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What is a Gut Sabotager?

Written by: Dr. Rory Gibbons, Naturopathic Doctor


What’s a gut sabotager? Something that is damaging or contributing to damage to a part of the digestive tract. Often damage occurs slowly and with time symptoms like indigestion, stomach cramping, bloating, and gas start to occur without the patient even really noticing. Progress can be so slow sometimes that the patient just accepts how they feel as “normal” and it isn’t until years later that it gets so bad that they seek help. Here are some things that could be leading you down a gut-wrenching path that you may not have even thought about!


Stress comes in many shapes and forms but our body handles them in similar ways. Basically during a period of acute or chronic stress our brain puts the digestive system on the back burner. Stress has been shown to lead to gut issues like inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, food antigen-related adverse responses, ulcers, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). So what actually happens? Stress causes changes in the regular muscular contractions that help push food through our digestive system. This can result in a slowing (constipation) or a speeding up of transit time (diarrhea or loose stools). Stress changes the release of the digestive juices that are needed to break down foods thus contributing to poor absorption of food nutrients. Additionally, intestinal permeability (aka “leaky gut”) can occur from stress which can then lead to food antigen-related adverse responses (aka “food sensitivities”).

Stressors can impact our ability to repair our gut lining and it can negatively affect our gut microbiota. When we talk about gut microbiota we are referring to the bacteria inhabiting the gut. Bacteria is supposed to be in the large intestine however when it ventures into the small intestine or some bacteria types change (either get larger or smaller in numbers) then gut symptoms can occur. Lastly, stress can take a negative toll on our gut antibody, secretory IgA (sIgA). When this is down, we are more susceptible to gut infections and if we do get an infection, we have more trouble fighting it off.


There is compelling research that suggests people who have very little physical activity and movement in their life will also experience constipation. The opposite has proven true as well, that people who exercise and move regularly, have less constipation. The act of moving and exercising has been shown to get your bowels moving (i.e. your bowel transit time will decrease)! This being said, more is not necessarily better. Endurance activities have shown to decreased blood flow to the digestive tract resulting in damage to the lining of the intestine. So, the amount of exercise is important to pay attention to. Exercise also exerts a positive effect on the protective species of bacteria in the gut which have been correlated with lower incidence of colon cancer and obesity.


First thing, antibiotics are not always the bad guy. They do some very important things to our body such as crushing an infection before it gets to a point where it can cause irreversible harm. Unfortunately antibiotics are designed to kill bugs and often they don’t discriminate between “good” and “bad” bacteria. When we take a round of antibiotics we are basically wiping out a lot of bacteria that have inhabited the colon. Now that there is some extra room, other organisms like yeast can start growing and taking over the new space thus leading to leaky gut, or other issues like bloating, gas, foggy thinking and even headaches. It can take a while to repair the gut after a round of antibiotics but sometimes they are very necessary. The best thing to do, is to prevent needing to get the antibiotics in the first place by improving diet and lifestyle with the help of a qualified professional!


Like stress, this is pretty old news but the standard North American diet still prevails sub-par and is slowly wreaking havoc on our bacteria, our intestinal lining, our blood cells, and our hormone producing organs. Refined foods (basically anything that comes in a package) tend to increase our susceptibility to constipation, increase our changes of become obese, and promote the growth of bacteria that are associated with gut diseases like inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Before you jump to artificial sweeteners, those have been shown to shut down the migrating motor complex (the muscular wave that sweeps stool and bacteria through the digestive tract) and this can lead to a whole host of issues not to mention the potentially cancerous effects. Sugar has a non-beneficial effect on almost every piece of our body and if we eat less sugar as a species, we would most likely be happier, leaner, live-longer, and have more consistent digestion!


Smoking may not be thought of as a contributor to gut health because smoking primarily involves the lungs. Well, research has shown that the gut microbiota of non-smokers vs. smokers has a propensity to favour beneficial strains of bacteria! Studies have also shown that when smokers stop smoking, bacterial colonies return to that of non-smokers (more beneficial bacteria in the gut!). Tobacco smoking (and excessive alcohol consumption) can also put much stress on the liver which is a part of the gut too! Excessive alcohol consumption can do damage to your gut on a few different levels. First, alcohol visits the liver to be processed. The liver is super important because it processes all toxins, nutrients and hormones and when we add alcohol, it can bog the liver down and create inflammation in the liver cells which can lead to liver disease. How does this relate to digestion? The liver creates bile that breaks down fats in the gut! Alcohol has been shown to have a strong effect on shifting our bacterial flora to be less beneficial and has also been connected to intestinal permeability (aka “leaky gut”) via an inflammatory reaction. We are really only scratching the surface of smoking and alcohol’s effect on the gut, but if you have been waiting for a reason to cut back then here it is!

If you are someone who is experiencing digestive troubles, acknowledging and limiting these sabotagers in your life is an excellent start to healing. Most likely gut symptoms have been brewing for a while so try to be patient and consistent. Even better, see someone who is well-versed in gut disorders who can help navigate your way back to your old self.

If you would like to receive one on one, personalized health care from Dr. Rory Gibbons, call 604-776-2432 or book online at

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