In this piece, functional medicine expert Dr. Will Cole, DC, explains how following the elimination diet can help heal your gut for optimal health. If you're interested in learning more, check out his course: The Elimination Diet: A 60-Day Protocol to Uncover Food Intolerances, Heal the Gut, and Feel Amazing.

Your gut is the very foundation to health. In fact, it's the place where about 80 percent of your immune resides. Naturally, as Hippocrates once suggested, "all disease begins in the gut."

Chronic digestive problems like IBS, constipation and autoimmune inflammatory bowel disorders impact an estimated 70 million people in America alone. And that's just diagnosed diseases—there are likely countless more who suffer with functional issues, such as chronic bloating and food intolerances.

But you don't have to be experiencing gut symptoms to have gut problems. In fact, underlying gut problems may be asymptomatic in the digestive system, but fuel issues elsewhere. In fact, some research suggests that many autoimmune diseases and hormonal problems have strong gut components.

Further, since your gastrointestinal system stores around 95 percent of your "happy" neurotransmitter serotonin, you need a healthy gut for an optimally healthy brain.

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So how do you keep your gut happy? In functional medicine, the most effective and affordable way to start the gut-healing process is doing an elimination diet. Here's why:

1. It removes the most inflammatory foods.

The foods you eat will either feed gut problems or feed gut health. During the elimination diet that I recommend—and explain in depth in my mindbodygreen video course—you'll avoid the top gut damagers such as gluten, dairy and sugar.

2. It includes the best gut-healing foods.

With the elimination diet, not only will you avoid the gut-hurting foods, but you'll also focus on good gut-healing food medicine. That means delicious, filling meals using vegetables, fruits, meats and oils, as well as superfoods like bone broth.

3. It gives your gut time to heal.

During the elimination phase of the diet, you'll let your gastrointestinal system calm down and focus on healing for at least 60 days. It's a relaxing vacation for your gut, and will help it start to heal issues like leaky gut syndrome.

4. It helps you discover your food intolerances.

After the elimination phase, you'll start the reintroduction phase. During this time, you'll systematically and intentionally bring back the foods you took out. Things will have calmed down during your gut's vacation from irritating foods. So when you reintroduce the eliminated foods one by one, you'll have clear insight into which foods work for your body and which ones do not.

Since we're all different, this elimination diet journey allows you to customize a food plan that works just for you.

5. It starts to balance out your microbiome.

During the elimination diet, microbiome imbalances such as SIBO, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, and candida overgrowth can start to balance out.

A recent study found that nutrients called polyphenols (found in many of the foods we focus on in the elimination diet) play a significant role in the prevention of degenerative diseases by improving your microbiome environment. This benefit is likely enhanced by removing the foods that feed gut imbalances. This is the power you wield with the elimination diet.

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