Monday Medical: Do you trust your gut? |

Monday Medical: Do you trust your gut?

If you go

What: Real Food — Good Bugs, Bad Bugs: A Discussion about Gut Permeability

Where: YVMC Conference Room 1

When: Noon, Wednesday, Oct. 14

Information: Space is very limited. RSVP is required at or by calling 970-871-2500. The program is free.

If you’ve suffered from fatigue, achy joints, skin issues or migraines, there’s one area in your body you might want to look — and it may not be what you expect.

Your gut.

If you go

What: Real Food — Good Bugs, Bad Bugs: A Discussion about Gut Permeability

Where: YVMC Conference Room 1

When: Noon, Wednesday, Oct. 14

Information: Space is very limited. RSVP is required at or by calling 970-871-2500. The program is free.

The gut is a powerful piece of human machinery. It’s the home to digestion, one of the few places at which the body interfaces with the outside world and a critical part of the immune system.

It also contains hundreds of different bacteria species that add up to trillions of cells.

Research now shows the bacteria we carry around is critical to our health. Not having enough good bacteria, or having an excess of bad bacteria, can result in a host of health issues, including chronic issues such as some types of arthritis, asthma and certain thyroid conditions, said Dr. Phaedra Fegley, a Steamboat Springs family physician.

“Everyone has their own bacterial fingerprint in their gut,” Fegley said. “You can shift to flora that’s not helpful, or you can have a better balance.”

The “gut” includes everything from the mouth, throat and stomach, to the small intestine, large intestine and anus. Bacteria is present in every section.

The good bacteria in the gut have various roles, Fegley said. They communicate with other cells, help with digestion, protect the body from bad bacteria and more.

And, they can help protect against permeable bowel syndrome, also known as leaky gut syndrome. In this syndrome, the cells forming the wall of the small intestine, which are usually tightly connected, separate slightly. This separation causes a higher permeability, which means larger molecules move out of the small intestine without first being packaged in a way the body recognizes.

“You have a bigger molecule that looks foreign, and so your body will react to that,” Fegley said.

Small amounts of these foreign-looking molecules can be tolerated, but with leaky guy, the body is bombarded with them and may react with a full-blown immune response. Symptoms can vary and include eczema, joint pain and migraines. Fatigue and weight gain can also be indicators.

There has been a reluctance to diagnose leaky gut syndrome over the past few years, but that’s changing as more research is done.

“The research confirming permeable gut is so new that people are still trying to get a handle on what it means and how to apply it to a patient’s healthcare,” Fegley said.

The cause of leaky gut can be multifold. Regular use of an acid blocker, several rounds of antibiotics and intense stress in work or home life create what Fegley calls the “perfect storm” for damaging the gut.

Diet is also a big culprit, as pesticides and certain chemicals used in foods can harm good bacteria and cause more permeability in the small intestine.

Even anti-inflammatory medicines and over-exercising can cause issues for your gut. Run a few endurance races or overtrain for a competition, and you might actually be harming your gut health.

When helping a patient heal his or her gut, Fegley recommends first identifying and removing troublesome foods from the patient’s diet, determining whether an infection is part of the culprit and understanding the patient’s current bacterial flora through a stool test.

Then, the patient restores and rebalances his gut health by adding digestive enzymes, probiotics, prebiotics (which serve as food for good bacteria) and nutrients the body needs, while also decreasing stress.

“It does take a lot of work,” Fegley said. “But you can really make some huge changes and be successful.”

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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