The health of your gut is absolutely critical to the health of the rest of your body. The more research that is conducted in this area the more we understand how closely the gut is related to everything from your immune system to your mental health.
That old saying ‘You Are What You Eat’ is making more and more sense. We know that different foods have varying effects on different parts of our bodies – whether it’s protein for muscles, antioxidants for the immune system or Omega-3 fatty acids for the brain. It’s no surprise that the way that food gets ingested and processed is incredibly important for our overall health.
What’s the Problem and How Do You Fix it?
When your gut is not well you would probably expect to have symptoms like bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. But you might be surprised to learn that when your digestive system needs healing you might also experience skin problems, infections, allergies or sensitivity to certain foods, hormonal imbalances, diabetes, as well as depression, anxiety and mood swings.
Healing your gut may be a process of trial and error. It all depends on how your body naturally digests food (your body type), your surrounding environment, and where the issue may stem from in the first place. It might seem hopeless dealing with digestive issues day in and day out but there are things you can try to heal your gut. Here are 6 of them:
1. Get wise about allergens and probiotics. Skin problems like eczema and rosacea are common signs of problems with the gastrointestinal system. Whether it’s an undetected food allergy (most commonly to dairy) or low levels of healthy gut bacteria, the best way to deal with it is to eliminate foods that cause allergies and to integrate probiotics. Some people need to eliminate dairy as their main irritant, which means they’d benefit more from probiotic foods like kimchi, kombucha and other non-dairy fermented food.
2. Spice things up. If you are suffering from digestive issues like bloating, gas and flatulence, then there’s a good chance that your gut isn’t really healthy. Spices that have carminative properties (help to prevent gas, bloating and indigestion) can be added to dishes that may cause gas (like broccoli, cabbage, pasta and sandwiches). These spices include black pepper, fennel, cayenne, turmeric and cumin. Important to keep in mind some spices work better for some people than others.
3. Team up probiotics with prebiotics. If you’re constantly craving foods, especially carb-rich foods, then perhaps you should consider feeding the bacteria in your gut with some healthy prebiotics like whole grains. The microbiota in your gut protects the lining of the intestines, reduces inflammation in the body, and improves the absorption of nutrients. This ultimately provides the body with good energy and helps the brain function optimally because the body and mind are getting the nutrients they need. Not all prebiotics are the same. Bran, for instance, can lower iron levels, and some people who are gluten-sensitive may need to stay away from whole wheat.
4. Follow your ‘gut’ feelings. Mood issues, especially anxiety and depression, may also be signs of imbalance in the gut flora. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate pain and mood (as well as sleep and hunger) and about 95% of it is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Studies have shown that getting good doses of probiotics from kefir and greek yogurt can greatly improve gut health, while eating foods rich in tryptophan (a precursor to serotonin) like eggs, fish, turkey and nuts can also help boost that happiness hormone.
5. Boost your healthy gut bacteria. If you suffer from frequent candida infections, it may be a sign of a depleted bacterial system. Medications like antibiotics can destroy the beneficial bacteria in the gut, leaving room for the growth of yeast (called candida albicans) instead. If not treated, it can lead to inflammation and irritable bowel syndrome. But if it’s not antibiotics you’ve been taking that has caused low levels of healthy gut bacteria, then perhaps it’s low iron levels or not enough fiber in the diet.
6. Watch those sweets and alcoholic beverages. Overall, eating a diet high in sugar, alcohol and refined carbohydrates can cause some serious damage over time. A disturbed gut can lead to inflammation, arthritis, diabetes, fibromyalgia, sleep problems, and nutrient deficiencies. To prevent or even reverse damage to your gut, a good place to start is reducing or completely eliminating foods high in sugar and refined carbs as well as alcohol.
Just like with any health issue, the cause of problems with the gut and the solution will vary from person to person. Because of our unique genetics and environment we all have unique health needs. To read more about different body types, how they respond to various diets, and how this relates to gut health and digestion, check out our previous blog post here.
Learning more about who you are as an individual (and how your body works) will only make it easier to make the best choices for yourself. Whether we’re talking about your ideal climate, best forms of exercise, your natural talents or which foods you should eat and which you should avoid, educating yourself about yourself can only help. Your gut (and the rest of your body!) will thank you.