Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”
And while this may not be 100% true for every disease in every person, more and more research shows that our gut (digestive system) plays a bigger role in many diseases than we used to think. It isn’t only heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, or the obvious conditions that are linked to bad digestion, but also all kinds of other issues like allergies, pain, mood disorders, nutrient deficiencies, and brain issues; conditions that may occur far from our mid-section.
There are a lot of reasons for this. Our gut is the portal to the outside world. It's here where we take in disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. We also take in nutrients (and toxins) through our gut. The nutrients we ingest and absorb are the building blocks of every single part of our body. We're just learning the connections between our gut and other areas of our body, like our brain (have you heard of "the gut-brain axis"). Not just our gut per se; but, its friendly resident microbes too. These guys also have newly discovered roles in our gut health and overall health. So, let's talk about the roles that our gut and our gut microbes play in our overall health. Then I'll give you tips to improve your digestive health naturally.
Our gut’s main role is as a barrier. To let things in that should get in, and to keep things out that should stay out. Think of “absorption” of nutrients as things we want to let in; and “elimination” of waste as things we want to pass right through and out. This seemingly simple role is super complex, and it can break down in so many places. For one thing, our digestive system can "leak" like a long tube with holes in it, letting foreign things like undigested food, bacteria and toxins get into our bloodstream which can wreak havoc in our body . What you put into your mouth can be absorbed by your gut and get into your bloodstream, even if it's not supposed to. When this happens, you get inflammation, which is a starting point for many diseases (many auto-immune in nature) that don't seem linked to the gut but have a sneaky connection there.
FUN FACT: More than 70% of our immune system lives in and around our gut.
A healthy gut is not a leaky gut; a healthy gut maintains its barrier intact and shuttles things through to be eliminated without letting anything leak into our systems. Therefore, maintaining a healthy gut barrier is the first pillar of gut health. The second main part of your gut are the billions of friendly health-promoting microbes; our magical microbiome. Gut microbes help us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease-causing microbes, make some vitamins for us, like B12, and have all kinds of other health benefits, like good mental health, reducing inflammation, and stabilizing blood sugar. Keeping your gut microbes happy is the second pillar of gut health, and such an important one! I'm going to share some tips for those serious about wanting to improve gut health.
There are a lot of natural ways to improve digestive health. Let’s start with what to avoid. It’s always best to eliminate the cause, which means the junk. How about eliminating added sugars and processed foods? Try that for a few days and you may be amazed at how much better your body (and gut) feels. Your will notice an increase in energy and mental focus in just a few days. You can check out my Kick Sugar for Good 5-Day Challenge if you need help getting started, it’s loaded with gut-friendly recipes and tips.
You will want to eliminate other digestive offenders like dairy and grains, which contain common compounds known to irritate the stomach lining. There are so many alternatives to dairy nowadays like, almond/coconut/cashew milk for example. By removing this highly inflammatory food, you will notice de-bloating and other positive results in as little as a few days. Now for grains; the gluten found in most processed grains is usually at the root of every digestive issue known to us. Choose gluten-free options like quinoa (a seed really) and you will notice the inflammation in your tummy go down, along with other pesky digestive symptoms.
By eating nutrient-dense foods, we allow ample macro- and micro-nutrients into our gut to maximize the chance for absorption. These nutrients help our bodies build and repair our gut, and every other body part as well. Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, colorful fruits and veggies, liver (don’t gag), and wild-caught fish. That is because these foods are so rich in vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and amino acids which are the building blocks of good gut and overall health. If you’d like to get a jump-start on getting your gut health back, and you’d rather drink your greens, check out the 48-hr Green Smoothie Cleanse that I’ve created. It can help you start easing issues like bloating, ditch processed sugar cravings, and even improve your energy and mental focus, and it's my gift to you because I want to make your gut bacteria happy!
The second pillar of gut health is our microbes. By ingesting probiotic-rich foods and drinks, we can help to replenish our gut microbes. These are found in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Make these a part of your daily diet and you will certainly be making those microbes very happy. Add a few forkfuls of sauerkraut to you salads, or drink kefir in the morning, all small steps to making sure you're getting your probiotics!
Whole foods are full of gut-friendly fiber and it's the other thing our good bacteria love. Not eating enough fiber increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Fiber plays lots of roles in our gut, including whisking away some of those pesky bad bacteria and toxins so they can be eliminated. Fiber also helps to feed our friendly resident microbes (gotta keep them happy, remember?) that help us absorb and digest our food better. What foods have a lot of fiber? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even cacao.
And don’t forget the uber-important lifestyle factors like getting enough sleep (wrote about that here), stressing less, and getting the right amount (and intensity) of exercise for you. It’s easy to forget some of the simple, but key links there are between what we do with our bodies and how well they function.
What I want you to remember is that the function of your gut is key to your overall health. There are two pillars of gut health: maintaining a good barrier and maintaining healthy gut microbes. The main ways to improve both naturally is by eating nutrient-dense whole foods. Foods filled with nutrition, probiotics, and fiber. We need to start eliminating common gut irritants like added sugar, processed grains and dairy. Below, you will find a delicious way to eat more vegetables which are also full of probiotics...
'til next time friends,