There are so many different problems we can face when it comes to gut health. Constipation, diarrhea, cramping, gas, acid reflux… These uncomfortable symptoms are annoying, but they are also usually signs of a much larger problem! So how do we restore gut health?
Many of us tend to reach for short-term solutions that alleviate symptoms but do nothing to restore gut health! Addressing the root cause is the only way to guarantee better health outcomes in the long-term, but this is something that often requires a bit of guidance.
Currently, one of the best approaches to restore gut health outcomes is to utilize the 5R Protocol guided by your functional medicine dietitian.
This involves correcting the problems in the order that they occur, beginning with the neuroendocrine system (stress), to the gastrointestinal system, and then finally repairing the liver detoxification system.
Working on the 5R Protocol for a full year is the best practice in order to see ideal results.
This means utilizing adrenal testing for stress hormone levels, organic acid testing for intestinal health, neurotransmitter activity, and detoxification demands, and additional testing, such as micronutrients, SIBO, or food sensitivity testing as needed.
These types of tests help your dietitian obtain enough information to identify the root cause of your symptoms, making them able to restore gut health.
What is the 5R Protocol?
The Institute for Functional Medicine established The 5R Protocol as a comprehensive method to address a variety of gastrointestinal (GI) issues.
This approach is effective because it addresses all aspects of gut health, improving symptoms while also tackling the root causes of dysfunction! This protocol is also individualized. It directly targets your issue based on your symptoms and your distinct needs.
Digestive health is the key to your overall health! Digestion keeps our cells healthy and functional by absorbing nutrients. Your GI tract is also home to many immune cells, so it makes sense that any disorder in the digestive tract can lead to bigger problems if the root cause isn’t sorted out.
Treating symptoms is only the tip of the iceberg. Improving gut health requires a multilayered approach to ensure outcomes that actually last.
So, what are the 5 R’s and what does each step involve?
Step One to Restore Gut Health: Remove
The first step of the 5R protocol is to Remove. Remove any stressors, irritants, or excess bacteria that could be causing issues in the gut.
Gut irritation can be caused by:
- Certain foods
- Bacterial overgrowth (like SIBO)
- Emotional stress
This step might involve eliminating triggering foods. This could include food sensitivity testing to determine what kind of foods are causing your issues, temporarily removing a couple foods (or food groups), or following a therapeutic elemental diet protocol. You could also take a comprehensive stool test to determine whether your issues are the result of an infection or a microbiome imbalance.
Once you determine the irritants, you will eliminate those foods from your diet altogether. If there is an infection (bacterial, parasitic, or viral), a referral to your doctor may be necessary to receive the appropriate medication. You may also be asked to follow a supplement protocol.
Chronic stress is an overarching cause of many bodily ailments. Our bodies release stress hormones (like cortisol) to help combat threatening situations. In modern society, we tend to utilize our stress response far too often.
This results in digestive issues and inflammation, among other issues such as HPA axis dysfunction (adrenal dysfunction and adrenal fatigue). Consequently, reducing your daily stress and improving your ability to remain in a calm state are vital to restore gut health.
Adrenal stress hormone testing, stool analysis, and food sensitivity testing are all extremely helpful for Step 1.
Step Two to Restore Gut Health: Replace
Eliminating certain foods and food groups from your diet can lead to other issues, so it is meant to be only temporary.
After removing the triggers to your digestive issues, the next step involves replacing anything you are personally missing in your gut that is critical for proper digestive function.
Depending on your condition, you may need to add digestive enzymes, support stomach acid (important for protein digestion) and bile flow (important for fat digestion), or tackle any nutrient deficiencies.
Stool testing and microbiome analysis are helpful in Step 2.
Step Three to Restore Gut Health: Repopulate
The next step of the 5R protocol is to reinoculate your microbiome by reintroducing and supporting beneficial bacteria through consuming probiotics and prebiotics.
Probiotics are live, beneficial microbes that we ingest through certain drinks, foods, and supplements.
While taking a probiotic supplement is convenient, there are also benefits to consuming fermented, probiotic-rich foods and drinks. These include things like kombucha, pickles, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and miso.
Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that feed your beneficial gut bacteria, helping them to repopulate your GI tract in healthy levels.
Some foods rich in prebiotics include garlic, asparagus, onions, leafy greens, whole grains (quinoa, oats), apples, flaxseed, lentils, jicama, and chicory root. Partially hydrolyzed guar gum (PHGG) is a great option for a supplemental prebiotic fiber.
Microbiome analysis is helpful in Step 3.
Step Four to Restore Gut Health: Repair
Now, the intestinal wall needs to be restored so you can optimize digestive function.
Leaky gut is a condition where your intestinal wall is unstable, leaking toxins, bacteria, and other large particles into your bloodstream. This can cause systemic inflammation and lead to other chronic illnesses.
Repairing the gut lining reduces this permeability and prevents harmful substances from traveling outside the digestive system. This allows for their elimination when we use the bathroom!
Consuming essential key nutrients such as zinc, glutamine, and vitamins A/C/D/E can help restore the linings of the digestive tract and promote absorption. Many of these nutrients cannot be properly utilized when your gut is out of whack.
Micronutrient testing is helpful with Step 4.
Step Five to Restore Gut Health: Rebalance
Now that you’ve set the stage for proper digestive function by improving the environment of your microbiome, the final step of the 5R protocol is to adjust your overall lifestyle.
Rebalancing your lifestyle is crucial for continued maintenance of your restored, healthy gut. Things like sleep, exercise, diet, emotional states, and stress all impact digestive function.
So what kind of things can be done to improve these segments of your lifestyle?
Focus on improving the quality of your sleep by reducing blue light exposure after the sun has set. Possibly attempt a new workout regimen to ensure you get your muscles moving regularly. Eat a nutritious diet that continues to support your healthy gut.
Tune into your emotional states and practice relaxation methods.
Maybe try to practice mindfulness, yoga, and add gratitude exercises to your list of daily tasks. Be sure to reduce stress where possible and nurture your stress response to improve your stress resilience. Practice vagus nerve activation to keep your body in a parasympathetic, tranquil state instead of falling into unhealthy stress response patterns.
Summary of the 5 R Protocol
First, we must determine and eliminate the root cause of your symptoms. Then, any missing components of digestion are supplied and then fortified. Next, nourishing your gut microbiome and your gut lining should set the stage for efficient digestive function. And finally, we fine-tune our lifestyles to maintain the improvements we accomplished in the previous steps.
By now, you should understand the importance of a full lifestyle overhaul to combat your gut issues and restore gut health.
Treating the symptoms alone is usually not enough to cut it, because symptoms are the result of a larger problem.
We use the 5R Protocol to assure that your individual problems are contended with. The 5R Protocol lays the foundation for maintaining gut health by supporting your overall wellbeing.
Why not get started today to restore gut health? Schedule your appointment now to get started on your own individualized 5R Protocol!