Here’s Why You Should Take Your Gut Health Seriously + How To.
Updated: Mar 28, 2020
The expression “follow your gut feeling” means to follow your intuition. But yet, many people have no idea how to.
No, this expression is not some random nonsense. There is real evidence behind how the gut and the mind are interconnected. And this connection has been dismissed for so long by science and medicine. That’s why when you have gut issues as well as feeling low in energy, your first thought might be checking in with two different doctors - one for each symptom, right?
Well, this negligence towards the gut-brain axis has been around for decades. The digestive system was viewed as simply another part of the machinery of the entire human body, it was viewed as independent of the brain.
Studies show that the brain-gut connection can influence our emotions, pain sensitivity, and social interactions. The brain-gut connection is not purely psychological. It’s a system that is hardwired in a way that facilitates the communication between the brain and the GI tract, through the bloodstream.
It goes without saying, we should take better care of our gut health. So, let’s have a closer look at why?
The gut is the warehouse of the immune system
The immune system keeps us healthy, fights against parasites, harmful bacterias and viruses. And it’s essential for our survival.
Up to 80 percent of the immune system tissue is stored in the digestive tract. Hence, the microbiota and the immune system work together to maintain and establish the balance and health in the gut.
When the GI tract is out of whack, serious health issues and certain diseases may develop. And that does not mean only disorders directly connected with the digestive tract, such as IBS, constipation, lactose intolerance and etc. You might even have a regular bowel movement and not any evident issue. But you might feel the ripple effect of an unbalanced gut through other disorders.
In a nutshell, the immune system is incredibly complex and utterly vital for our survival.
Gut microbiota has been linked to depression
Serotonin is a chemical and neurotransmitter which transmits messages between nerve cells. It helps regulate appetite, sleeping-cycles, digestion, heals wounds, regulates anxiety and so on. 95% of the body’s serotonin is in the gut.
The main drugs used in the treatment of depression are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Prozac and Paxil. Giving patients pills to treat depression, without looking at the health of their digestive system, results in them not treating depression at all levels.
The serotonin-containing cells are influenced by what we eat, by the chemicals released by microbes and by signals sent by the brain. These cells are also connected to the brain’s emotional centers.
With that said, there is a strong possibility that, if confirmed by further studies, could improve by far the effectiveness of depression treatment, which includes dietary changes.
Management of stress
You can eat all the green veggies, intermittent fasting and detox regularly, take your probiotics and supplements - none will have a sustainable effect if you’re under tremendous stress on a daily basis, you’re working against your own health.
That’s because high levels of cortisol (hormones that trigger the fight or flight mode and regulates stress) are harmful to your health. This can affect the GI by increasing the acidity in the stomach, indigestion, nausea and in more serious cases lead to more serious disorders like Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), peptic ulcers and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
Affects body weight
The gut houses trillions of bacterias and most of them have a positive effect and contribute to keeping the gut balanced. However, when the bacteria colony is out of balance, it can lead to dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis happens for a few reasons and some of them are dietary change, ingestion of too much alcohol, medication such as antibiotics, high levels of stress, etc.
Dysbiosis can also contribute to gaining weight. But how does that happen?
A study conducted with two groups, one obese and one non-obese found that the bacteria in the gut of the obese group were of lower diversity.
That’s because different gut bacterias are able to digest different kinds of food. For example, we are not able to digest fiber, so the bacteria do this job. And while doing it, it produces a number of chemicals which are beneficial for the gut health and might help in weight loss.
Besides that, it was found that bacteria also influence how dietary fat is absorbed and stored in our body.
Source of inflammation
A gut with inflammation occurs when there are toxins ingested into the system. For example, the leaky-gut syndrome occurs when particles coming from parts of the food which the body won’t use, “leak” from the gut into the bloodstream.
These toxins can trigger some issues along the body like skin problems, mood changes, fatigue, and others.
Excess of sugar, processed food, stress, dairy products, for instance, can lead to a leaky gut.
Now that you know the implications of not taking good care of your gut, here is how to heal it and maintain its health:
Cut down on animal fat in your diet
High intake of animal fat enhances the risk of developing cancer of the breast, colon, and prostate. Some studies have shown that a high-fat diet affects communication between the gut and the brain as well as the proper function of the nervous system.
This happens because we haven’t evolved yet to deal with tons of sugar, large amounts of animal protein and fat we intake in a traditional Western diet. The first step is to become aware of the unhealthy consequences of sticking with such eating habits.
Diversify the gut microbiota
It sounds cliché but taking the old advice from most doctors and nutritionists about including a variety of vegetables, green leaves, legumes, fruits, grains, and nuts in your daily diet still makes sense!
Including a wide variety of food that contains prebiotics, such as chicories, chickpeas, apple, banana, oats, cocoa, flaxseed, yacon root, jicama root, seaweed, etc.
Avoid processed foods
Give preference to the seasonal, local and organic food. Go to the local market and ask for the veggies and fruits of the season. They will be tastier and might contain way fewer preservatives than the off-season fruit which had to travel all the way from South America to your plate.
Buy things that look like real food. The more packaged, with a huge ingredient list, containing hidden sugar, corn syrup, fat, artificial sweetener are the ones you should stay away from. Go for the rainbow and natural food!
Fasting is a practice that has been used by many cultures for hundreds of centuries. It has the main benefit of cleaning your gut, by getting rid of toxic substances.
Having no fat in the gut for a couple of days gives space to the body to regain some sensitivity to appetite-reducing hormones, such as leptin, and it returns its sensitivity to normal levels.
Eat fermented food and probiotics
Probiotics are live organisms with potential health benefits, especially for the digestive system. You can find them in all fermented food, such as kimchi, yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir milk/water, just to name a few.
If you don’t have access to any of these foods, you can supplement it. Moreover, take a closer look at the dosage. Probiotics may start to be effective at dosage 1-2 billion CFU (Colony-forming unit) per day. However, extremely high dosages can be harmful, so start with 1-2 billion CFU and then you can increase with time.
Even though it sounds difficult, but this one is quite intuitive. Eat until you feel 70-80% full. Eating mindfully and focusing on chewing properly and at your own pace will help you to get the signs coming from your stomach saying “that’s enough food!”
Avoid eating when you’re stressed or anxious
Many of us use food as a coping mechanism to anxiety, stress, sadness or anger. It can be tentative to finish a whole ice cream tub when you’re angry when something bad just happened. Emotional eating can cause an imbalance in your digestive system. It might make your gut leakier, it creates an imbalance in the immune system, releases stress hormones like norepinephrine and serotonin, it might reduce some important bacteria from the microbiota, just to name a few.
Seeking for comfort food in the midst of the turmoil of emotions can be a short-term compensation but a long-term issue for your health. So, before sitting at the dining table, scan your body and check-in with yourself if you’re eating because you’re hungry or just stressed.