Is Your Gut Responsible for Your Health Challenges
Six Suggestions to Improve Digestion
The human body is amazing with the gut being one of the most fascinating areas. Most of us view the gut simply as the place where we digest food and get our energy - but the gut is so much more! Essentially it is its own ecosystem where inputs are constantly arriving (food, drinks, nutrients, toxins), processes and interactions occur (digestion, nutrient extraction, heavy metal and toxin removal, etc.) and outputs are expelled (toxins, urine, feces).
Inside your gut there is a never ending battle being waged, with the victors claiming your health as their prize. The battle is between the probiotics (good guys) and the pathogens (bad guys). Probiotics are healthy bacteria that naturally live and work in your digestive system to keep it running properly. They also fight off pathogens, the substances (viruses, bacteria and other germs) that cause diseases, infections and illness. Not all probiotics are created equal. Certain probiotic species (such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum and Bacillus coagulans) are linked to specific health benefits, whereas many other species have little or no sciences behind them.
A strong army is one that is supported with the means to enhance their abilities. Probiotics don’t work well alone, they need help. Prebiotics are specific types of dietary fibers that are “food” for probiotics, but be aware that not all fibers are prebiotics. Prebiotics are needed to help probiotics grow and flourish, fortifying your digestive army. Without adequate prebiotic nourishment, taking a probiotic supplement may be a waste of your time and money.
When the gut is compromised or unhealthy, we first see it as one or more digestive issues, but often don’t make the connection to other health problems. Your gut is home to the vast majority (over 70%) of your immune system. Yes, the intricate system within your body that protects and keeps you healthy. When your gut is compromised so is your immunity. If the condition persists then you have the seed for chronic inflammation and disease. Our modern lifestyle doesn’t help. Over 40% of us complain of repeated digestive issues (bloating, constipation, gas, indigestion, IBS, Crohn’s, Colitis, etc.). Keeping your gut healthy is a key to good digestive health, healthy immunity and disease prevention. Now some people (the hard core ones) believe that the way to combat this is to do a clean sweep on a regular basis and do hard core cleansing on a fixed interval (ie one week every 3 months). I applaud their dedication, but that is just too impractical and too drastic for most people.
Here are six things you can do to improve your digestion
Clean up your diet. Give your gut a break by removing all the stuff you know is bad for you but you have been eating anyways. Nix fast food, prepared foods, junk food and convenience foods. Eliminate refined white carbohydrates (rice, flour, pasta, etc.) in favour of whole grains. Lean towards whole foods (i.e. fresh unprocessed apples instead of applesauce or apple juice) to obtain the maximum amount of nutrition. Go for a wide variety of fresh foods and their corresponding wide variety of nutrients. Where possible go organic to be certain you have products as clean as possible.
Give your gut what it wants. Each and every day take a high-quality prebiotic + probiotic supplement. Don’t get caught in the numbers game (higher number of bacteria species or cells). Effective good quality supplements need only to have prebiotics and clinically proven probiotic species in clinically proven amounts. Anything more and you are possibly wasting your money. Again, try to go organic.
Fermentation is your friend. Adding fermented foods and supplements to the diet is one way to help improve the digestive function. Fermentation makes foods denser in nutrition and easier to digest because they have been broken down during the fermentation process. Additionally the process of fermentation feeds probiotics so most fermented foods are high in probiotics, further enhancing gut health.
- Switch to whole grain sourdough bread
- Use active yogurt every day
- Eat Kimchi and sauerkraut each time you have meat
- Serve pickled vegetables as side dishes
- Drink kombucha & Kefir
- Use a fermented protein supplement
Drink. Water is vital for many bodily functions. Your gut relies on it to help keep things moving. Your feces for example is 75% water. If you don’t drink enough your body can have issues eliminating, resulting in digestive disease. Aim for at least 3L (women) and 4L (men) spread throughout the day.
Sleep. Most of us are sleep deprived. We are just too busy and sleep deprived to know it! Adequate sleep is vital to allow your body (and its systems) time to relax and reset in order to better function the next day. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation contributes to many gastrointestinal diseases and conversely, gastrointestinal diseases often lead to sleep deprivation. Many people can function properly with 6 hours sleep each night, but on average adults need between 7 ½ and 8 hours each night to function well.
Move. Believe it or not, exercise actually encourages the growth of probiotics in your gut. We all know exercise is good for us but studies now show frequent exercise also influences weight and overall health by altering the kinds of organisms that live inside our gut. Researchers have discovered that people who exercise regularly have a greater number and better diversity of probiotics in their gut and a low level of inflammation (despite rigorous exercise). Conversely, the studies also show that people who were sedentary had much lower levels and variety of probiotics and high levels of inflammation. Talk to your health practitioner and ask if you can try exercising at minimum ½ hour per day. Ideally you should try to slowly increase that amount and get healthier.
Your body is amazingly proficient, even in adversity. It is often said 'A good offense is your best defense'. So be on the offensive and feed your health by taking care of your gut.