If we can do one thing to benefit our overall well-being we should focus on maintaining vigorous gut health. I ended up with fairly severe gut issues because I ignored the obvious signs of food intolerances and allergies. I continued eating gluten loaded food (because I love crispy French bread) and dairy until my gut said, “NO MORE!” I began to listen after I was tested for food intolerances and allergies and clearly explained the dire consequences of continuing to eat these foods. Most of us have an idea of what foods our gut likes and deep down we know which ones we are intolerant of. However, we tend to ignore the signs because we love our food and we really don’t want (or know how) to change anything. I was aware I had gut issues with certain foods but I didn’t realise how much damage I was creating by continuing to eat these foods. When I developed arthritis along with my gut issues, I decided it was time to get to the root cause and make whatever changes necessary.
Researchers have discovered that a lesser known nervous system in our guts (our “second brain”) communicates with the brain in our head. Together, “our two brains” play a key role in certain diseases in our bodies and overall health.
If you have been having gut issues for a while and none of the recommendations below help, I suggest you look into having food intolerance and allergy testing. I recommend going to a Naturopath or Integrative MD to find out your options. Also, look into having an analysis that will identify parasites, abnormal bacteria, yeasts and other gastrointestinal issues, which will help you create a supplement plan.
Excerpts from Kris Carr’s – 7 Ways to Improve Gut Health
Your gut holds trillions of bacteria that help process your food, produce nutrients, and fight disease. In fact, there are ten times more bacteria in your gut than cells in your entire body! Balanced gut bacteria is fundamental to overall health. Since what you eat, drink and think affects the environment in your gut. Your daily choices play a critical role in whether those trillion plus bacteria help or hinder your wellbeing.
But when the harmful bacteria stage a revolt, all hell breaks loose. They totally gum up the works and cause painful problems like inflammation and infection, which can then lead to health issues such as constipation, candida, allergies, arthritis, headaches, depression, autoimmune diseases and more.
Medications (especially antibiotics and antacids), environmental toxins and chemicals, stress and illness greatly affect the ratio of good to bad bacteria. When bacteria is wiped out indiscriminately, the good guys get mowed down, giving the bad guys a chance to increase their ranks. Hello, chronic health issues.
The food you eat also affects the ratio of good to bad bacteria. Everything you consume is processed and either absorbed into your body or eliminated via your gut. Your gut completes the amazing task of digesting your food and pulling the nutrients, vitamins and minerals out of the food so that they can be absorbed into your bloodstream.
Your gut is a major component of your immune system.
Did you know that about 60-70% of your immune system lives in your gut?
Meet your GALT, also know as gut-associated lymphoid tissue. Your GALT lies just below the mucosal lining of the gut wall. It’s very thin (only one cell thick!), and most importantly — it’s integral to your immune system. The GALT contains specialized immune structures called Peyer’s patches that are filled with immune cells, such as B cells and T cells, which are responsible for recognizing and neutralizing harmful bacteria. When pathogenic bacteria visits your gut via food or your environment, the Peyer’s patches trigger your immune response to prevent them from passing through the gut wall.
Another way your gut protects you from infection and disease is through an abundance of healthy bacteria.
To keep harmful bacteria from overthrowing your gut, healthy bacteria need to thrive and cover your gut wall — the only thing standing between everything inside your gut and your bloodstream. It helps to imagine that your gut wall is a parking lot. There are a limited number of “parking spots” along your gut wall. You want good bacteria parked in those spaces so bad bacteria is crowded out. Keep those spaces filled by adopting the following gut health.
Now that you know how important your gut health is to your overall wellbeing, how can you take care of your spectacular gut?
1. Take a probiotic supplement: A daily probiotic supplement will help boost the good bacteria in your gut, keeping the bad guys under control, boosting your immune system and easing digestive issues. This is especially helpful when you’re taking a medication, such as an antibiotic that has wiped out a large amount of gut bacteria. Any health food shop can recommend a probiotic.
2. Eat probiotic whole foods: You can also eat whole foods that are fermented and contain large amounts of good bacteria. Sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, microalgae and coconut kefir are fantastic plant-based probiotic-rich foods. When looking for probiotic-rich foods, avoid vinegar-based and/or pasteurized varieties, since these elements kill good bacteria. You want to pick up (or make!) lacto-fermented probiotic foods (FYI–this is a plant-friendly approach, no whey is necessary). If you’re interested in making your own probiotic foods, Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz is a popular book on the subject. Word to the wise: Get educated on fermenting at home before diving in–it can be risky if you don’t know what you’re doing!
3. Eat prebiotic whole foods: Certain foods feed and support the growth of good bacteria. By eating more whole, plant-based, fibre-filled foods, you’re fuelling the bacteria that support your health. Raw onions, garlic, dandelion greens, artichokes, and bananas are some of the best prebiotic foods to add to your diet.
4. Eat regularly, but not constantly (eat your last meal of the day preferably before 6pm): To give your gut a chance to clean up and clear out bacteria and waste, it needs a rest from digestion. Every 90 minutes to two hours, the smooth muscle in your intestines move and groove to keep bacteria and waste truckin’ through your digestive tract. But this process is put on hold every time you eat. Can you see why snacking constantly slows down digestion and contributes to bacterial overgrowth? I’m not saying that you need to fast for long periods — eating regularly helps prevent constipation and bloating — but it’s best to take breaks between meals.
5. Stay hydrated: A good rule of thumb for staying hydrated is drinking half your body weight in ounces of water each day. For example, if you weigh 130 pounds, you should drink about 65 ounces of water. That’s about eight 8-ounce glasses of water. Your gut needs water to keep bacteria and waste moving through your digestive system, which will help prevent constipation and bloating. When you’re dehydrated, these issues can throw off the balance of bacteria in your gut and lead to inflammation. Give your gut a hand and drink more H2O!
6. Cut out refined sugar and processed foods: When you consume processed, sugar-laden, refined foods, you’re giving bad bacteria an all-you-can-eat buffet, which increases the likelihood of developing gut issues and associated illnesses.
7. Reduce stress: The brain and the gut are closely connected and communicate with each other. When you experience chronic stress, your brain goes into fight or flight mode, causing your digestion and blood flow in the gut to slow down, the muscles that push along waste and bacteria to freeze up and the secretions for digestion to decrease. All of these stress responses equal a poorly functioning gut! Take care of your gut health by coping with stress through breath work, yoga, meditation, therapy, time in the outdoors and the countless other stress reduction techniques available to you.