Gut health has a direct impact on digestion, immune function, cognition and overall health.
First off, what exactly is the gut? A brief physiological overview:
mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon & rectum
Functional Gastrointestinal Endocrine Glands
salivary, pancreas, liver, gallbladder & GALT (Gut Associated Lymphatic Tissue)
Your gut is made up of trillions of microorganisms (aka the microbiome – a community of bacteria, viruses & fungi) which regulate our immune system, digest food, create vitamins and neurotransmitters, support brain function, fight off pathogens, and help maintain a healthy metabolism & weight. Basically they are the OG’s of our overall health. It is estimated that humans have 10 trillion cells and 100 trillion microbes, meaning bacteria outnumber human cells 10 to 1 (Lipski, 2012). Some of the microbes in our gut are beneficial and some are not. Balance is KEY.
This topic is near and dear to my heart (and gut). I struggled with gut issues for 15 years with symptoms including bloating, severe nutritional deficiencies, brain fog, joint pain, anxiety, insomnia, hair loss & eczema. I know first hand how a dysbiotic (imbalanced) gut can negatively affect every aspect of your life. I healed my gut and now manage my autoimmune gastritis by using diet and lifestyle practices.
Our modern, fast paced lifestyle is difficult on our gut. Processed food, lack of sleep, stress, environmental toxins, reduced time outside and medications can all disrupt the microbiome (Enders, 2018). Here are seven simple tips outlining how to balance your gut & support overall health.
Eat a Nutrient Dense, Whole Foods Diet
Food is information for your body so focus on eating a variety of macro, micro and phytonutrients. I encourage everyone to eat the rainbow! Phytochemicals found in plants are powerful anti-inflammatories that support a healthy gut. Stay away from processed foods, refined sugar, hydrogenated oils, stimulants & alcohol.
Examples include: clean protein, healthy fats, whole grains, nuts & seeds, fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, beverages (filtered water, herbal tea, green tea, fresh vegetable juice, broths, lemon water).
Chew Your Food
Today’s culture is rushed with most people eating on the go, in the car or at their desk while working. Chewing food is an important step in optimal digestion. There are digestive enzymes (amalyse) that are released in your saliva which help break down food. I love to recommend a mindful eating practice which focuses on chewing slowly, eating without distraction (no phone, TV, etc.) and focusing on the 5 senses.
Feed Your Biome
Probiotics: Probiotics are healthy bacteria that feed your microbiome. Load up on fermented foods which are packed with probiotics.
Probiotic rich foods: Sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, tofu, miso, tempeh, kefir, apple cider vinegar
Prebiotics: Prebiotics are nondigestable carbohydrates that feed the probiotics (mostly with fiber). These little guys can also balance blood sugar.
Prebiotic rich foods: Whole grains, asparagus, alliums (onion, garlic, leeks), artichokes, legumes, dandelion greens
Probiotic and prebiotic supplementation is also an option but I like to take a food first approach.
Miso Soup Supports Gut Health
Support Restful Sleep
Quality sleep is a key component physical and mental health. Research has tied healthy sleep physiology to a diverse gut microbiome. Sleep is a time for your brain & body to repair and restore.
A few tips for a restful nights sleep include practicing good sleep hygiene, get sunlight first thing in the morning to support your circadian rhythm and supportive herbs such as chamomile, holy basil and lemon balm. Personally, I do not look at my phone 30 minutes before bed or 30 minutes after I have woken up which has been a game changer for my sleep patterns.
Studies have shown that regular exercise can have a profound impact on gut health. Examples include a gym session, hiking, yoga, pilates, boxing, walking, swimming, group sports or stretching.
Studies have shown that stress can disrupt the microbiome. Stress hormones have a negative effect on gut health when chronically released. While we cannot change outside stressors, we can work on moderating our response!
Ways to manage stress include a meditation practice, digital detox, breathwork, spending time outdoors, connecting with friends & family, creating, laughter, dancing, whatever works best for YOU.
Go Play in the Dirt
This one is my favorite! Soil has its own diverse microbiome which can support your microbiome - healthy diversity is key. Go put your feet in the sand, your hands in the soil, lay in the grass, hug a tree. Seriously.
Lipski, Elizabeth. (2012) Digestive Wellness. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Enders, Giulia. (2018). Gut: The Inside Story of our Body’s Most Underrated Organ. Berkeley, CA: Greystone Books.