Why is your gut health so important - and why right now?
Your gut microbiome is a vast community of trillions of bacteria and fungi that inhabit every nook and cranny of your gastrointestinal tract, and have a major influence on your metabolism, body weight, susceptibility to illness, immune system, appetite and mood. These microbes mostly live in your lower intestine, but also show up in your mucosal linings and even your lungs - they also outnumber all the other cells in your body put together.
Largely responsible for the critical functions of the body’s digestive and immune systems, beneficial bacteria have the ability to affect your body’s vitamin and mineral absorbency, hormone regulation, digestion, vitamin production, immune response, and ability to eliminate toxins, not to mention your overall mental health. Your microbiome—the diverse population of bacteria that live in your GI tract—plays an important role in the health of your gut, and in other aspects of your physical health, from inflammatory skin disorders to obesity.
When something goes wrong during the process of digestion, it not only affects your gut, but can cause a wide range of disturbances to the rest of the body. A significant portion of your immune system resides in your digestive track. If your digestive system isn’t healthy, neither is the gut immune function, making you more prone to illness. Your digestive system is one of the most important systems in the whole body, if it cannot properly digest and absorb nutrients and eliminate waste products, then it is difficult if not impossible to achieve optimal health. Proper digestion is critical to addressing many seemingly unrelated conditions.
These gut microbes affect the way you store fat, how you balance levels of glucose in your blood, and how you respond to hormones that make you feel hungry or satiated. Digestion, mood, health, and even the way you think is being linked to your “second brain,” i.e. your biome, more and more every day.
The wrong internal mix can set the stage for immune dysfunction, hypersensitivity reactions, susceptibility to infectious diseases, chronic inflammation, and autoimmunity.
Can you relate to any of these?
Migraines and headaches
If so, it's likely your dealing with some form of dysbiosis = unbalanced gut health
Healing your gut allows your body to build a stronger immune system and produce the right kind of bacteria that will ultimately tell your brain that it’s okay to feel good again. Researchers now say that this role of promoting good health may extend to include the health of your brain and neurological systems. The different types of both “good” and “bad” bacteria that populate the microbiome normally exist in a balance in favor of beneficial bacteria that help prevent overgrowth of bad bacteria that can harm your heath.
The internal environment of your gut is dictated by what you put in your mouth — so the foods you choose to eat are a crucial component of maintaining gut health. However, with the diet of the average American being immensely filled with processed, sugary and fatty foods, the gut becomes damaged over time and therefore less functional. The type of food that your body processes can have a positive impact on the function of your brain. When your gut is healthy, your brain is happier. In the wise words of David Perlmutter, MD: “A healthy microbiome translates into a healthy human.”
Here are some tips to support you biome.
#1 Increase Intake of Prebiotics and Probiotics
The two terms — probiotics and prebiotics — are becoming more widely known,
so you’ve probably heard them.
While prebiotics and probiotics sound similar, they are very different and have different roles in the digestive system.
PREBIOTIC FIBER is a non-digestible part of foods like bananas, onions and garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, the skin of apples, chicory root, beans, and many others. Prebiotic fiber goes through the small intestine undigested and is fermented when it reaches the large colon. This fermentation process feeds beneficial bacteria colonies and helps to increase the number of desirable bacteria in our digestive systems that are associated with better health and reduced disease risk.
Only about 3% of Americans get the recommended 40 grams of fiber they need per day — and fiber is the most crucial ingredient for gut health.
There are two types of fiber:
Soluble fiber - helps lower blood glucose levels and LDL cholesterol. You can find it in oatmeal, legumes, and some fruits and veggies.
Insoluble fiber offers more of a cleansing effect on your digestive system. Find it in whole grains, kidney beans, and in fruits and veggies, as well .
PROBIOTICS are live beneficial bacteria that are naturally created by the process of fermentation and can be found in foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, yogurt, kefir, and pickles. They will typically be found raw, alive, refrigerated.
#2 Eat as many types of fruit and veg as possible
The variety may be as important as the quantities, as the chemicals and types of fiber will vary, and each support different microbial species.
#3 Steer clear of artificial sweetners like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharine
These disrupt the metabolism of microbes and reduce gut diversity – in animal studies this has led to obesity and diabetes. Ditch the processed foods too, as these also upset microbes’ metabolism.
#4 Spend more time in nature
Low diversity in the gut is heavily associated with a higher risk of inflammation and disease. As a general rule of thumb, the more species that reside in your belly, the healthier you are. One of the best ways to increase your microbial diversity is to simply step outside. When you go outdoors, you expose yourself to millions of microbes, many of which can benefit your body and microbiome. In fact, scientists now know that exposing children to dirt and germs is actually essential for strengthening their immune system, which we discussed above as relating to the gut microbiome.
#5 Eat locally, seasonally, and organically whenever possible.
Our gut is a direct result of the foods we are eating seasonally. When possible, it’s always better to eat both seasonally and organically. There are so many reasons to support your local farmer’s markets and to buy seasonally through the grocery store and now here’s another. Foods that are forced to develop outside of their season typically have lower levels of nutrients and higher levels of substances that can damage your gut lining. Additionally, herbicides and pesticides used in non-organic farming practices can be damaging to your microbiome. It is believed that our modern industrial world has played an enormous role in the current state of our gut.
Restoring the full health of your gastrointestinal system can have major positive effects on your entire body, from mood, to memory, and more. New York Times columnist Jane Brody sums up good gut-health advice, saying: “People interested in fostering a health-promoting array of gut microorganisms should consider shifting from a diet heavily based on meats, carbohydrates and processed foods to one that emphasizes plants.”
What’s your gut telling you?
Note: Please be sure to check with your doctor before adding any new foods or herbs to your routine. This information is for not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease and should not be considered medical advice. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
I wanted to include some suggested reading on the subject here so you can dig in to and find all of the beautiful connections between your biome and your health. These are a few of my favorites...
Farmacology Daphne Miller MD
The Dirt Cure Maya Shetreat-Klein MD
Kiss the Ground Josh Tickell
Brain Maker David Perlmutter MD
Eat Dirt Dr. Josh Axe
Gut and Psychology Syndrome Natasha Campbell McBride MD
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