The Importance of a Healthy Gut
“All disease begins in the gut.” - Hippocrates
As we all know, ‘gut health’ has become an increasingly talked about topic over the past few years. The more we learn about the gut, the more we understand how a healthy, optimally functioning gut is the foundation of great health. A healthy microbiome (the name for the microorganisms in a given environment, i.e. the human body) is critical in supporting a strong immune system and digestive tract and may even help achieve weight loss and protect against allergies. In fact, the gut is often referred to as the ‘second brain’, with the health of the gut affecting everything from mood, to cognition, to energy levels, to libido and even creativity.
The health of your gastrointestinal system (GI for short) is extremely important to your over well-being. Largely responsible for the critical functions of the body’s digestive and immune systems, beneficial bacteria in your digestive system have the capability of affecting your body’s absorbency, hormone regulation, digestion, vitamin production, immune response, and ability to eliminate toxins. Not to mention, your overall mental health as well. If your digestive system is not functioning optimally, there will be some indicators you should take note of. Symptoms of poor gut health include bloating, pain, gas, irregularity, poor nutrient absorption, lack of energy, fogginess, frequent colds and flu, changes in appetite, food sensitivities, and a general uneasy feeling.
The most common causes of these symptoms can range from a poor diet (high in processed foods, sugar and fat, and low in fresh, whole ingredients), a sedentary lifestyle and increased stress. Yes, stress can absolutely have an impact on the health of your gut! If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms on a regular basis, it’s time to assess your lifestyle and make some much-needed changes.
The Road to a Healthy Gut
Gut health can be restored quite easily by implementing a few simple, but vital, practices into your routine. Depending on the current health of your gut, you may need to adjust these steps to find out what works best for you and your body. But whatever your gut health is currently, follow the steps, stick with the process and look forward to feeling like your normal self in no time at all.
For the gut to begin to heal, the first critical step is to eliminate all inflammatory foods from your diet. Wheat, dairy, processed sugar, soy, caffeine, and alcohol are all very inflammatory and can promote the growth of bad bacteria and cause upset to the microbiome in the gut.
Introduce gut supportive foods
Once you’ve taken the time to decrease or eliminate inflammatory foods from your diet, it’s now time to introduce foods that will feed the good bacteria in the gut (also called probiotics). There are some foods that do a better job of feeding our gut than others, but in general, aim to include a wide variety of different, fresh and whole foods in your diet. The following foods are all great options:
§ Beans and lentils
§ Fermented foods (kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, tempeh, kombucha, yogurt)
§ Oats and barley
§ Onions and Leeks
Implementing a supplemental probiotic into your routine is also a great idea to help support the bacteria in your gut. Having a conversation with your naturopath or doctor first is always best, but there are some amazing, high-quality probiotics on the market. When selecting a probiotic, look for one that contains 5 to 10 billion CFU’s (colony forming units), is encapsulated, in order to help the bacteria survive the acidic stomach environment, and contains multiple strains of bacteria, as different strains offer different benefits.
Much like the spinal cord, the same kind of neurons also coat the intestinal wall to send information throughout the body. The existence of the brain/gut connection makes it clear that stress can be linked to gut health. In fact, your gut uses over 30 types of neurotransmitters, just like your brain, and is also home to a large supply of the body’s mood-boosting neurotransmitters, serotonin, and dopamine. When under stress, the brain sends messages to the gut in the form of chemicals, which will then have a negative impact on how well the gut is functioning.
Everyone manages stress in different ways, but here are some easy practices to incorporate into your day which will have a positive impact on your body, including your gut:
- Deep breathing
- Yoga and meditation
- Practicing mindfulness through journaling (Try this amazing Thanks Journal as a guide)
- Getting adequate sleep (Check out this HIH blog post to learn about the power of sleep.)
- Spending time in nature
- Self-care practices like taking a bath, reading a book or pampering yourself