It really is the centre of everything.
“All disease begins in the gut.” –Hippocrates
It seems far-fetched, but your gut health affects many of your body’s other biological systems. The gut, in fact, which encompasses your entire digestive system, from the moment you put something in your mouth, until the moment it comes out the other end, is often referred to as “the second brain.”
You see, the intestinal track is home to millions of neurotransmitters that are constantly communicating with our brain. It’s thought that the healthier your gut is, the more serotonin the brain produces. Seratonin is the hormone that is responsible for our mood, and the lack thereof can lead to depression and other mental health challenges.
Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria, and these bacteria play a crucial role in breaking down food into the nutrients we need. They also, believe it or not, support our immune system, keeping us from getting sick from colds and flu.
In addition to keeping you regular and keeping colds at bay, there is some thought that gut health also plays a role in other disorders, like autism, dementia and Parkinsons. Got acne? Eczema? Asthma and other allergies? You may see the symptoms from these abate with a healthier gut.
The good guys versus the bad guys
While there are trillions of bacteria in your gut, some are good and some are bad. Any time you have an infection that requires antibiotics, it wipes out both the good and the bad bacteria in your gut. A diet high in sugar feeds the bad bacteria, causing an overgrowth called Candida. Additionally, a diet high in heavily-processed foods really affects our gut health. Those little guys need fresh, whole, nutrient-dense foods full of fibre to be their best.
Show your gut some love
The key to gut health is to feed the good bacteria and to help them grow a strong population in your gut microbiome. If you are noticing that you are feeling a lot of gas, bloating, or heartburn, those are signs that the balance of bacteria in your gut is out of whack.
Here are some ways to encourage the growth of good bacteria:
1. Avoid foods that have a lot of sugar, or are highly processed. Sugar, especially processed, white sugar, feeds the bad bacteria. Sweeten your foods, if you need to, with less processed, more natural sweeteners, like fruit, maple syrup, dates, or monk fruit. It’s best to eat highly processed foods in moderation, as they contain very little nutrients and very little fibre.
2. Take a daily probiotic. You can purchase probiotic capsules at any drugstore. Look for one that has 50 billion per capsule, and contains strains like lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. You may need to store them in the fridge to maintain efficiency, so be sure to check the label.
3. Eat fermented foods. The fermenting process creates good bacteria in the food, and when you eat that food, you benefit. Try incorporating foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kim chi, miso, sourdough and kombucha into your daily diet.
4. Limit alcohol. While most alcohol is fermented, it often contains high amounts of sugar or yeast, neither of which is great for your gut.
5. Eat whole, nutrient-dense foods. Especially vegetables, many of which are high in fibre, and will encourage things to…. move along (so to speak!).
6. Avoid stress as much as possible. Get out and move your body. Go for a walk or a bike ride, take a hike in the woods. Take time every day to do something that you love that relaxes you. Meditate and clear your mind, or take a yoga class.
So, show your gut some love! It will love you right back.