Gut health! Such a sexy topic. Said no one ever….
If you’re like most people the only time your gut health crosses your mind is when it’s acting up – you’ve got a stomach ache, your acid reflux is rearing its ugly head, you can’t seem to go the bathroom, or you just can’t stop going..
But, one of the most groundbreaking and exciting topics in the health world right now is actually gut health. The more scientists discover about the gut, the more they realize that the health of your gut is connected to just about every other aspect of health in your life.
It’s All About the Bacteria
Bacteria is bad, right? I mean for years, we’ve been washing our hands with antibacterial soaps, covering ourselves with Purell, taking antibiotics at the first sign of a cold and sanitizing everything in sight.
Wrong! Very wrong it turns out.
Science has proven that the human body contains trillions of microorganisms like bacteria, so many that they actually outnumber human cells by 10 to 1 (1). So you might say that the human body is only 10% human. These microorganisms are so small, however, that they only make up 1-3% of the human body’s mass. But that still works out to 2-6 pounds of bacteria for a 200-pound person. That’s a lot of bacteria!
The Role of Bacteria in Your Health
Science types call the bacteria that live in our digestive tracts— the gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome is just a fancy name for the mini-ecosystem that lives in our intestines that helps us break down the food we eat. Until recently, that’s all we thought the bacteria in our gut does.
Researchers are so impressed with the body’s microbiome that they consider studying it the cutting edge of health science.
Bacteria…..the final frontier.
Your gut and brain are in constant contact even if you don’t realize it. Think back to the last time you were really nervous or stressed and got an upset stomach or diarrhea. That’s the gut-brain connection.
Your brain and intestines are constantly sending messages back and forth through a pathway called the vagus nerve. That information superhighway is a two-way street with messages being sent both directions.
The mind can affect the gut and the gut can affect the mind. Check out this short video with some cool examples of what changes in the gut biome of mice have shown.
Science has shown that stress can influence your gut bacteria (which we already knew…nervous stomach anyone?), and in turn, the makeup of your gut bacteria can affect your brain chemical levels.
Your gut is even referred to as your second brain, and scientists are beginning to think of your gut microbiome as another organ, not just a collection of random bacteria.
Why Gut Health Now?
Which brings us to why you should care about your gut health…
Even though science has just scratched the surface on the importance of the gut microbiome, they do know that your gut health is directly related to so many aspects of your overall health:
- Disease prevention
- Neurological function
- Production of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA which directly affect your mood
- Development of certain illnesses like ADHD, OCD, and chronic fatigue syndrome
- Autoimmune disease
- Skin disorders
- Weight gain
In other words, your gut bacteria has a huge impact on the way you feel and how healthy you are.
Everyone is familiar with that bloated belly feeling, rumbling stomach, diarrhea, and constipation. Gut problems are uncomfortable and can be downright embarrassing.
But, there are so many other health symptoms that you might not even recognize as stemming from your gut health. If you have an out of whack gut, it can have a damaging impact on other parts of your body and on your overall health as well.
Gut issues can damage the lining of your intestinal barrier, which can cause some of that stuff you’re digesting and other bacteria to leak out of your digestive tract and into your body. This is known as a “leaky gut” (2). A leaky gut causes your immune system to overreact to fight off the leaks, sends your hormones into a tailspin, zaps your energy and leads to physical stress which can lead to mental stress as well.
With your immune system, brain and hormones out of a healthy sync, it’s not hard to imagine that your health could be affected in so many ways.
Your out of balance gut may be trying to tell you something if you are experiencing any of these common, everyday health problems:
- Flatulence and gas
- Weight gain
- Mucus in your stool
- Stomach ache
- Bad breath
- Sticky or mushy stools (aka sinkers)
- Floating stool
- Skin problems (such as acne)
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Eczema (especially on hands)
- Cracked feet and hands
- Frequent colds
- Autoimmune diseases
- Back pain
- Vertical crack in the middle of the tongue
- Sinus infection
- Vaginal yeast infection
- Fungal infection of the nail
15 Signs Your Gut is Out of Whack
So maybe you have some of the above leaky gut symptoms, but how do you know it’s your gut causing them?
If you regularly experience any of these signs, your gut is probably out of balance and needs to be reset.
- Constipation – If you’re not having a bowel movement at least once a day, your body can’t get rid of the wastes and toxins it’s accumulating. Drink more water daily – and that doesn’t include sodas, coffee or other caffeinated drinks. Drink half your body weight in ounces of water. So if you weigh 150 pounds, make sure you’re drinking 75 ounces a day. If you’re drinking enough water, try upping your fiber intake.
- After Meal Bloating and Gas – You should not be experiencing these after every meal. They can point to everything from poor digestion to yeast overgrowth.
- Loose Stools or Diarrhea – If you have to sprint to the bathroom, especially right after you eat, this can indicate a messed up gut.
- Yeast Infections – The standard American diet (SAD) is so full of sugar and processed foods, that you may have an overgrowth of yeast and an undergrowth of good bacteria.
- You’re sick way too much – Since most of your immune system lies in your gut, getting sick frequently probably means your gut health is compromised.
- Strong cravings – for refined carbohydrates like bread. If you’re craving these foods, you may have a yeast overgrowth that’s causing you to actually crave more of these foods.
- You have a massive sweet tooth – Yeast overgrowth and other gut issues can lead to sugar cravings, and those high sugar foods actually feed the yeast. This starts a bad circular problem that can lead to mental fog, mood swings, poor memory, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
- You can’t get rid of that extra weight – If you can’t lose weight no matter what you try, your gut bacteria may have messed up your hormones. Your gut bacteria can alter the way you store fat, change the way you register fullness after a meal and can mess up your blood glucose levels.
- You’re SO tired – If you are exhausted even after getting a full 8 hours of shut-eye, your gut health can be to blame.
