The gut is the most important system in our body. Even more important than the brain! Are you shocked to read this? I never considered that my gut could be responsible for more than just digesting food. It took me 50 years to develop a huge appreciation for the very complex activities the gut goes through every single day. Now, I am obsessed.
I struggled my entire life with poor gut health and I had NO IDEA! My body was giving me signs that something wasn't right but I figured, this is just "my normal". Little did I know this entire time that my body was not able to digest certain foods (way beyond the typical problem foods such as gluten and corn) which is what was causing diarrhea, constipation, bloating, excess gas, brain fog, fatigue, moodiness, a racing mind when I was trying to fall asleep and waking up in the middle of the night.
There are a lot of health conditions that start because of an imbalance in the gut. Anxiety, hypothyroid, hyperthyroid, depression, insomnia, acne, psoriasis, arthritis, weight gain and weight loss are all caused by an unhealthy gut. You may be wondering why doctor's don't start with the gut after diagnosing an illness. It is because our medical system is built to focus on parts of our body and eliminating symptoms. Doctor's are not thinking about the entire body and getting to the root cause of the illness. They just want to treat the symptoms.
HOW TO IMPROVE GUT HEALTH
There are a few basic tips that everyone can follow for better gut health. This is a great place to start if you aren't having severe symptoms. If you haven't had a bowel movement in a couple of days, have severe stomach pain or cramping, severe diarrhea or anything out of the ordinary, then you definitely need to see a doctor immediately to get the most urgent care you can.
To promote a generally healthy gut, there is not a "one size fits all" protocol. This is why when we follow a specific program and don't get the results we want, it is very disappointing. Often, we are promised a great result and it just may not happen.
I know because I've tried to figure out what works for me for years. I started having some success when I went mostly plant based and 80% organic. Seasonal allergies, constipation and rosacea went away. I started having easy, daily bowel movements. But I still had fatigue, brain fog, moodiness and anxiety. Then, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. I learned more about how gut health impacts the thyroid. A lot of the symptoms I experienced are part of hypothyroidism due to (as I came to learn) deficiencies in specific bacteria in the gut.
Our body changes every 5 to 7 years. What works for our body for a period of time, may not work in the future. It is important to continually listen to our body, which is very hard to do when there are so many other responsibilities in our daily life. Below is a compilation of science based information on how to heal the gut.
One of the most important things to support good gut health is to drink water. Some people think drinking 64 oz of water a day is enough. It is if you weigh 128 pounds. If you weigh more than this, then you aren't drinking enough water. The general rule is to drink half your body weight in ounces every single day. If you weigh 150 pounds, then you need to drink 75 ounces. Coffee does not count because it is a diuretic, which makes you urinate and dehydrated. Herbal tea can count for half of daily water intake because some ingredients can still impact our ability to absorb and retain the water we drink.
The benefits of drinking a lot of water are numerous. From helping to curb appetite to keeping the kidneys working properly. Does drinking water help you poop? Absolutely! In fact, frequent constipation is a sign you are dehydrated. Water helps to push waste through the digestive tract and out of the colon. Without enough water, the waste becomes harder to move.
Lemon water is very beneficial for the gut. What are the benefits of drinking lemon water? Lemons are very high in acid. The acid helps promote elimination in the digestive system as well as prepare the gut to process food. Also, lemons are very hydrating. Starting your day with a glass of warm water with 1/2 or 1 full lemon squeezed into it, is one of the best ways to wake up the digestive system. If you suffer from acid reflux, indigestion or constipation, lemon water in the morning is the easiest thing you can do to start repairing your gut.
Probiotics are probably the best known supplement for gut health. But what is the best probiotic for gut health? It depends on your unique gut health issue. Probiotics are studied for their specific impact on the gut.
Saccharomyces boulardii has been studied for its ability to help ulcerative colitis patients manage the very horrible symptom of constant diarrhea. (Source: NIH)
Lactobacillus plantarum is associated with weight loss in obese people. (Source: NIH)
Candida, Streptococcus, Escherichia and Enterococcus produce serotonin, and Bacillus and Serratia produce dopamine. If you are low in any of these naturally occurring gut bacteria, sleeping through the night and being able to have normal emotional responses would be very difficult for you. (Source: NIH)
Bifidobacterium, in general, will help preserve the tight junctions in our gut, which helps prevent leaky gut. (Source: NIH)
Another supplement to take to promote good gut health are prebiotics. A prebiotic supplement supports healthy probiotics in the gut because they feed healthy bacteria. Prebiotics have not been as popular as probiotics for gut health. While some foods contain prebiotics, such as asparagus and onions, the levels are low so taking a supplement helps support a healthy gut.
The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics states that an adequate amount of prebiotics to take daily is 3 grams. This assumes a person is eating 28 grams of fiber daily. Unfortunately, we know that most people only eat about 10-15 grams of fiber a day. So most people would benefit from taking a larger dose of prebiotics.
Amino acids also have a role in keeping our gut healthy. L-glutamine is a favorite supplement of mine to support a healthy gut. What does glutamine do? It is responsible for maintaining the health of our gut lining. Without a strong gut lining, pathogens and allergens can leak into our body. Our body produces l-glutamine but it is reduced when we are stressed, exercise or experience a trauma.
