Experts in the Natural Health community stress the importance of the microbiome, healthy bacteria that live in our gut (large intestine) and make digestion, absorption and immunity possible. They say a healthy gut underlies brain health, organ health, skin and hair health and immunity. That is because nutrition that is digested and absorbed in the gut passes through the thin gut wall into the blood. The gut wall is only one cell thick which makes it vulnerable to injury from stress, smoking, drugs, harsh and destructive foods especially sugar and most grains which are inflammatory, antibiotics, and over the counter pain pills such as ibuprofen.

Most people at one time or another have experienced “leaky gut” a tear in the fragile intestinal wall that allows poisons to enter the blood stream instead of being eliminated. It leads to chronic fatigue, cloudy thinking, indigestion bloating and pain, allergies and skin problems. It may take a long time to rebuild gut health but there are foods, herbs and spices that can help. The microbiome, the community of bacteria that live in the gut need to be replaced with probiotics and fed with the right foods prebiotics.

The gut if extended would be larger than a tennis court. The risk of cell damage is great and probably made worse by our use of microwaves, electronics, pollution etc. Call it modern life. The battle that goes on in the gut is between the bacteria that are always there. Drugs and certain foods kill the useful bacteria so that harmful bacteria and yeast (candida) become overpopulated.

The first step to gut health, rebuilding the microbiome, is to limit harmful foods and substances: Sugar, sweets, sweeteners, and inflammatory foods that quickly turn to simple sugars such as sweet fruits and juices, white flour, grains, even rice, whole wheat, oats and pseudo-grains buckwheat. Millet, which is a seed, is not harmful. When inflammatory foods are eliminated the good bacteria have a chance to be replenished with pre- and pro-biotics.


Probiotic foods are the source of our helpful digestive bacteria. They include naturally fermented pickles and sauerkraut without additives, miso, yogurt and kefir, kimchi, naturally fermented soy sauce and natto made from non-GMO soybeans, traditional buttermilk, cheddar, mozzarella and gouda cheese. Fermenting was the traditional way families could preserve summer produce for year round use


Prebiotic foods are not or only partially digestible. They remain fiber that passes without breaking down in the stomach and go to the gut where they ferment and feed our probiotic bacteria. They include Jerusalem artichoke (sun chokes), leeks (long white onions) yellow and white onion, asparagus, chicory root, walnuts, and pistachio. Some nutritionists also recommend “resistant starches,” which are high fiber foods that ferment in the gut, such as green banana or white rice boiled with cocoanut oil and left in the refrigerator overnight. You might have pre-and probiotic foods together or eat the prebiotic foods first and allow them to begin fermentation.

Adding prebiotic foods brings some changes to digestion. Since they are fiber they may temporarily increase bloating and gas. They may feel satisfying like a whole grain but increase metabolism and lead to ketones, which happens when we start to burn body fat. Everyone has ketones. We produce them when we don’t have enough insulin in the body to turn sugar (or glucose) into energy. The liver burns fat into ketones, a type of acid, and sends them into our bloodstream. Fasting or over an extended period of not-eating ketones can increase and make us feel nervous or have bad breath. Staying hydrated is important and can often help reduce discomforts.

There are many ways we can successfully combine pre- and probiotics. For example sauté in olive oil bitter greens such as spinach, dandelion, kale or other, add some onion or leeks, walnuts. And make a salad dressing with yogurt, lemon juice and some fresh or dried herbs that support gut health such as basil, oregano, sage, thyme or a dressing of mashed avocado, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Rebuild the Gut Wall

When you start to protect the gut wall you need to add foods that help to prevent tears. Here is a short list. They are non-irritating tubers such as sweet potato, jicama, and taro. Yucca, contains saponins which are naturally occurring chemicals that have a soapy texture. They sooth the gut wall and help to make joints movement easier for chronic arthritis. Peel and cook yucca like potato adding olive oil or cocoanut oil, sautéed onion and garlic. It is difficult to peel. For convenience I buy it frozen and boil it covered with water until tender. Yucca, also called cassava, must always be cooked.

Other foods that help to thicken the gut wall include blue and black berries, figs, cranberry, lemon, dark unsweetened chocolate, and unsweetened cocoa powder. Avocado is a healthy fruit because of its oils. Seaweeds provide minerals necessary for healthy blood and tissue. Green vegetables include Brussels sprouts, Belgian endive, arugula, radicchio, broccoli, and broccoli slaw, cabbage, and okra. If you don’t like the slimy texture of okra eat it raw. Nuts include walnut and macadamia. Mushroom, especially shiitake and enoki, are complex foods and protein sources that improve immunity. They are cooling, nourishing and have anti-cancer effects. Goat and sheep cheese are often recommended because the fat is easier to digest. Cow dairy contains a protein that causes allergies for many people. For that reason ghee, clarified butter which eliminates that protein leaving only the fat, is easier to digest and can be used instead of butter.

Micro and Holobiome.

As the gut is our inner lining, the skin is the outer surface of our microbiome. That means that our skin quality, texture, moisture and skin aging are greatly influenced by what is absorbed in our gut. Our emotions also influence micro- and holobiome (large intestine, lungs and skin.) This energetic connection of inside and outside are in keeping with traditional Chinese medicine. The Metal Element encompasses the lung and large intestine. Together they influence our complexion. Have you noticed how when people give up smoking, their breathing and complexion improve? Limiting sugar (inflammatory foods) will also have good effects

Select Foods for Younger Skin

Dr. Steven Gundry, heart surgeon turned nutrition advisor and supplement sales person, recommends the following skin rejuvenating foods based on his years of research on pre- and probiotics. These moistening foods contain vitamins B, C, E and A and are avocado, walnut, dark chocolate, salmon including the skin and sweet potato. We at the Academy of Healing Nutrition would add miso made as a soup or sauce. It is easy to use. When steaming or simmering salmon or vegetables allow the cooking water to cool to warm then add the miso paste and it will brighten and slightly salt the flavor of your cooking while, as a valuable fermented food, it supports digestion and cell renewal.

With improved breathing more oxygen reaches all our cells to support Qi energy. Vitality and mood improve. In TCM theory, the spirit in the lungs, known as po, gives us the capacity and desire to live a long, positive life, to preserve our wellness and help others. The Metal Element controls Earth. The Metal yin organ lung controls the yin Earth organ spleen/pancreas. In the control cycle, it means if lung Qi is strong, oxygen energizes and supports cell rejuvenation. The spleen craves less sweet, feels less melancholic, whines less and looks ahead to the future. We can sense and improve the deepest part of our immunity, our spirit of wellness and compassion for our self and others. For a larger understanding of The Five Elements and their impact on body, mind and spirit see Karma Herbs: