named and still keep 14 years the same issues.
                  by belly swells up most of times..
                  what can it be

                  joellie | July 24th, 2014 | Comment Permalink
                32. How do we if we have mercury on our gut.

                  Vik | July 26th, 2014 | Comment Permalink
                33. Good stuff. It’s important that people learn that the gut is far more than just a food processing system and intestinal health is vital for overall health and vitality.

                  Lloyd Morgan | October 22nd, 2014 | Comment Permalink
                34. I was suffering from IBS from last 5 years. I got infected by H pylori on Feb 2010. Treated with high antibiotics. Now from last year I m feeling well except some episodes of gas problems,which increase my BP. Light yoga and pranayaam helps me to recover.
                  IBS is more or less a psychotic problem and need a psychiatric helps also.
                  I wish good health for all.bye

                  Lokesh Kumar | February 21st, 2015 | Comment Permalink
                35. Nicely written and informative post. Thank you very much for the positivity!

                  Ashish | March 11th, 2015 | Comment Permalink
                36. Digestion enzymes are very vital in our bodies. We need to take digestive enzymes because Enzymes Are Vital to Human Survival,Our Typical Diet & Cooked Foods Drain Our Enzyme Supply,Even Some Raw Foods Contain Enzyme Inhibitors,Many Factors Cause Our Bodies to Use up Enzymes Faster and Enzyme levels drop significantly with age.Thanks for sharing with us.

                  James | July 15th, 2015 | Comment Permalink
                37. Taking one probiotic supplement pill in the morning with lemon water before breakfast cured me from chronic yeast infections. Which I struggled with for many years on a constant basis. Im so happy I finally found something that prevents it from happening at the first place. When I stop taking the supplement or I forget for more then 2 days I get the infections back . Does anyone know what destroys the natural probiotic in our gut ? So that supplementation is not required ?

                  Susan | August 4th, 2015 | Comment Permalink
                38. Thank you for sharing information. My husband gets sick after it rains, is there any connection? He can vomit on and off for two or three days straight. He will not eat during that time he can’t hold anything. Then he is tired and sleeps a day straight.
                  I will give him info, also, please check Dr. Terry

                  Diana | October 9th, 2015 | Comment Permalink
                39. Diana, I suggest you immediately asking your doctor about the problem you have, this can be very dangerous for your husbands health.

                  Denny | November 23rd, 2015 | Comment Permalink
                40. Thanks for any other magnificent post. Where else may just anyone get
                  that kind of info in such an ideal means of writing?

                  I’ve a presentation next week, and I’m at the look for such

                  Cedric | December 13th, 2015 | Comment Permalink
                41. HOW should one treat the bad bacteria? My daughter has lived with a debilitating social anxiety her entire 26 years of life, joint pain, gastrointestinal issues, chronic fatigue and most recently a skin breakout of psoriasis. With much reading and research and with an ‘enough is enough’ attitude, she paid a boat load of money to an out of state functional medicine doctor who ordered a stool, saliva and blood tests. She learned that she is autoimmune reactive and nearing Hashimoto’s disease. After five months of adhering to a strict AIP nutritional management and a cupboard full of supplements she has renewed energy, focus, lessened her anxiety by roughly 25%, less joint pain and very little gastrointestinal issues and the skin outbreak fully cleared. The out of state functional medicine doctor explains that sticking with this protocol and using food as medicine will heal her leaky gut in a two year time frame. In comes local functional medicine doctor who is part of a respected clinic and team her locally in Grand Rapids MI, who wants to treat her bad bacteria with a round of antibiotics followed by heavy probiotics. She claims six years success in healing leaky gut in three months time. HELP! My daughter is so afraid of throwing five months of really hard work away to start all over, or is she starting over. Everything we read says that the antibiotic will hurt the lining and kill good bacteria as well as the bad. To have a healed lining in three months instead of 19 more is something she would like to consider but doesn’t want to make a mistake. I would LOVE to hear YOUR comments and experience.

                  Debbie | January 15th, 2016 | Comment Permalink
                42. Debbie I’m no physician just a person who’s learned a lot about fermented foods (which are extremely high in probiotics or good bacteria). What the doc wants to do makes sense to me. She will wipe the slate clean in your daughter’s gut and add back just the probiotics that are needed for a healthy system. Its extreme and risky so you need to check if shes treated anyone quite as sick as your daughter but has potential to work well.
                  And anyone else asking what probiotics to take: try fermenting. Sauerkraut, for instance, can take more probiotics in a few tablespoons than an entire bottle of OTC tablets has.

                  Esther | January 23rd, 2016 | Comment Permalink
                43. I am suffering from hernia and I’m financial broke to help myself

                  marange shakemore | February 6th, 2016 | Comment Permalink
                44. Best blog I have read Ever on digestive health! Thank you so much! I’m sharing this with all of my followers!

                  Audretta's 411 | April 6th, 2016 | Comment Permalink
                45. Hi Mark,Thanks for Sharing about “Intestinal Health” Really good tips.

                  Sonychrist | June 8th, 2016 | Comment Permalink

                Post a Comment

                If you want to show your picture with your comment, go get a gravatar!