Sugar cravings. Bloating. Burping. Gas. Diarrhea. Constipation. Indigestion. Heartburn. Runner’s Trots. Colds. Sickness. Anxiety. Frequent fatigue. These are signs of impaired gut health, and if you’re experiencing these, you are not alone. If you’re not experiencing any of the above, don’t stop reading just yet. Your gut is often referred to as “the second brain” and/or “the missing link.” Keeping it healthy is important for everyone—not just those with digestive issues or disease. Working with our clients we find that even those who do not complain of a single digestive concern and have never had a “sweet tooth” can be struggling with reaching their goals (especially weight loss) due to impaired gut health. Thanks to years of following diets (consuming an excess of processed carbohydrates and sugar), rounds of antibiotics as a kid, or consuming conventionally raised meat and dairy products full of hormones; most of us have impaired gut health.
What is Gut Health?
The term gut health covers digestion and absorption of food, immune status, and the state of well-being. It is the cornerstone for optimal health and the avenue through which nutrients are absorbed, assimilated and incorporated into the body. Gut health is associated with every other process, system, organ and cell in your body! Your gut is where your metabolism starts, food is digested, nutrients are absorbed, neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) are made and the fighting grounds that keep foreign invaders are at bay. About 70% of your immune system is located in your gut and your gut is a barrier to toxins and pathogens. Keeping all of that in mind Hippocrates once said, “All disease begins in the gut.” Normally we don’t pay much attention to our gut health, which is unfortunate because Hippocrates was right, your digestive system may be the single most important factor in your health. Whether your gut is healthy or unhealthy will determine how your digestion functions, how likely you are to have cravings, how energetic you feel, and how well your immune system works. When it comes to evaluating your health or beginning a new nutrition program, the most critical and often overlooked starting point is the gut. If your gut health isn’t up to par, even the most nutritious foods may not be broken down or absorbed properly, so while it is important to make the best food choices possible, it is just as important to be in the proper state to digest that food. The goal for gut health is to create an environment where gut bacteria are living in harmony and taking care of us as they should.
Sheaths of neurons line the entire gut — this is so extensive that the gut has been coined “the second brain.” Gut health and brain health work in tandem, affecting one another. There is a continual exchange of chemical messages between the two systems. You may already be familiar with this. Maybe when you are nervous or stressed, you get nauseous or an upset stomach. Conversely, problems in your gut can impact your mental health, and lead to anxiety or depression. Gut health is essential to maintain both physical and mental well-being.
What wreaks havoc on the gut?
The things that contribute to poor gut health include, but are not limited to the following:
• Refined carbohydrates
• Processed Food
• Chronic stress
• Chronic infections
• Substances you are sensitive to, like gluten or dairy
5 Steps to Healing Your Gut:
1. Keep your sugar intake low. Refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods create an environment in your gut flora where bad bacteria thrive. Strive to get your carbohydrates from veggies and fruits and have plenty of protein and healthy fat at your meals (PFC is key.)
2. Include fermented foods on a daily basis. Fermented foods are naturally high in favorable bacteria. Sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt and kombucha are a few good ones.
3. Supplement with probiotic, glutamine and fish oil. Nearly everyone can benefit from supplementing with a good quality probiotic, especially if you are not including fermented foods. Probiotics boost the good bacteria in your gut. Glutamine is an amino acid (a building block of protein), which helps to rebuild and maintain the structural integrity of the thin lining of the digestive tract. Fish oil targets inflammation and reduces it. Together, the combination of probiotics, glutamine and fish oil promote healthy intestinal lining and proper digestion by rebuilding that intestinal lining, reducing inflammation and restoring the good bacteria. Not all supplements are created equal, so we offer our favorite pharmaceutical grade ones in our Real Food Vitamins store. Our general recommendation is 1 capsule probiotic and 1,000mg of L-glutamine taken before meals and 1-2 capsules of fish oil with meals, depending on your goals. If you’re taking an antibiotic, the most important thing you can do for your gut is to counter it with probiotics (remember, antibiotics don’t discriminate; they kill off your good AND bad bacteria.) When on an antibiotic, our general recommendation is at least 3 capsules of probiotic per day for the duration of the antibiotic and 2 weeks after. For individualized recommendations, we would love to help you during a coaching appointment!
4. Manage your stress. Because your gut is intricately linked to your state of mind, stress affects your gut health.
5. Don’t let food sensitivities go unchecked. For some people, food sensitivities and/or allergies may increase inflammation and damage to the intestinal tract. The BIG FIVE food allergens are: gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, and nuts. This may seem obvious, but if you know you have a food allergy or sensitivity, completely avoiding the food is better for your gut. In coaching sessions, we help clients determine if they have any food allergies or sensitivities that may be impairing gut health and/or standing in the way of reaching their goals.
By implementing these strategies, you can rebuild, repair and support your gut, which in turn gives you life and energy. For our follow up post, check out Digging Deeper into Gut Health, where we look further at the normal digestive process and what can go wrong. We can help you rebalance your gut health so contact our team to set up an appointment with one of our dietitian coaches.