Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”
And while this may not be 100% true for every disease in every person, more and more research shows that our gut (digestive system) has a bigger role in many diseases than we used to think. And we’re not just talking about heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, etc. We’re talking about all kinds of issues like allergies, pain, mood disorders, and nutrient deficiencies.
There are a lot of reasons for this. Our gut is the portal to the outside world. It’s here where we take in disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. We also take in nutrients (and toxins) through our gut. The nutrients we ingest and absorb are the building blocks of every single part of our body.
We’re just learning the connections between our gut and other areas of our body, like our brain (have you heard of the gut-brain axis?) Not just our gut per se; but, its friendly resident microbes too. These guys also have newly discovered roles in our gut health and overall health.
So, let’s talk about the roles that our gut and our gut microbes play in our overall health. 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 as things we want to pass right through and out.
Hidden within the walls of your digestive system is what is known as your second brain and this “brain in your gut” is changing the way that we look at the links between mood, digestion, health and even the way that you think
This seemingly simple role is super-complex! And it can break down in so many places.
For one thing, our guts can “leak.” Yes, like a long tube with holes in it, it can allow things to get into our bloodstream/bodies that can wreak havoc (bacteria, undigested food, and toxins). 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.
And when your gut wall gets irritated, it can “leak.” When this happens, you get inflammation, which is a starting point for many diseases that don’t seem linked to the gut but have a sneaky connection there.
FUN FACT: About 70% of our immune system lives in and around our gut.
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.
The second main part of your gut are the billions of friendly health-promoting microbes. Gut microbes help us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease-causing microbes, make some vitamins for us, and have all kinds of other health benefits, like mental health benefits, reducing inflammation, and stabilizing blood sugar.
So, keeping your gut microbes happy is the second pillar of gut health!
How to Improve Gut Health
There are a lot of natural ways to improve gut health. Let’s start with what to cut out.
It’s always best to eliminate the cause, so let’s stop giving our guts junk to deal with. How about eliminating added sugars, processed foods, and alcohol? Try that for a few weeks, and you may 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. Sometimes you only need to eliminate them for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference for your health.
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 partas well. Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, colourful fruits and veggies, liver, and fish.
The second pillar of gut health is our microbes. By ingesting probiotic-rich foods and drinks, we can help to replenish our gut microbes. These are found in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Make these a part of your daily diet.
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 canbe 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.
And don’t forget the uber-important lifestyle factors like getting enough sleep, stressing less, and getting the right amount (and intensity) of exercise for you. 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.
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.
The main ways to improve both of these naturally is by eating nutrient-dense whole foods. Foods filled with nutrition, probiotics, and fiber. And eliminating common gut irritants like added sugar, processed foods, and alcohol..
There is also evidence that lots of chronic metabolic diseases begin in the gut. We can prevent these diseases by following some easy steps.
Step 1: Understand Second Brain
This little brain is called the “enteric nervous system” or ENS and it comprises 2 thin layers of over 100 million nerve cells that line your GI tract from your esophagus to your rectum. The role of the ENS is to control digestion, including swallowing to releasing the enzymes that help break food down, to the control of blood flow, which aids with both nutrient absorption and elimination. The ENS communicates with our brain with significant results.
When you have an unhealthy gut the symptoms of that can manifest themselves in other parts of your body. It’s your body trying to tell you that something is wrong or out of balance.
Studies have found that increasing your gut health can lead to improvements in:
• Immune function–80% of our immune system is located in our guts
• Brain function
• Symptoms of anger, sadness, and depression
• Toxin levels in the body
• Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
• Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
How Is This Even Possible?
The ENS may sense things that our cerebral brain can’t. Evidence has been found that when the GI tract is irritated it sends signals to the central nervous system, which can trigger our mood and ultimately affect it. When you consider that between 30%-40% of the population has bowel problems of some kind and that a higher percentage of these individuals develop depression and/or anxiety it’s easy to see how there could be a connection.
Our bodies are filled with bacteria – good and bad. There are more bacteria in a human body than there are cells and there are an estimated 100 trillion microorganisms living in our bowels alone (http://www.naturallivingideas.com/ 13-ways-to-improve-gut-health/.) The key here is to have more good than bad bacteria in your gut – the fancy name for the good microorganisms is probiotics. Probiotics help us do things like:
• Digest food
• Absorb nutrients
• Break down medications
• Kill some of the bad bacteria that lead to infection
Step 2: Get More Probiotics
There are quite a few ways to get probiotics, but one of the easiest is to take a supplement. You will find many different kinds under different brand names and it would be a good idea to talk to your physician or pharmacist to see which is the brand that they recommend.
There are foods that are also high in probiotics. Unfortunately, many of them are not widely available. These foods include:
• Unpasteurized Cheese – Gouda, Cheddar, Provolone, and Gruyere are some examples
• Apple Cider Vinegar
• Yogurt–be sure and read the label and avoid ones with added sugar
Getting more probiotics into your system is one of the best ways that you can improve your gut health.
More Probiotics, What Else?
Stress Less. Laugh More. Stress, especially long-term stress, not only affects our gut bacteria, but it also affects the productions of hormones and neuro-chemicals that communicate with our brain. When there is long-term stress these chemicals and hormones can change permanently (unless you specifically work to change them back). Long-term stress may also lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach ulcers, IBD, IBS, and potentially food allergies
Laughter really is the best medicine. It helps to reduce stress and floods your body with the happy hormones and chemicals that make the good overtake the bad. In this study researchers studied healthy people as well as those with atopic dermatitis – a disease that is often associated with imbalances in gut bacteria. The researchers had the participants watch funny movies daily for one week. In only one week, the patients’ gut flora had changed and resembled the healthy participants.
Step 3: Play in The Dirt!
This is true both literally and figuratively. Gardening is good for you because it gets you outside, gives you exercise, and putting your hands in soil introduces your body to the microorganisms that are found on the plants and in the ground.
In a more figurative way, stop killing all the bacteria. They have recently stopped putting anti-bacterial agents in things because humans are killing all the bacteria, the good and the bad. And what is happening? The bad bacteria are getting stronger and the good bacteria are dying.
Studies have shown that kids who grow up with a dog have both a lower risk of allergies and a healthier immune system. Dogs are associated with a type of house dust that actually exposes us to important strains of bacteria, L. johnsonii is one, which is essential within the digestive tract. You can read the study here.
Dogs also work somewhat like a probiotic, helping develop healthy bacteria that boost your immune system, stopping you from getting ill, and possibly reducing allergies. Dogs also help you, or in some cases, force you, to exercise more and help relieve stress in your life.
It may well be that a large part of maintaining good health is maintaining good gut-health. There are many ways that you can do this, including exercise, and learning to listen to your body; however, some of the easiest changes that you can make are to:
Get plenty of probiotics – through supplements and food
Don’t over sterilize or try and kill all bacteria
Try my recipe for Probiotic-rich Fermented Carrots!
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection http://www.naturallivingideas.com/13-ways-to-improve-gut-health/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1954310
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Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or Registered Dietitian. The information presented is purely to share my experience and for entertainment purposes. As always, check with a doctor before making any fitness or nutrition changes. The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any activities or ideas from this site.