‘Go with your gut….’
‘Trust your gut…’
You’ve heard these, and you’ve probably offered them as sound advice.
While these well-known sayings are often used as encouragement to embrace our powerful intuition, our bodies are incredibly complex and interconnected ecosystems. At the center of our ecosystem is our physical gut, which acts as the control center for our entire body – inside and out. It’s even been referred to as our second brain.
Holding our knowledge and memories, the brain is powerful in its own right, but it’s our gut or ‘microbiome’ that has the most interaction with the outside world. You can think of it like the defensive lineman for our overall health and wellness.
As gut health gains traction in the world of wellness world, you might think it’s just another trend. An effectively functioning gut is about more than having regular poops, it’s a pathway to long-term, whole health. 80% of your immune system living in your gut and its function is inextricably linked to your: fertility, libido, weight gain, mood, cognitive function, nutrient absorption, clear skin, and autoimmune disease.
It’s clear an optimally functioning gut is important, but you might be wondering why we’re focusing on it now, why is it so popular all of a sudden, and how can I make sure mine is working?
Unfortunately, we live in a highly toxic world. Every day our bodies are exposed to processed foods, pollution, chronic stress, overuse of medicine, lack of sleep, antibiotics, over sterilization, and c-sections all of which are directly related to the deterioration of gut health debilitating the body’s natural ability to breakdown food for proper nourishment and has led to an increase of digestive disease like IBS, celiacs, and Crohn’s as well as Leaky Gut and other autoimmune diseases.
Let’s go a little deeper and understand how it works, what you might be experiencing if your gut is off, and steps you can take to heal.
What exactly is ‘gut health’?
The gut is part of the body’s microbiome, which is an ecosystem of bacteria located throughout the entire body. While these bacteria can be found internally and externally, the biggest benefactor of a healthy microbiome are those that reside in the gut, which is said to have about 500 different species!
When we think of the word bacteria, we’re likely to be reminded of those pesky little demons that give us the common cold or a flu. You’re right! That is a kind of bacteria, but there’s also whole slew of other bacteria that are incredibly beneficial to the body.
This good bacteria helps the body effectively digest & breakdown food and transport nutrients to the rest of the body. When good bacteria are outnumbered by bad bacteria the result is gut dysbiosis which impacts us mentally and physically.
What’s causing dysbiosis and what exactly happens?
Like I mentioned before our toxic world and busy modern lifestyles are in large part to blame for this overgrowth of bacteria. Some of the most common offenders include:
- Processed food
- Toxic cleaning supplies
- Chronic stress
- Frequent medication or antibiotic use
- Excessive alcohol consumption
Scenarios & symptoms are unique to each individual, but in general the overgrowth of bad bacteria begins to alter your gut’s microbiome. The first thing that happens is the inability to properly digest food. This leads to inflammation of the gut. As food continues to build up in the gut it becomes toxic, ferments, and grows. Not to get too graphic, but it’s like a landfill in your body that’s not decomposing. Gross.
Ultimately, this results in inflammation damaging the gut lining further and can result in more chronic diseases and deplete your ability to fight illness. It’s truly a vicious cycle.
How do I know if there’s something wrong?
Many people eating a Standard American Diet (SAD) have gut issues and might not even know it. We tend to think, “this is just how my body is.” If your bathroom visits are regular, you’re really lucky, but it’s not always a sign of a clean microbiome.
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Poor digestion
- IBS-C / IBS-D
- Gas & bloating
- Mood fluctuations
- Anxiety & depression
- Low energy & chronic fatigue
- Weight maintenance
- Body image
- Frequent sickness
Shouldn’t my body be able to support its ecosystem? My ancestors did…
Great point! I hear this and “I’ve been eating these things for years, and I’m still alive” all the time.
Let’s put it this way — would you drink a bottle of pesticides or eat dibutylphthalate, a common ingredient in face wash? Probably not.
Our bodies weren’t meant to be able to digest food and ingredients that’s been transformed or processed out of their natural states, shopped around the world on a plane, train, or automobile, been fed or sprayed with chemicals.
Our ancestors ate diets of local unprocessed foods which supported their unique ecosystems.
The gluten-free phenomenon is another great example of this.
Gluten itself isn’t inherently “bad.” In fact, many people with Celiac find that they can tolerate bread in other countries. Gluten is a protein, but back in the day, in an effort to produce mass amounts inexpensively, wheat was heavily processed and altered. Grains used to be prepared carefully by soaking, sprouting, and fermenting, which just doesn’t happen for most of the bread on the shelf today. The same is true for dairy, corn, and soy — all of which are government subsidies aka cheap and on the USDA recommendations.
Modern lifestyle also plays a huge role in this. Our lives are demanding resulting in chronic stress and adrenal fatigue for many. Essentially, stress puts your body into fight or flight mode as if you were being chased by a wild beast. This increases cortisol levels and inflammation in your body causing similar reaction to the food and chemicals.
Nurturing and Healing Your Gut
The fact is, we live in a modern society with busy lifestyles. Processed foods, chemicals, and pollutants aren’t always avoidable, but we have the power to be informed and educated to help shape our own microbiomes, transform, and reclaim our health for the long-haul.
Get Your Probiotics
Probiotics help balance the good and bad bacteria in the gut. I have been taking probiotics for years and notice a big impact when I’m using them. I really recommend using a high quality one to see results. I like this one by Klaire Labs, and Silver Fern is very popular. They can get expensive though, so if you have real issues contact a professional to help you find the right one.
There are also great fermented foods that are dense in probiotics including: low sugar kombucha, sauerkraut, low sugar yogurts, kefir, and kimchi.
Don’t Forget Prebiotics
The Cinderella to probiotics, prebiotics work in tandem with probiotics for improved gut health. They are essentially fibers that don’t break down as they move through the body and end up being “fuel” for good bacteria growth. Aside from supplements the most common places you’ll find these guys are in: raw garlic, raw dandelion green, raw asparagus, raw or cooked onions, and under-ripe bananas.
Eat Whole Nutrient Dense Foods
This is my advice for everyone. The best way to nurture and cultivate a healthy gut is to eat nourishing REAL food.
Here are a few rules to live by:
- If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it
- Eliminate things that come in a package
- Chew your food to aid digestion
- Focus on: veggies, pasture raised organic meats, wild caught fish, healthy fats
- Avoid: refined sugar, carbs, oils, and conventional meat and dairy
Decrease Stress and Move Mindfully
Find practices you can incorporate into your daily life that will reduce your stress.
Here are a few things that work for me:
- Meditation — even five minutes a day can make a difference
- Journaling — letting it out on a piece of paper can be such a cathartic experience
- Gratitude — recite five things you’re grateful for every single day
- Surround yourself with friends and people you love
- Exercise — move your body to increase serotonin levels. Be sure to pick exercise you love otherwise it will have the reverse effects.
I know it sometimes feels like the whole industry is going a bit crazy with “clean” products from food to skincare, but think about your gut and make an informed decision. There will be times where it doesn’t feel realistic to make the ‘gut-friendly’ decision, but arming yourself with the tools and information you need is a first step to a healed gut and happy mind.