Updated: Jan 28, 2019
I believe that we all can identify with some form of gut/digestive issues at some time in our lives. Whether its the occasional heartburn, indigestion, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea; food intolerances and food allergies; or more chronic issues such as acid reflux, IBS, Crohn's Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and many others. I can definitely say that I have tried to pay better attention to my own digestive health these days. My gut as an early-thirty something is different than it was in my twenties lol. Due to this, I have learned to put a lot of emphasis on ensuring that my gut health is on point.
Hippocrates (known as the Founder of Medicine) said, “All disease begins in the gut.”
This may not be 100% true for every disease in every person, however, more and more research shows that our gut (digestive system) has a bigger role in many diseases than we used to think. I'm not just talking about the digestive conditions I listed above....I'm talking about all kinds of issues like allergies, pain, mood disorders, and nutrient deficiencies.
Our gut is the "portal" to the outside world. It's where we take in disease-causing bacteria, toxins, viruses, and parasites (AKA the bad stuff). We also take in nutrients through our gut. The nutrients we ingest and absorb are the building blocks of every single part of our body (AKA the good stuff). Researchers are still learning all of the many connections between our gut and other areas of our body.
I want to briefly hit you with a crash course in some "science" by talking about the roles that our gut and our gut microbes (good and bad bacteria) play in our overall health. Then I'll give you some practical tips to improve your gut health.
Our gut’s role in our overall health
Our gut’s main role is to act as a barrier. To let things in that should get in, and to keep things out that should stay out. Think of “absorption” of nutrients as things we want to let in; and “elimination” of waste as things we want out. This process sounds pretty simple but it can go wrong in so many ways.
For one thing, our guts can "leak." Like a tube with holes in it, it can allow things (bacteria, undigested food, and toxins) to get into our bloodstream/bodies that can wreak havoc on it. Whatever you put into your mouth can be absorbed by your gut and get into your bloodstream, even if it's not supposed to. When your gut wall gets irritated, it can "leak." When this happens, you get inflammation, which is a starting point for many diseases that don't seem linked to the gut but have a connection there.
**INTERESTING FACT: About 70% of our immune system lives in and around our gut.**
A healthy gut is not a leaky gut. It maintains its barrier and pushes things through to be eliminated. Maintaining a healthy gut barrier is the first staple of gut health.
The second main part of your gut are the billions of friendly health-promoting bacteria (yes, bacteria is not always bad). Healthy bacteria helps us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease-causing bacteria, make vitamins for us, and have all kinds of other health benefits like mental health benefits, reducing inflammation, and stabilizing blood sugar. So keeping your gut's healthy bacteria in check is the second staple of gut health.
How to improve gut health
1. There are a lot of natural ways to improve gut health. Let’s start with a few things to stop. It’s always best to eliminate the cause, so let’s stop giving our guts too much junk to deal with. Trying to reduce/eliminate added sugars, processed and fatty foods, and excessive alcohol is a great start. Try that for a few weeks, and you may be amazed at how much better your body (and gut) feels.
2. You may also want to eliminate other gut irritants. Dairy, gluten, and even grains contain common compounds known to irritate some people’s guts. Sometimes you only need to eliminate them for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference for your health. TIP: Do not eliminate everything all at once because you'll have no way of knowing which food was the culprit of the irritation. For example, try eliminating dairy out of your diet for a few weeks and see how you feel before eliminating gluten.
3. By eating nutrient-dense foods, we allow ample nutrients into our gut to maximize the chance for absorption. These nutrients help our bodies build and repair our gut, and every other body part as well. Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, colorful fruits and veggies, and fish.
4. I mentioned that the second staple of gut health is our healthy bacteria. By ingesting probiotic-rich foods and drinks, we can help to replenish our healthy gut bacteria. These are found in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Try to include these foods in your diet if you can. If you're like me and do not care much for these foods, taking Probiotic supplements is also a great way to ensure you are giving your gut what it needs. All Probiotics are NOT made equal and I suggest Probiotics by Shaklee Corporation. All Shaklee products are backed by many years of science and research. It has been a staple for me and my family for years. Click the link to check it out on my Shaklee page.
5. Whole foods are full of gut-friendly fiber. Research has shown that not eating enough fiber can increase the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Fiber plays lots of roles in our gut, including whisking away some of the bad bacteria and toxins so they can be eliminated in our stool. Fiber also helps to feed our healthy bacteria which subsequently helps us to absorb and digest our food better. What foods have a lot of fiber? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even cacao.
6. Last but not least, don’t forget the super important lifestyle factors like getting enough sleep, managing stress, and getting the right amount of exercise for you. It’s easy to forget some of the simple but key things that can help out bodies perform optimally.
Just to recap, the function of your gut is key to your overall health. There are two staples of gut health: maintaining a good barrier and maintaining healthy gut bacteria. The main ways to improve both of these naturally is by eating nutrient-dense whole foods, eliminate known irritants for your body, consume foods filled with probiotics and fiber, and reduce your intake of added sugar, processed foods, and alcohol.
I hope that you all find this blog post helpful. Here's to healthy and happy guts to you all! :-)