Our digestive system plays a key role in our overall health. In a nutshell – if your gut is unhealthy and imbalanced, your whole body will pay the price. Here are 10 ways to heal your gut.
Poop. Gas. Diarrhea. Constipation.
Digestion (and the many digestive issues that people face) is everyone’s favorite topic of conversation, right?
Ok, probably not.
But considering that 74% of Americans are suffering from digestive issues, it’s something that we should be talking about.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said that “all disease begins in the gut.” Although Hippocrates spoke these words over 2000 years ago, they stand as true today as they were when he spoke them.
The crux of the matter is, unhealthy gut = unhealthy body.
What Exactly is Digestion?
It’s important to have a basic grasp of what digestion actually is, to help better understand why it’s so important to maintain good gut health.
The food we eat contains a whole host of vitamins and nutrients (at least it should, and it does if we’re eating a wholesome diet) that are essential for cell repair, energy and nourishment.
But in order for those vitamins and nutrients to get absorbed into our bloodstream and make their way to our cells, they need to be changed into smaller molecules.
Digestion is the process in which this occurs – food is turned into nutrients that our body can use in order to keep us healthy.
So if our digestive system is slacking, it’s not only annoying (hello – diarrhea, bloating, gas, constipation) it also means that we’re not as readily able to absorb the nutrients contained in our food.
What Are Some of the Symptoms of an Unhealthy Gut?
The signs and symptoms of an unhealthy gut can vary from person to person, but they include:
- Gas and bloating
- Diarrhea, loose stools, or constipation
- Skin disorders
- Acid reflux
- Frequent infections
- Mood swings
- Food allergies or sensitivities
- Mental fatigue
- Brain fog
If you suspect that you have an unhealthy gut, it’s important that you speak to your healthcare professional. Because your gut plays such an integral role in your overall health, when it’s not working properly, serious health issues can occur.
10 Ways To Heal Your Gut
Whether you know you’re suffering from gut health issues, or you just want to ensure that you maintain a healthy gut, there are plenty of things you can do at home to help your gut.
Replenish the Good Bacteria
About 100 trillion bacteria line our gut, all working together to help protect our body from harmful organisms.
But, there are good bacteria and there are bad bacteria. And it’s imperative that we don’t allow the bad bacteria to outnumber the good.
There are a number of culprits that kill off good bacteria, with one of the most well-known being antibiotics.
Antibiotics are one of the most important innovations of modern medicine and have the power to save lives by killing bad bacteria. However, while antibiotics work to kill bacteria, they also kill off good bacteria.
To help replenish the good bacteria in your gut, you can take a high-quality probiotic supplement like this Prebiotics and Probiotic with Whole Food Enzymes which supports good bacteria and works to crowd out bad bacteria.
Fermented foods are also important in helping to populate the gut with healthy bacteria. Greek yoghurt, tempeh, miso, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi are good examples. (If you’re unable to find kefir or kimchi at your grocery store, try looking in the organic or ethnic refrigerated food section, or try your local health food grocery store.)
Feed the Healthy Bacteria
You can help to multiply all of the healthy bacteria that probiotics introduce into the gut by feeding that good bacterium with prebiotics.
Think of prebiotics as the wholesome diet of probiotics, a diet that will help them thrive and multiply.
Prebiotics supplements can be taken to help nourish healthy bacteria.
Prebiotics can also be found in a variety of whole foods, including garlic, onions, whole grains, artichokes, bananas, and asparagus.
Sugar is one of the worst culprits for destroying gut health. We all know that sugar is addictive (in fact, recent research has suggested that sugar addiction is comparable to cocaine addiction.)
But it isn’t just our tastebuds that can’t get enough – the bad bacteria in our gut love sugar, too. Sugar provides the perfect breeding ground for increasing bad bacteria in the gut and slowing the growth of good bacteria.
Quit eating sugar and you’ll stop promoting the growth of bad bacteria in your gut.
Avoiding sugar is one of the 10 Weight Loss Don’ts List.
Cut Back on Alcohol
Most people are aware of the devastating effect that excessive alcohol consumption can have on the liver. Drinking alcohol is excess is one of the leading causes of cirrhosis, a liver disease which can result in weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite and jaundice and can lead to more serious complications including liver cancer.
However, research has shown that excessive alcohol consumption also effects the gut bacteria and impairs the cells of the intestinal tract, which can lead to leaky gut.
To improve your gut health, limit yourself to no more than one standard drink per day (preferably an organic, high-quality red wine.)
Eat Whole Foods
A healthy diet full of real, whole foods plays an integral role in maintaining our overall health, including the health of our gut.
Conversely, a diet filled with highly processed junk can have a devastating effect on our health and wellbeing.
Processed foods are usually full of ingredients like trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup and various chemicals, artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners.
Unhealthy bacteria, like yeast, love to feed on high fructose corn syrup and other sugars. This causes an overgrowth of bad bacteria which crowd out the healthy bacteria.
