Integrative Medicine Nutritionist
Gut health seems to be in the spotlight more than ever nowadays and it is for a good reason! We’ve all heard the familiar expression, “It is all in your head,” but what if I told you that 90% of our serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for transmitting signals throughout the body controlling appetite, sleep, regulating mood, and GI motility is primarily located in your gut? Our gut is often referred to as the second brain for this very reason and is directly interconnected to our digestion, mood, both our mental and physical state, and even plays a vital role in certain diseases.
The gut is responsible for such a vast amount of bodily processes. Our bodies host both good and bad bacteria that make up an internal community called the microbiome. Since about 80% of our immune system lies within the gut, it is essential to keep the gut’s beneficial bacteria at a favorable level due to its critical role in the immune system. Supplying our bodies with the necessary foods and bacteria for optimal gut function will keep our immune system strong, help our ability to fight off toxins, aid in digestion, and increase absorption of vitamins and minerals.
A few factors that can weaken our gut overtime and therefore impact our immune system are from antibiotics. However, the majority of antibiotic consumption today isn’t through pharmaceuticals. Antibiotics are now being routinely fed to livestock, poultry, and fish on industrial farms to promote faster growth and to compensate for the unsanitary conditions. According to the FDA, 80% of all antibiotics used in the United States are fed to farm animals! If you’re consuming conventional meat, fish and dairy, you are also consuming antibiotics as well. Although antibiotics serve a purpose when they are truly needed, our immune system takes a hit while exposed to antibiotics because not only will they eliminate the harmful bacteria, but they also wipe out the good bacteria. Studies indicate that the microbiome shows less capacity to absorb iron, digest certain foods and produce essential molecules. This can raise the risk for infections, allergies, resistance to antibiotics, and diseases.
An imbalance in bacteria also causes an increased inflammatory response in the body which leads to various food particles entering the bloodstream and causing food sensitivities and intolerances along the gastrointestinal tract. Several chronic diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), irritable bowel disease (IBD), rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimotos, and hypothyroidism have all been linked to an under-flourished and imbalanced gut.
There is no doubt that everything from the bacteria we are exposed to, the foods we eat, the amount of sleep we get, and even the amount of stress in our lives all impact our gut health. Here are a few simple suggestions you can add into your life to help maintain a happy and healthy gut:
- Include probiotic-rich foods into your daily diet which contain “live” or “active” cultures. These foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, miso, yogurts, kombucha and other fermented pickled vegetables.
- When increasing probiotics it is also beneficial to incorporate something called pre-biotics which will help feed and nourish the probiotics. You can get pre-biotics from foods such as onions, garlic, fruits, vegetables, fibers, and cooled starches such as potatoes (known as a resistance starch). My favorite resistance starch and pre-biotics are tiger nuts you can find at your local health food store which are small tuber root vegetables.
- As always we want to increase whole foods as much as possible and limit processed, packaged, and refined foods. Sugars, gums, preservatives, flavorings, and artificial sugars can increase fermentation in the gut and therefore disrupt intestinal flora. Try switching to natural sweetener in small amounts such as maple syrup, honey, dates, and cinnamon instead.
- I also recommend incorporating more omega-3 fatty acids into your diet to balance out omega-6 fatty acids that can lead to inflammation. Try increasing healthier fats such as grass-fed butter or ghee, olive oil, avocado, wild caught salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds.
- Fiber is also vital for gut health and regulation of optimal bowel function in the process of toxin elimination. Aim for 25-30g of fiber per day from fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
- Make sure you are choosing high quality meats and seafood as much as possible without antibiotics. Choose wild caught fish and organic, pastured, and grass-fed meats.
- Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night, eat at consistent and regular meal times without distractions, don’t skip meals, and find a stress management practice that works for you and that can easily be incorporated into your daily routine such as yoga, deep breathing, or prayer.