You may have heard the term ‘gut health’ as a marker of good digestion. While this is true, the health of your gut has an impact on your entire body, with increasing evidence showing a healthy gut microbiome is important for our mental health, weight, mood, as well as your immune system. Gut microbes may even be indicators of some diseases like Alzheimers, Parkinson’s and Type 2 Diabetes, among others.
For me, it’s a personal story that has made me more and more aware of the importance of the gut, which runs from the mouth to the anus. In my 30’s I discovered that I have the autoimmune disorder called Celiac Disease. I had always been curious as to why I had chronic bouts of indigestion, nausea and constipation. Initially I removed gluten-containing foods from my diet, which was incredibly hard for me! This gave me some relief, and based on how much better I felt as a result of giving up gluten-containing foods, I did more testing and discovered there were more foods to which I was reacting.
What is now being show is that ingestion of gluten for those who cannot process it, disrupts the intestinal lining, which causes what is known as “leaky gut.” While I certainly feel better than I have, my diet is incredibly restrictive. It is a challenge for my health and socially, which is driving me recently to repair my gut lining. My hope is that improvements to my gut will not only enhance cognition, my moods, but also my tolerance to foods that are currently off limit for me.
Ideally, our gut breaks down what we eat into a functional form that can enter the bloodstream and go where it is needed in the body. Unfortunately, as in my case and in many others that I notice among my clients, things can go wrong at several stages in this process, from serious diseases to food intolerances causing problems with how our body extracts nutrients from food.
Here are some other health issues that may result when the gut microbiome is not healthy. This is not an exhaustive list, but a small sampling.
- Weight Issues – New studies suggest that a mix of bad and good bacteria in our gut might play a role in weight gain. Ensuring that you are getting lots of good bacteria alongside a healthy diet and fitness regimen could help to reduce unwanted weight.
- Mood Disturbances– Not many people are aware of the connection between the brain and the gut. Research has indicated that maintaining a healthy gut flora might help reduce anxiety and increase activity associated with decision making.
- Sleep Problems – The gut is largely responsible for the production of serotonin, which is needed to make melatonin – essential for sleep. Healthy gut flora or taking probiotics could boost the production of these hormones to help you sleep soundly.
- Stress – Stress can disturb the mixture of bacteria in our gut, allowing for increased production of bad bacteria. Stress has been shown to irritate or aggravate a range of diseases; gut bacteria could therefore be a valuable tool for supporting nervous system health and healthy immune function.
- Undue Fatigue – A lack of energy could arise when you aren’t absorbing the vital vitamins and nutrients from your food needed to keep you functioning at your best. Healthy gut flora aids in the production of extra B vitamins, which are essential for energy production.
- Poor Dental Health – In recent years, there has been a lot of interest in the use of probiotics and the maintenance of a healthy gut flora in preventing and treating oral infections, including dental cavities, periodontal disease and bad breath.
- Bloating and other Intestinal Issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Crohn’s – It is the bad bacteria in the gut which can produce gas and cause bloating in the stomach. Sugary foods can feed this bacteria, helping it to multiply. Probiotics might help to increase the beneficial bacteria to prevent an imbalance in the gut and reduce these effects.
So, what can you do? It’s about balance. Firstly, I suggest working with a trusted health practitioner, which may result in your getting some gut health tests done via stool samples. While on the surface, it might seem expensive, it will give you insight into your unique needs and narrow your target so that you don’t have to use a shotgun approach to try to fix it all, which will end up being much more expensive and could negatively impact your health and well-being.
Here are some steps you also might consider:
- Hydration – staying on top of water intake is always a good idea and helps with digestion overall, which helps food pass more easily through the digestive tract.
- Low Sugar – excess sugar can disrupt the gut microbiome by decreasing gut microbe diversity and contributing to inflammation and leaky gut
- Exercise – It’s being shown that those who exercise daily have more gut bug diversity
- Probiotics – Probiotics are live microorganisms intended to have health benefits when consumed or applied to the body. They can be found in yogurt and other fermented foods, dietary supplements, and beauty products. While probiotics are important, they only work to increase the numbers of gut bacteria – important but only a part of the puzzle.
- Prebiotics – Prebiotics are non-digestible food components (fiber) that selectively stimulate the growth or activity of desirable microorganisms. These increase the diversity of the gut microbes that are found in your gut, which can be a key in some health issues. Foods rich in prebiotic fiber include jicama (Mexican yam), dandelion greens, onions, garlic, asparagus, chicory root, cashews, pistachios, lentils, kidney beans, Jerusalem artichoke, Kefir, Plain Yogurt, Dry Curd Cottage Cheese or Farmer’s Cheese, or fermented cottage cheese, Certain aged cheeses (check label for live and active cultures), Fermented Vegetables, Tempeh (choose gluten free), Miso (refrigerated), Pickles (in salt, not vinegar), Sauerkraut (choose refrigerated, Kimchi and Kombucha (no sugar)
- Polyphenols – Polyphenols are naturally occurring compounds in plants and they are the most abundant antioxidants in our diet. Due to their structural diversity, this largely influences their bioavailability. A large proportion of polyphenols remains unabsorbed along the gastrointestinal tract, where most of them are extensively metabolized by the intestinal microbiota. These are prevalent in fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, tea and dark chocolate among other foods.
By no means is this a prescription for your unique needs, but information that you might use to become more aware and pro-active in your quest to live, move and feel better. Let me know how I can help! (firstname.lastname@example.org)