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Digestive Health and Wellness

Dr. Frank Lipman Says Overall Health Starts in the Gut

Photo: Courtesy of Frank Lipman

Dr. Frank Lipman, celebrity wellness guru and “Goop contributor, takes a holistic approach to medicine. 

While Western medicine focuses on treating health problems and diseases once they have already arisen, he says his practice also incorporates alternative, preventative medicine and traditions which promote overall wellness. 

“I think Western medicine is wonderful if you’re acutely ill, you have pneumonia, you are having a heart attack,” Lipman says, explaining that these are situations in which Western medicine is the most appropriate response. “But for most problems that people have, Western medicine doesn’t have too many answers to help them.” 

He explains, “You use Western medicine when it’s appropriate, which is maybe 20 percent of the time, and most of the other times, when people have these low-grade chronic problems who want to optimize their health, then these other integrative or alternative approaches are a great addition to have in your toolkit.” 

The root of the problem

For many of these low-grade chronic problems, the culprit is in the gut, which is Lipman’s area of expertise. Perhaps surprisingly, scientific evidence suggests that the health of your gut impacts the health of nearly every other part of your body — from your energy levels, to your mental health, to your immune system. And in the age of COVID-19, everyone wants to boost their immune system. 

“What goes on in the gut doesn’t stay in the gut. It’s not like Las Vegas. What goes on in the gut affects your whole body.”

Lipman says the gut affects overall health in a few different ways. The first is that the gut is one of the places where our internal bodies interact with the external world, just like our skin or our lungs. And the lining of the gut, which is thin, acts as a barrier to all of our other systems. So if it gets damaged, just like when the skin gets damaged, food particles or whatever is in there can escape into the bloodstream and cause problems. 

The gut microbiome

“Another part of the gut, we have this microbiome, this collection of trillions and trillions of bacteria,” Lipman says. “There are more bacteria in your gut than you have cells in your body, so it’s a huge organ system that we need to take care of. Because when that microbiome gets out of balance, not only can it upset this lining of the wall, but it can affect how you break down food, it can affect your hormones, it can affect your weight, it can create inflammation in your body, it can affect almost every other organ system in the body.”

About 60 to 70 percent of your immune system surrounds your gut, according to Dr. Lipman, so it is very important to optimize your gut health. 

“And how do you do that? Well, you’ve got to avoid foods like sugar and processed foods that will negatively affect your microbiome,” Lipman says. “Then, you can eat prebiotics and probiotics.” You may have seen pre- and probiotic supplements at the grocery store, but Dr. Lipman says they’re found in food as well. Probiotic foods are foods that have been fermented, like pickles, yogurt, sauerkraut, or kimchi. 

“Prebiotic foods are foods that are not digested by you, the human,” Lipman says, and instead they feed the actual good bacteria, which makes the probiotics more effective. “My best example for eating prebiotic foods is to eat the stalks and stems of vegetables. You normally would cut off the stalk of a broccoli or stems of greens or asparagus or whatever, but if you eat those you don’t digest them. So they get down to the large intestine which then feeds this good bacteria which we want to really optimize in any case, whether we have to deal with this corona crisis or not.” 

Maintaining healthy habits

Unfortunately, many people have found that coronavirus has made it easier to slip into bad habits rather than picking up good ones. Even just shopping for healthy food can be more difficult now, as fresh produce becomes harder to find. 

“We tend to gravitate towards the comfort foods which tend to be unhealthy in situations like this,” Lipman says. But, he notes, poor diet or nutrition can make the virus particularly deadly. If you can’t find fresh produce, he advises, look for frozen. Look for lean proteins if you can, and try to avoid highly processed foods like store-bought bread, which is often loaded with sugar. 

But also, go easy on yourself. 

“The first thing is, you need to be kind to yourself. Don’t beat up on yourself if you are doing that because that’s not going to help,” he says. “In addition to being kind to yourself you just need to be aware that this is a problem and try starting to decrease the amount of sugar and processed foods that you have. Try to fill your plate with greens.” He says, “For the most part I recommend people trying to eat as much protein and vegetables as possible.”

At the end of the day, Lipman knows this isn’t easy, but try to do what you can. Your gut and your immune system will thank you for it. 

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