Fill your diet with:
- Foods that are rich in fiber which helps to maintain bowel health and feed the healthy bacteria in our gut (along with many other health benefits.) Lentils, black beans, broccoli, split peas, brussels sprouts, bran, avocados, oatmeal and flax are all good sources of dietary fiber
- Healthy fats like avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil and organic, grass-fed butter
- Fruits and vegetables
Avoid Inflammatory Foods
Despite what you might have heard about inflammation, inflammation isn’t all bad. In fact, inflammation is an essential to our health and wellbeing.
Inflammation is your bodies natural defense mechanism; a way to protect itself from harm.
The confusion over inflammation comes from the fact that there are two types of inflammation – acute and chronic.
You can think of acute inflammation as “good inflammation.” Acute inflammation is short-term, and it serves a specific purpose.
When you get a splinter in your finger that turns red and swollen, or get hit in the shin by a softball, or get sunburned after falling asleep at the beach – those are all examples of acute inflammation.
This type of inflammation and the swelling, pain, redness, itchiness, etc., associated with it, isn’t bad. It’s your body attempting to heal itself.
Inflammation becomes a problem when it’s chronic. Chronic inflammation is long-term inflammation, and it’s not good.
Think of chronic inflammation like this:
The white blood cells which work to heal the body during acute inflammation, are hanging around with nothing to do.
Eventually, these white blood cell get bored, so they start attacking other cells in the body.
There are a number of foods that can cause chronic inflammation of the gut and should be avoided. They include:
- Refined sugar, including high-fructose corn syrup and white sugar. Use natural sweeteners like honey, pure maple syrup, molasses, stevia, and fruit instead.
- Refined grains, like white flour. Choose whole oats, brown rice, quinoa (technically a seed, but used like a grain,) buckwheat, and whole grain barley instead.
- Vegetable oils, including canola oil and corn oil. Use coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil instead.
- Artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose. Choose natural sweeteners (listed above) instead.
The human body consists of approximately 60% water, so it stands to reason that ensuring you’re properly hydrated is an essential component of maintaining optimal health.
Water also plays an integral role in gut health. Water helps to break down the food we eat, move bacteria and waste through our digestive system and helps to decreases the risk of constipation.
How much water should you drink?
The amount of water an individual should drink each day varies based on a number of factors including age, body weight, health status, activity level, etc.
And while there are varying recommendations on how much water you should drink per day, there is no hard and fast rule. The Institute of Medicine recommends that the average adult male should drink approximately 3 liters (or 13 cups) of water a day and the average adult female should drink approximately 2.2 liters (or 9 cups) per day.
When it comes to adequate water intake, it’s important that you pay attention to your body.
If you’re feeling thirsty, drink some water. Likewise, if your urine is dark yellow and has a strong smell to it, you probably need to up your water intake.
To ensure you drink enough water, take a refillable water bottle with you. One of the best, and safest options for reusable water bottles is the Klean Kanteen, which you can find here.
The Klean Kanteen is a safe, non-toxic alternative to plastic water bottles. It’s made of food-grade stainless steel, contains no BPA, and it’s light-weight, making it easy to tote around during the day.
And if you don’t like flavor of water, try flavoring it with lemon, lime, mint, cucumber, or fresh berries.
The overall health benefits associated with regular exercise are well-documented, including lowering blood pressure, strengthening the bones and muscles, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, improving mental health, and helping to maintain a healthy weight.
Regular exercise is also believed to increase gut health.
Scientists have recently discovered that regular exercise improves the balance of gut bacteria and although exercise increases short-term inflammation, it actually acts as a longer-term anti-inflammatory.
The weight-loss benefits of exercise can also help with digestion. Carrying extra weight around the mid-section can put excess pressure on the stomach which can impede digestion and cause heartburn.
As a general rule, try to get in at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day. Try to strike a good balance between cardio and strength training.
If your goal is to lose excess weight or build larger amounts of muscle, then you will probably need to up your exercise levels. For more options you can check how to lose weight and get fit without going to the gym, the best at-home workout programs for women, and how to create a home gym on a Budget.
Get Enough Sleep
Despite the fact that a healthy adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep, a lot of people don’t make sleep a priority. This is evidenced by the fact that one-third of US adults report not getting enough sleep.
Getting a good night’s sleep is important for gut health, with hormones that affect digestion influenced by the amount of sleep (and the quality of sleep) we get each night. A lack of quality sleep can wreak havoc on gut flora.
Have you ever felt a tight feeling in your stomach when you’re under intense stress or felt “butterflies” in your stomach?
That’s because your stress levels have a direct impact on your gut.
Chronic stress can have disastrous affects on your gut health health, including impeding digestion and weakening your immune system.
Conversely, your gut health affects your mental health – it’s all intertwined, and part of the reason why people talk about a “gut feeling” or “gut intuition.”
Regular exercise is known to reduce stress levels. Yoga, meditation, spending time outdoors, reading, going to the beach, listening to music, getting a massage and drinking tea are also great stress-reducers.
Summing it up
There are many factors that go into gut health. But the good news is, there’s a lot we can do to improve the health of our gut.
A diet rich in whole foods, avoiding processed foods that are devoid of nutrients and filled with artificial ingredients, regular exercise and a good night’s sleep can all work wonders in improving our gut health.