The Importance of a Healthy Gut
If you follow me on instagram, you would have noticed that I recently posted about just finishing the book "Gut: The Inside Story of our Body's Most Underrated Organ" by Giulia Enders. My lovely parents gave it to me for Christmas as they knew I am obsessed with learning about the digestive system and thought I would get a good laugh from how Giulia talks about the human gut and all its wonder. Well, they were right. I loved this book from start to finish, and although the author gets quite science-y at parts, she does it in a way that even someone with zero science background can understand. (Not to mention, the book has THE cutest and most hilarious illustrations to go along with the text.)
While I feel that everyone would benefit from learning about how important the health of their gut is to their overall well-being, I know that to some, they would rather poke themselves in the eye then learn about the large intestine. So, knowing that, I've put together a blog post to give you a 'healthy gut crash-course' so you can at least have a basic understanding of why your gut deserves all the love it can get.
As we all know, ‘gut health’ has become an increasingly popular 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 flus, 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 then will 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:
Yoga and meditation
Practicing mindfulness through journaling
Getting adequate sleep
Spending time in nature
Self-care practices like taking a bath, reading a book or pampering yourself
As Giulia states at the very beginning of her book, the gut is the most underrated organ in the body. But as research is starting to show, the gut holds more control and more power over our health and wellness than any other organ, and it's about time we gave it the attention it deserves.