“All disease begins in the Gut” -Hippocrates
While this may not be 100% true for every disease in every person, more and more research shows that our gut and digestive system has a large role in many diseases than we used to think. I’m not just talking about heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, etc. Im referring to issues like allergies, chronic joint pain, mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, and nutrient deficiencies.
Our gut is the portal to the outside world. It’s here where we take in nutrients as well as toxins such as disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. The nutrients we ingest and absorb are the building blocks of every single part of our body. Understanding this, with every bite we take we are either providing our bodies with disease fighting tools or disease building toxins. Gut health affects every area of our being. Researchers are discovering the connections between our gut and other areas of our body, like our brain (have you heard of “the gut-brain axis”). Equally important to the health of our gut is the population of healthy bacteria within our digestive system. These guys also have newly discovered roles in our gut health and overall health.
FUN FACT: 2/3 of our neurotransmitters reside in our gut. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers delivering information to our brains. Understanding that most of our neurotransmitters are in our gut, our mental health can be impacted by the state of our gut.
Our Gut’s Role in our Overall Health
Our gut’s main role is 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 and toxins as things we want to pass right through and out.
This seemingly simple role is super-complex, and it can break down in many places.
To keep it simple, I will focus on 2 specific areas that can have a big impact on your health.
For one thing, our guts can “leak.” Like a long tube with holes in it, the wall of the small intestine can become inflamed, damaged and porous. This can allow toxins such as bacteria, and undigested food particles to get into our bloodstream and can wreak havoc on our health. This is referred to as Leaky Gut. You name 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 from things like certain medications, overgrowth of harmful bacteria, chronic stress, it can “leak.” When toxins are leaked into the bloodstream it can lead to, inflammation, joint pain, allergies, eczema, psoriasis, asthma, depression and autoimmune diseases. A healthy gut is not a leaky gut. It maintains its barrier and shuttles things through to be eliminated. Maintaining a healthy gut barrier is the first pillar of gut health.
FUN FACT: About 70% of our immune system lives in and around our gut. With cold and flu season upon us, addressing your gut health can be key to avoid getting sick.
The second part id like to discuss are the billions of friendly health-promoting microbes or bacteria within your gut. Gut microbes help us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease-causing microbes, make some vitamins for us, and provide many other health benefits, including mental health, reducing inflammation, immune support, and stabilizing blood sugar. We all have bacteria in our gut. Some good and some not so good. In order to support your immune and mental health we should aim to keep the good bacteria well populated and happy. When the bad guys outweigh the good guys, that’s when infection sets in, mood becomes distorted and digestion is off. Keeping your gut microbes happy is the second pillar of gut health!
How to Improve Gut Health
There are many natural ways to improve gut health. However, to avoid ongoing issues it’s best to eliminate the cause of guy irritation. The most effective change to improve gut health that will impact your immune system, mental health and inflammation is eliminating added sugars, processed foods, and alcohol. Sugars will feed the negative bacteria in your gut and create an imbalance leading to infections and compromised immune system. Processed foods and alcohol are toxins. All the chemical additives cause irritation and may lead to Leaky Gut. Not only that but these products lack nutrients. They also require extra nutrients to metabolize them. So not only are you not bringing in nutrients, you are using up your stores to eliminate these non-foods from your system. This can lead to vitamin and nutrient deficiencies. Its like trying to run your car on water vs gas. It just won’t work. By focusing on whole foods even for just a few weeks, and you will be amazed at how much better your body (and gut) feels.
You may also want to eliminate other gut irritants. Dairy and grains contain common compounds known to irritate some people’s guts, cause inflammation and compromised digestion. Dairy requires an enzyme called lactase to break it down for digestion. Everyone is born with a certain number of lactase enzymes. Once they are gone, that’s it. It is one reason why many people become lactose intolerant as they age. If you consume high amounts of dairy, you use up your stores of lactase and dairy becomes an irritant. As for grains, gluten has become a common topic of conversation these days. Seems like going gluten free has become the latest trend. For some individuals with Celiac or Colitis’s, removing gluten is mandatory for their health. For others, I believe a reduction can be helpful. Gluten is in an abundance of foods. From breads and cereals to sauces and even chewing gum, its everywhere. So even if you are not diagnosed with a condition that requires you to remove gluten from your diet, chances are you are consuming more that you may think. As with everything, too much and anything can be bad. Gluten is no exception. If you are having cereal for breakfast, maybe someone brings in a dozen muffins at the office, a sandwich for lunch and maybe some pasta for dinner, that is a gluten overload. Planning meals with whole foods will naturally be gluten free. You only need to eliminate them for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference for your gut health then reintroduce in moderation.
By eating nutrient-dense foods, we allow ample macro- and micro-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, liver, avocado and fish.
To nourish and replenish our gut microbes ingest probiotic-rich foods and drinks. These are found in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Make these a part of your daily diet to keep your gut happy.
Whole foods are full of gut-friendly fiber. Not eating enough fiber increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Fiber plays lots of roles in our gut, including whisking away some of those pesky bad bacteria and toxins so they can be eliminated. Fiber also helps to feed our friendly resident microbes that help us absorb and digest our food better. What foods have a lot of fiber? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even cacao.
Lifestyle factors like getting enough sleep, stressing less, and getting the right amount (and intensity) of exercise for you should not get overlooked when addressing gut health. It’s easy to forget some of the simple, but key links there are between what we do with our bodies and how well they function.
To sum up, the function of your gut is key to your overall health. There are two pillars of gut health: maintaining a good barrier and maintaining healthy gut microbes.
To improve gut health naturally eat nutrient-dense whole foods filled with nutrition, probiotics, and fiber. Eliminate common gut irritants like added sugar, processed foods, and alcohol. You just can’t go wrong by eating clean.
To understand more about gut health or to build a nutrition program specific for your needs, CLICK HERE for a free consultation call.