L-glutamine benefits include improving IBS, helps burn fat, stabilizes blood sugar, promotes muscle growth and can help prevent anxiety, depression and alcohol addiction. (Source: Dr. Axe) L-glutamine can be found in bone broth, asparagus, wild caught salmon and cod, spirulina and grass-fed beef. If you can get 3 servings a day from those foods, awesome! If not, a supplement may be needed.
PAY ATTENTION TO DIGESTION
Digestion is a very complex process. It starts in the mouth and doesn't end until we have a bowel movement! We don't give our digestive system enough credit until we have a problem! How do you know if you have a digestion problem?
Do you have:
👉Diarrhea and/or constipation
👉Bloating and gas
👉Congestion, coughing, wheezing
👉Brain fog, difficulty recalling words, short term memory issues
👉Headaches and migraines
👉Acne and itchy skin
👉Tired all the time
👉Sensitivity to fragrances and chemicals
If you said yes to just one of the above, your body is telling you something is not right with your digestion. Discovering the root cause and how to heal can be confusing and hard! I am here to help.
I am a Certified Holistic Nutritionist and Certified Health Coach obsessed with teaching people just like you how to eliminate your symptoms so you can stop suffering and get back to living!
I offer a FREE 30 minute strategy session where we will talk about your specific symptoms and how the Simply Great Health program can help.
How would eliminating your symptoms improve your life? You could:
✅Be more present with your children
✅Focus at work
✅Have more energy
✅Stop running to the bathroom
✅Restore your confidence
✅Be able to cook healthy meals for you and your family
✅Reduce the risk of chronic disease
Simply Great Health is a science based, personalized 5 Step plan that heals your body and fits your busy lifestyle.
It’s very simple. No jumping through hoops and NO PRESSURE.
If we determine it’s not a fit, we’ll go our separate ways for now.
If it is a fit, we can take the next step and get you started on the path to healing.
What helps digestion? In addition to drinking water and taking supplements, eat foods known to promote good digestion. Easily digested foods are different for everyone. Our physiology is unique so what works for one person may not work for others. Here are a few foods and drinks to try:
Kimchi, kefir, dill pickles and sauerkraut are examples of fermented foods. Fermented foods have been preserved so that the water has been eliminated. This preserves the food and helps grow probiotics. If you can get into the habit, eating 2 TBSPs of fermented foods at least once a day before eating a meal can significantly improve digestion.
The origin of kimchi starts in Korea where people wanted to preserve food and stop it from rotting. Kimchi is spicy because it uses pepper powder. In the 1600's, kimchi was made with cabbage and pepper powder, very similar to today's kimchi. People often wonder does kimchi go bad? It does! It can last about 3 to 6 months in the refrigerator.
If you aren't willing to eat kimchi, sauerkraut and dill pickles are great alternatives. Kefir is a fermented milk drink. If you are lactose intolerant, kefir may be an awesome drink for you. Since the bacteria in kefir can help breakdown lactose, you shouldn't have any issue drinking kefir. Some products are labeled as lactose free.
What? Aloe vera is not just for topical remedies? That's right. Aloe very juice is becoming very popular. Aloe vera has traditionally been used in Indian medicine for constipation, infections and worm infestations. A study was performed on 28 healthy adults and aloe was reported to have a laxative effect that was stronger than an over the counter laxative. (Source: NIH)
Is aloe vera juice good for you? Even if you aren't trying to solve a constipation issue, aloe vera juice has a lot of nutrients! It contains Vitamins A, C, E, B12 and folic acid, to name a few. Aloe vera juice also contains amino acids and enzymes. Just like anything, if you drink a lot of aloe vera juice there are side effects. Aloe vera juice side effects would be diarrhea or cramping if you drink too much.
Dark chocolate is full of polyphenols! Polyphenols are micronutrients that are packed with antioxidants which reduce inflammation in the body and help prevent illness and disease. They can help lower blood sugar and increase insulin sensitivity which helps prevent Type 2 Diabetes. Can't tolerate the bitter taste of dark chocolate? Polyphenols are also found in almonds, blueberries, broccoli, red grapes and green tea.
LOW FRUCTOSE FRUITS
Fruit can be healthy for some but harmful for those with gut health issues. Apples, pears and mangoes are high in fructose. Fructose is a sugar that can cause bloating and gas. Eating fruits such as berries, oranges, grapefruits and bananas, help stimulate good bacteria growth in the gut because they are high in inulin. Inulin is a fiber that adds bulk to stool, slows digestion and increases the frequency of bowel movements. Eating low fructose fruits allows your body to absorb more nutrients from the food you eat.
The gut is the workhorse of our body. It is responsible for not only digesting food, but for a healthy brain, immune system, respiratory system and to fight obesity, just to name a few. Having a healthy gut starts with drinking plenty of water, taking supplements that have been shown to support a healthy gut and eating whole foods that are not processed. If you need help overcoming specific gut issues, working with a Certified Holistic Nutritionist like myself to create a personalized protocol will give you direction and support on your gut healing journey.