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gut health

How to Improve Gut Health

 

And while this may not be 100% true for every disease in every person, more and more research shows that our gut (digestive system) has a bigger role in many diseases than we used to think. And we’re not just talking about heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, etc. We’re talking about all kinds of issues like allergies, pain, mood disorders, and nutrient deficiencies.

 

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 gut health naturally.

 

Our gut’s role in our overall health

 

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 guts can “leak.” Yes, like a long tube with holes in it, it can allow things to get into our bloodstream/bodies that can wreak havoc (bacteria, undigested food, and toxins). You name it, whatever you put into your mouth can be absorbed by your gut and get into your bloodstream, even if it’s not supposed to. And when your gut wall gets irritated, it can “leak.” When this happens, you get inflammation, which is a starting point for many diseases that don’t seem linked to the gut but have a sneaky connection there.

 

FUN FACT: About 70% of our immune system lives in and around our gut.

 

A healthy gut is not a leaky gut. It maintains its barrier and shuttles things through to be eliminated. 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. Gut microbes help us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease-causing microbes, make some vitamins for us, and have all kinds of other health benefits, like mental health benefits, reducing inflammation, and stabilizing blood sugar.

 

So, keeping your gut microbes happy is the second pillar of gut health!

 

How to improve gut health

 

There are a lot of natural ways to improve gut health. Let’s start with what to stop. It’s always best to eliminate the cause, so let’s stop giving our guts junk to deal with. How about eliminating added sugars, processed foods, and alcohol? Try that for a few weeks, and you may be amazed at how much better your body (and gut) feels.

 

You may also want to eliminate other gut irritants. Dairy and grains contain common compounds known to irritate some people’s guts. Sometimes you only need to eliminate them for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference for your health.

 

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, colourful fruits and veggies, liver, and fish.

 

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.

 

Whole foods are full of gut-friendly fiber. 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 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, 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.

 

Conclusion

 

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 of these naturally is by eating nutrient-dense whole foods. Foods filled with nutrition, probiotics, and fiber. And eliminating common gut irritants like added sugar, processed foods, and alcohol.

 

Recipe (Probiotic-rich): Fermented Carrots

 

Serves 12

 

1 L warm water
4 tsp salt
4 carrots, medium, peeled, sliced

1 clove garlic, smashed (optional)

 

Instructions

 

Make a brine by dissolving the salt in water.

 

Place carrots into a clean canning jar, packing them in tight. Make sure to leave about 1 inch of head space at the top.

Fill the jar with brine, making sure to cover the carrots completely. Weigh the carrots down to make sure they don’t float (you can use a “fermenting weight”).

 

Close the jar and let it sit at room temperature for 1-4 days. The longer it sits, the more the flavor will develop. Feel free to open and taste.

 

Serve & enjoy!

 

Tip: Use this as a side dish, or even a snack.

 

References:

 

https://authoritynutrition.com/does-all-disease-begin-in-the-gut/

 

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-nutrition-gut-health

 

http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-gut-bugs-what-they-eat-and-7-ways-feed-them

The Gut-Brain Connection: How To Feed Your Brain

If there was ever a call for “digestive health,” this is it!

Yes, it’s true. Your gut is considered your “second brain.” There is no denying it anymore.

And because of the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it’s no wonder what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.

 

I find it amazing (but not too surprising).

 

 

What exactly is the “gut-brain connection.”

 

Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning lots about it!

 

There seem to be multiple things working together.  Things like:

  • The vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain
  • The “enteric nervous system” (A.K.A. “second brain) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain
  • The massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut
  • The huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body and
  • The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.

This is complex. And amazing, if you ask me.

 

I’ll briefly touch on these areas, and end off with a delicious recipe (of course!)

 

Vagus nerve

 

There is a nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain.

 

And after reading this so far, you’ll probably get a sense of which direction 90% of the transmission is…

 

Not from your brain to your gut (which is what we used to think), but from your gut up to your brain!

 

The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters

 

Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?

 

I knew you would!

 

And that’s why it’s referred to as the “second brain.”

 

And, if you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty “smartly”…don’t you think?

 

And guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called “neurotransmitters.”

 

In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! e.g. a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain!

 

The immune system of the gut

 

Because eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defense system would be located there too, right? Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut!

 

And you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere, right?

 

Well, if they’re “activated” by something in the gut, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body. Including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.

 

Gut microbes

 

Your friendly neighborhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!

 

But more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.

 

How do these all work together for brain health?

 

The honest answer to how these things all work together is that we really don’t know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more.

 

But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!

 

So, how do you feed your brain?

 

Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone.

 

But two things that you many consider eating more of are fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed your awesome gut microbes. And omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.

 

 

Recipe (Gut food fibre, Brain food omega-3): Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats

Serves 2

Ingredients: 

1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

1 cup oats (gluten-free)

1 cup almond milk

1 tablespoon chia seeds

2 tablespoons hemp seeds

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 banana, sliced

¼ cup chopped walnuts

optional: bananas (add morning you plan to eat)

 

Directions: 

  1. Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.
  2. Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
  3. Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.

 

Serve & enjoy!

 

Tip: Your gut microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.

 

 

References:

 

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-probiotics

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/fix-gut-fix-health

http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-gut-bugs-what-they-eat-and-7-ways-feed-them