gut diversity | Integrative functional medicine blog

Salt is Killing your good gut bacteria




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A high-salt diet has long been connected with cardiovascular disease. I should say a high salt, processed food diet has been linked with cardiovascular disease.

Too much sodium in the bloodstream causes fluid retention, which makes the heart work harder to move the extra volume of blood. This can stiffen blood vessels and lead to high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and kidney disease.


However, a recent
study shows a high-salt diet also raises blood pressure by damaging healthy gut bacteria. This destruction increases the inflammation that contributes to high blood pressure and the development of autoimmune disease — when the immune system attacks tissue in the body. Common autoimmune diseases include Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and many many others.

You may be asking, why does salt do this? Here is a very simple visualization.
Did you ever pour salt on a snail or slug when you were a kid? Yeah, not very nice, but you remember what happened to the snail right?


Mice. The study shows that mice fed a high-salt diet killed off beneficial Lactobacillus murinus bacteria in the gut. It also raised blood pressure and activated pro-inflammatory immune cells.


The mice also showed signs of encephalomyelitis, an autoimmune condition similar to multiple sclerosis in humans.


When the mice were given supplementary
Lactobacillus, their blood pressure and inflammation came down.


Humans. The humans in the study experienced similar results. Consuming a high-salt diet for two weeks killed off their Lactobacillus bacteria and increased inflammation.
However, if they took probiotics for a week before starting a high-salt diet, their
Lactobacillus levels and blood pressure remained normal. That is some pretty cool stuff!


Can gut microbes protect against a high-salt diet?
While the study showed probiotics can protect against a high-salt diet, the researchers cautioned that taking probiotics cannot protect you from the damages of a high-salt, fast-food diet.


Manage your salt intake with good daily habits
While the average American consumes a whopping 3400 milligrams of sodium a day, the USDA recommends no more than 2300mg of sodium a day — about a teaspoon of table salt. That is still a lot of salt.  

However, some people are more sensitive to the effects of salt than others, so it's recommended that middle-aged and older adults should limit intake to 1500 mg of sodium a day.


Adopt these habits to lower your salt intake:

  • Read food labels.
  • Choose foods low in sodium.
  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Consume foods that are rich in potassium, such as leafy green vegetables and fruits from vines. Potassium can help blunt the effects of sodium on blood pressure. The recommended intake of potassium for adolescents and adults is 4700 mg/day. And most of us get nowhere near that amount. And if you are on certain medications then you may need even more.
  • Flavor food with pepper, herbs, and spices instead of salt.
  • Choose unsalted snacks with savory flavors.


Build good gut bacteria to protect your health

The digestive tract is home to roughly four pounds of bacteria — your gut microbiome. Some strains are helpful, some are harmful. Both have roles to play, but it's important to support your "good" bacteria for healthy immune function, brain function, and mood, and to avoid leaky gut, SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), and systemic inflammation that leads to autoimmunity and other chronic health conditions.

And Remember, when taking probiotics that is not just how many
probiotics you have that is important. It's also how many different types you have that is equally important. I recommend patients switch every 2-3 months to get more biodiversity.


It's easy to support a healthy gut with these simple habits:

  • Eat plentiful and varied produce; this is the best way to support a healthy gut environment.
  • Supplement with probiotics; There are lot of different ones, including spore based. Check out my links. They work best in a gut environment that’s already being supported with plenty of fiber from fruits and veggies.
  • Avoid excess sugar.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Drink plenty of filtered water.


  • What if I have low blood pressure?
  • Adequate blood pressure is necessary to push blood carrying oxygen and nutrients into your tissues. Chronically low blood pressure can result in reduced brain function and neurodegeneration as Alzheimers, dementia, Parkinsons, and tremors.
  • Low blood pressure is also often a sign of chronic stress, adrenal fatigue, autoimmunity, or chronic infection. Check out my conditions page in the link below.
  • If you have low blood pressure you need to get it up as close as you can to 120/80.
  • Salt can help raise blood pressure. While a high-salt diet is not recommended for most of the population, people with chronically low blood pressure may need to consume more than the recommended daily amount of salt. It's a matter of experimentation to see what level of salt intake is appropriate for you without raising symptoms of inflammation.
  • Glycyrrhiza. Extracted from licorice root, this natural compound increases the hormone aldosterone, helping to retain sodium and raise low blood pressure. You can use a liposomal cream version or an oral licorice root extract.
  • When you work with salt and glycyrrhiza to raise your blood pressure, you will need to purchase a good home-use blood pressure cuff. Measure your blood pressure throughout the day and experiment with
dosages. A return to normal blood pressure typically results in a dramatic increase in overall energy and brain function.

If you salt your foods, take your probiotics.

I'm Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy!


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Autoimmunity and leaky gut




Autoimmunity, a disorder in which the immune system attacks and destroys body tissue, is one of the most prevalent diseases today, affecting predominantly women. In fact, about 75% of all autoimmune disease occur in women.

Traditionally, autoimmune disease was thought to be primarily a genetic disease, but research increasingly shows that while genetics play a role, intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, is also an important factor. This means your diet can determine whether you develop autoimmunity.

A great saying in the the “functional medicine” world is
“genetics load the gun, environment pulls the trigger.”