- Acid reflux is killing you – If you’re taking medication all the time for acid indigestion, heartburn, burping, gas, and nausea, you have a stomach acid imbalance.
- Antibiotics – If you’ve taken a course or two of antibiotics for infections, you’ve probably upset your gut bacteria. Since most infections are viral, that antibiotic just killed your good gut bacteria and upset the balance in your digestive tract.
- You’re in pain from osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and other conditions – Experts are finding that gut inflammation contributes to these painful conditions.
- Anxiety or Depression – There’s a reason your gut is called your “second brain”. Most of your body’s serotonin is produced in the gut, so if your gut is unbalanced, you can feel anxious or depressed.
- Brain Fog – Yeast overgrowth and a leaky gut can leave you feeling fuzzy and forgetful.
- Hives – If you’re breaking out in hives regularly, your unbalanced gut may be resulting in food sensitivities that can show up as allergies, hives, acne, and other skin problems.
That’s a long list of symptoms that can point to a problem with your gut health. The more scientists research, the more they know that pretty much every problem to some degree results from an unhealthy gut.
If you suspect a more serious condition (like Crohn’s disease or an infection), professional testing by a healthcare provider (especially a gut health specialist or a functional medicine physician) can help you identify the problem and figure out the best plan of action.
Repairing Your Gut with Food
When you are in the process of healing your gut, think of food as medicine. The following are things to add to your diet that can help you heal your gut from the inside out.
- Bone Broth: Soups and broths made from the bones of beef, chicken, duck, fish, turkey, and lamb contain important gut-healing nutrients and are anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and can lower histamines. They are rich in proline and glycine which help regulate digestion, reduce inflammation, and heal the body (5).
- Galangal Broth: Galangal (a relative of ginger) broth is delicious and soothing to a stressed-out gut.
- Fermented Foods:
- Kombucha is a fermented tea rich in probiotics and good yeast. Kombucha can also help to increase levels of stomach acid. Kombucha is easy to find at grocery stores or you can make your own with only a few ingredients.
- Fermented vegetables like homemade sauerkraut, kimchi, cucumbers, beets, and kale.
- Kefir is similar to yogurt, but way more potent when it comes to probiotics. You can buy Kefir in specialty groceries or make your own from coconut, cows or goat milk.
- If none of these foods appeal to you, you can also supplement with probiotics.
- Coconut Oil and Grass-Fed Butter: These special fats help reduce overgrowth of yeast, fungus, and bacteria in the small intestine. Coconut oil is antiviral and contains acids that combat yeast. Grass-fed butter contains antimicrobial fatty acids which have strong anti-fungal effects. Coconut oil and grass-fed butter also help heal the lining of the gut.
- Soft-cooked vegetables: Vegetables are rich in the prebiotic fiber that your gut bacteria need to grow and work. Cooking and pureeing vegetables breaks them down, making them easier to digest by your healing gut.
- The Ketogenic diet has been shown to improve many imbalanced-gut, inflammatory problems (6).
- Limit certain foods like nuts, egg whites, alcohol, and foods from the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, bell peppers) while your gut is healing.
- Eat a moderate amount of carbohydrates to minimize sugar and yeast growth, but don’t eliminate entirely.
- Keep stomach acid at a healthy level: Drink 1-2 tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar 20 minutes before meals. Chew your meals thoroughly. Add a cup of ginger tea to your meals.
- Eat plenty of fish or take a good quality fish oil supplement to keep your Omega-3 intake high.
Lifestyle Changes for Gut Heath
You may be eating perfectly for gut health and doing all the right things with food, but if you don’t look at your lifestyle and take responsibility for lifestyle issues, you will never fully heal your gut.
- Get good quality sleep: Sleep so your body can heal. Sleep is essential for regulating many hormones that can contribute to gut health.
- Manage stress: Whatever you do to lower your stress level, do more of it. Yoga, exercise, walking your dog, deep breathing, meditation, etc. Asking for help and offloading some of your responsibilities can help you heal your gut faster by lowering your stress levels. Start practicing self-care.
- Take care of your skin and oral health: Get rid of harsh mouthwashes, toothpaste, and toxic products you use in your mouth or on your skin. Your microbiome is made up of not only gut bacteria but also beneficial bacteria on your skin and in your mouth. Many conventional, toxic products that we use on our skin and teeth disrupt this microbiome, which can cause skin and dental issues
- Intermittent fasting: Intermittent fasting has been proven to help many gut issues and can improve overall gut health.
Do I Need a Probiotic?
Your first line of defense for healing your gut should be food. You can’t outrun a bad diet. But a little probiotic insurance never hurt anyone.
Probiotics help you balance your gut bacteria. They have been proven to have many health benefits and can be a partner in your quest to heal your gut (7).
When choosing a conventional probiotic, look for one that contains Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains (8).
Regaining Your Gut Health
Science has shown that so many of the health maladies we face today have their origin in our unhealthy gut microbiome.
- Feeling tired and low energy for no reason? …could be your gut health.
- Feeling depressed? …check out your gut health.
- Sick all the time? …maybe it’s time to take care of your gut.
- Just can’t lose that extra weight?….your gut health may be to blame.
- I could go on, but you probably get the picture.
Healing your gut can really change your life.
There is good news.
Studies have shown that the gut is amazingly resilient. If you’re healing minor issues, positive improvements can be seen in just a few short weeks (3).
People with food sensitivities, other inflammatory, and autoimmunity problems may start to recover in as little as 6 months (4).
So take a look at your diet, your lifestyle, implement a daily gut health routine and make some changes.
Your gut health really is the foundation of your overall health and wellness.
When you take care of your gut, you hold the key to a longer, healthier, happier, more energetic life. And who doesn’t want that?