Have you ever felt “a pit” in your stomach? How about butterflies, cramping, or a “gut feeling” about something or someone?
There’s a reason we have so many words and phrases to describe our feelings that are tied to our gut. Trust your gut.
In the ancient teachings of Ayurveda, the belief is that our emotional state has a dramatic impact on our physical health, particularly our digestion and gut health.
What Is Gut-Health?
The Johns Hopkins Medical Center website, one of the most well-respected hospitals and Medical Schools in the United States, describes the gut as “your second brain.” Hidden within the walls of your digestive system 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.
Do All Diseases Begin in the Gut?
The answer is “NO”. Not all the diseases start in the gut. For an example, it doesn’t apply to the genetic or inherited diseases. But, there is evidence that lots of chronic metabolic diseases do. They begin in the gut. We can prevent these diseases by making some lifestyle changes to help improve our gut health.
Step 1: Know Your Second Brain and Why It Matters
This “little brain” is called the “enteric nervous system” or ENS and it comprises two thin layers of over 100 million nerve cells that line your Gastrointestinal Tract (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
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.
You Need More Good Bacteria
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: Increase Your Consumption of Gut-Friendly Probiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms that are intended to have health benefits. Products sold as probiotics include foods, dietary supplements, and products that aren’t used orally, such as skin creams.
The Federal Drug Administration (F.D.A.) here in the United States has not approved any probiotics for preventing or treating any health problem, mainly because the scientific research on the use of probiotics is still in its infancy.
As for supplements, you will find many different kinds under different brand names. 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 or thought very highly of in America.
These foods include:
- Unpasteurized Cheese – Gouda, Cheddar, Provolone, and Gruyere are some examples
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Yogurt – be sure and read the labels on the different yogurts
Getting more probiotics into your system is one of the best ways that you can improve your gut health.
Step 3: The Inflammation Link
It’s important to note that what you eat can create an inflammatory environment in your gut. I’ve written before about the link between the foods we eat, inflammation, stress, and weight gain.
In order to prevent this from happening, aim to reduce or eliminate the following from your diet:
- Conventionally raised, non-organic raised meats. These are high in omega-6 oils, which leads to chronic inflammation. (Instead, eat pastured or grass-fed meats)
- Refined flours
- Processed foods
- Refined sugars
- Seed oils like canola, sunflower, grapeseed, and even vegetable oils. These are also high in omega-6 oils your gut doesn’t want!
Step 4: Lower Your Stress for Better Gut Health
Stress shows up in our bodies physically. It can be short-term, such as the uneasy anticipation you feel while awaiting a test result from your doctor, or it can be chronic such as the lack of energy you feel when confronted with a difficult life event or a spike in work demands.
Long-term stress not only affects our gut bacteria, but it also affects the production of hormones and neurochemicals that communicate with our brain. 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.
Step 5: 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. There was even a study conducted (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19543102), where 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 6: Grow Your Own – With Good Soil!
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. Growing your own fruits and vegetables ensures you are avoiding harmful chemicals and pesticides, plus using fortified soil helps your plants grow up healthy.
Manufacturers 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. Antibacterial soaps and washes will soon vanish from store shelves as a result of this phenomenon.
Step 7: Get a Dog?
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.
Your gut plays an important part in maintaining overall good health. It’s been connected with our emotional well-being and gives us signs when we pay attention.
Actions to Take:
1. Know Your Second Brain
2. Get More Probiotics
3. Reduce/Eliminate Pro-Inflammatory Foods
4. Prioritize Stress Management
5. Laugh More!
6. Grow Your Own
7. Adopt a Puppy!