Examples of common autoimmune diseases include:

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Celiac disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism
  • Psoriasis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Vitiligo

Leaky gut triggers autoimmunity

Leaky gut is a condition in which the lining of the intestines become damaged and overly porous, allowing bacteria, yeast, undigested foods, and other pathogens into the bloodstream where they trigger inflammation and an over reaction of the immune system.

Leaky gut keeps the immune system in a hyper zealous state. This eventually makes the immune system more likely to start attacking the body tissue it was designed to protect, causing an
autoimmune condition. Think of it kind of like the incredible hulk. Once he turns into that raging green beast he is not selective in who and/or what he destroys. He will attack pretty much whatever is in the way.


People can develop leaky gut for a variety of reasons, but the most common is linked to inflammatory foods in the diet. These can include too much sugar, processed foods, junk foods, and fast foods. Also, many people have undiagnosed food sensitivities, such as to gluten, dairy, egg, or other foods. These can damage the gut lining if you have an inflammatory reaction to them.


Gluten, in particular, is notorious for its ability to cause leaky gut and trigger autoimmunity. In people who have a gluten intolerance, gluten triggers inflammation in the gut and elsewhere in the body every time they eat it. In gluten sensitive individuals, gluten also acts on messenger compounds in the intestinal wall to make it more permeable. This allows more inflammatory factors into the bloodstream, including more gluten, in a self-perpetuating vicious cycle.

There are even test we can do to test if you have leaky gut.



For some people, simply going gluten-free can repair a leaky gut and dampen autoimmunity.


Other causes of leaky gut that trigger autoimmunity
Knowing why you have leaky gut is an important strategy in not only in repairing it, but also in dampening autoimmunity. Below are some known causes of leaky gut that can, in turn, trigger autoimmunity:

  • Gluten sensitivity
  • Inflammatory foods (sugars, junk foods, fast foods, etc.)
  • Alcohol
  • Medications (corticosteroids, antibiotics, antacids, some arthritis medications)
  • Infections (poor gut bacteria balance, H. pylori, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, yeast, parasites, and viruses)
  • Chronic stress
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Processed foods, artificial food additives, thickening gums
  • Environmental toxins
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Autoimmunity (although leaky gut triggers autoimmunity, autoimmunity can also cause leaky gut, especially if the immune attack is against tissues of the gut)

If you have an autoimmune disease, you have leaky gut. If you have leaky gut, you have or will get an autoimmune disease. It’s just a matter of time.

I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy!

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Spore probiotics for your gut microbiome




As we continue to learn how important healthy gut bacteria is for the brain and immune system, interest in cultivating a rich and diverse “gut microbiome” grows.

One important tool in this quest are
spore-based probiotic supplements. “Spore” is derived from the word “seed,” and spore-based probiotics are a hardy delivery system that germinate in the small intestine and help you colonize your gut with more healthy bacteria.


Modern humans face many challenges to developing and maintaining healthy gut bacteria. In fact, studies of primitive people who live much like our hunter gatherer ancestors did show their guts have about 50 percent more diversity in gut bacteria than the average American. Its not just how much good bacteria you have, it’s how many different types.

Researchers are finding this lack of microbiome diversity plays a role in many chronic health and brain disorders, including depression and autoimmunity.

This is often one of the reasons I recommend periodically switching probiotic brands and strains. Diversity.


Low-fiber, junk food diets, antibiotic overuse, chlorinated water, heavy environmental toxin and pollution loads, chronic stress, alcohol, and various medications all play a role in reducing the diversity and amount of beneficial gut bacteria.

As a result, opportunistic and infectious “bad” gut bacteria are able to more easily conquer the gut. This weakens the gut lining, increases inflammation, and promotes brain and mood disorders.


There are many ways we can build a healthy and diverse population of gut bacteria. The most important is to eat a whole foods diet that is predominantly vegetables and fruits.
It’s important to vary the kind of produce you eat regularly. It’s also helpful to include cultured and fermented foods and take probiotics. Also, avoid drugs such as antibiotics, NSAIDs, and heartburn medication as much as possible, which can also contribute to the development of leaky gut, among other things.


Given the challenges the modern gut faces, it’s not a bad idea to make probiotics a part of your routine. This is where
spore-based probiotics come in. What makes spore-based probiotics special?

  • The survive the acidic environment of the stomach on their way to the intestines.
  • They resist breakdown by digestive enzymes.
  • They are heat stable and don’t need to be stored in the refrigerator.
  • Some spores are antibiotic-resistant, which means you can take while taking antibiotics.

Once in the small intestine, spore-based probiotics can germinate,
if you provide the right environment with plenty of plant fiber.


Spore probiotics and healthy gut bacteria in general can help improve your health in several ways. They improve the health and integrity of the lining of the small intestine. This lining contains not only bacteria but also plenty of immune cells to defend the bloodstream from bad bacteria, yeast, toxins, undigested foods, and other pathogens that can trigger inflammation if they make their way through the gut lining into the bloodstream. This is called leaky gut.


For instance, one strain of
spore-based probiotic, bacillus coagulans, has been well studied for its beneficial effect on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease.

Bacillus coagulans produces lactic acid, which has been shown to help protect the gut and boost immune resistance to viruses. It has also been shown to lower cholesterol and reduce pain and stiffness associated with arthritis.

Ask my office for more information on how to support healthy gut bacteria and help eradicate bad bacteria to improve immune health.

Now go eat something new, go eat some dirt, get exposed to some new healthy bacteria.

I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, he happy!

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