Heal Your Gut Heal Your Body
“All disease begins in the gut” – Hippocrates
When it comes to optimizing our health, we cannot overemphasize the importance of a healthy gut. If you want better immunity, improved digestion and better mental clarity put your focus on rebuilding your gastrointestinal health. You will be amazed how supporting this highly sophisticated and integral system can help you resolve chronic health issues like fatigue, brain fog, frequent colds and joint pain, just to name a few. There is an explosion of research happening that suggests that restoring gut health will be one of the key drivers of 21st century medicine.
Our Inner Ecosystem
Our gut is home to about 100 trillion bacteria that digest our food, regulate our hormones, eliminate toxins and produce key nutrients. That’s more than 10 times the number of cells in the entire human body making us an amazing walking ecosystem! With over 400 species of these bugs in our gut, our health depends on maintaining the critical balance between the good intestinal bacteria and the harmful bacteria. In a healthy gut, you want to have about 85% of the good guys and 15% of the bad. When this is the case, you feel strong and vital, rarely get sick, have efficient digestion and life is good. The beneficial bacteria help ensure adequate production of enzymes to digest our food, aid in nutrient assimilation, produce disease fighting substances and make essential vitamins. Healthy bacteria even affect our cholesterol balance and the metabolism of fat and sugar in our bodies. On the other hand when the bad bacteria like parasites and yeast dominate, all bodily systems are affected which can lead to a variety of health challenges such as food allergies, weight gain, constipation, candida overgrowth, joint pain, headaches, depression, autoimmunity and more. Living with a malfunctioning gut leads to further erosion of our health and ultimately full-blown disease. Mounting scientific evidence shows that how we nurture this masterfully designed intestinal ecosystem can mean the difference between preventing or promoting a wide range of disease conditions including inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, autism and cancer.
Signs Of Gut Flora Imbalance:
- Gas and bloating
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Weight gain and obesity
- Headaches, nausea
- Sugar cravings / carbohydrate cravings
- Chronic joint pain
- Skin problems
- Frequent illness
- Depression or mood imbalance
The foods we eat are the key driver of this ratio of good to bad bacteria. So the number one thing we can do to heal our gut is simply avoid or minimize certain foods that feed the pathogenic bacteria to keep them under control.
Foods to Avoid:
- Refined carbohydrates
- Processed Junk Foods
- Excess Animal Protein
Eating a whole, plant centered, nutrient dense is the number one way to support your good gut bacteria.
We can also use traditionally lacto-fermented foods to heal our gut. Containing live cultures, these foods help fortify and rebuild healthy gut bacteria.
Some examples include:
- Coconut Kefir
- Kombucha tea
If fermented foods are not part of your diet, taking a probiotic supplement is strongly recommended.
Other Key Factors in Gut Health:
- Prescription drugs
- Antibiotics (including those used in conventional meat production)
- Agricultural chemical pesticides and fertilizers
Medications especially antibiotics and antacids wipe out your gut flora indiscriminately which sets the stage for pathogenic bacteria to grow out of control. While some environmental factors are difficult to control, simply upgrading your food choices to organic can make a significant impact. This switch alone will not only limit your consumption of sugar and food toxins but decrease exposure to agricultural chemicals and antibiotics as well.
Your Mind and Your Gut
Did you know that you have two brains? Your gut actually has a mind of it’s own. There is a huge neurological component to your gut, which is why it’s often called our second brain – our Gut Brain. Known as the enteric nervous system, your gut has over 100 million neurons that line the intestinal wall. These neurons constantly carry critical messages between your gut and the brain in your head and when those messages are interfered with in any way your health will suffer. In short, the gut and the brain work in tandem, each influencing the other. Chemicals produced in the gut affect your brain influencing mood and emotions. At the same time, stress and anxiety signaled by the brain can have serious effect on digestive function. These two intricately related nervous systems are being explored by scientists in a growing new field called neurogastroenterology. Traditional systems of medicine like Chinese medicine and Ayurveda of course have always recognized that emotions, psychology and physiology are one in the same. Bottom line, your mental health affects your gut and vice versa. Mischief in your gut can cause disturbance in your brain, which is why when you restore your gut health your and mood, behavior and cognition all improve. In fact, 95% of the serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates, mood, sleep, anxiety, depression and more are actually produced not in your head but in your gut. And in the same vein, chronic stress, unresolved emotions and even emotional trauma wreak can havoc on your gut health by affecting that ratio of good to bad bacteria. Research suggests that chronic stress plays an important role in the development of a variety of gastrointestinal diseases like IBS, IBD, GERD and even food allergies. So finding ways to reduce stress is the other essential piece in ensuring a healthy gut, which you now are starting to see why it really is at the epicenter of your overall well-being.
Your Gut Immunity
You’ve probably heard that 75% of our immune system originates in our digestive tract. This is also due to your GALT or Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue. The GALT contains particular strains of bacteria with specialized immune cells that attack harmful invaders – these cells form bundles known as Peyer’s Patches, which work together to protect the mucous membranes of the small intestines from infection. If spread out, this lining would take up a surface area the size of a tennis court.
Gut Genetics – The New Frontier in Medicine
As the prevalence of metabolic diseases continues to increase, a growing body of research has suggested that some of these physiological changes might have their roots deep in the gut. Studies have linked changes in bacterial composition to health problems including Crohn’s disease and obesity. Moreover, many scientists are suggesting that chronic inflammation, widely accepted as the underlying cause of modern diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, may begin with poor gut immunity.
Now that you know There is No Health without A Healthy Gut, here are my top tips for keeping those 100 trillion critters in balance so YOU can be too.
- Avoid refined sugar and processed carbohydrates
- Decrease chronic stress, which can kill friendly flora
- Eat cultured and lacto-fermented foods
- Eat fiber rich whole plant foods, especially dark leafy greens
- Eat a balance of raw (enzyme rich) and cooked whole plant foods
- Supplement with Probiotics
Hearty Kale Quinoa Salad
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 ¼ cups boiling water
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup dried unsweetened cranberries (can substitute dried cherries)
- ½ cup pine nuts, toasted (can substitute walnuts)
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 scallion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, separated
- 1 medium shallot or a small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 bunch kale, stalk removed and thinly sliced
- ¼ cup crumbled goat or feta cheese (optional)
- In a fine mesh strainer, rinse quinoa under running water until water runs clear.
- In a medium saucepan over low heat, dry roast rinsed quinoa for 5 minutes stirring constantly or until most of the water has evaporated and you begin to smell a nutty aroma. Add water and salt.
- Bring to a boil, turn down heat to low and cover, cooking for about 15 minutes or until all liquid is evaporated. Remove from heat, add cranberries, keep covered and let stand for 5 minutes
- Fluff cooked quinoa with a fork and mix in 1 tablespoon of oil and mustard. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a baking sheet, spread pine nuts in a single layer and toast in oven for 7-10 minutes or until golden brown.
- In a medium skillet, over medium-high heat, heat remaining oil and sauté the shallot or onion for 2-3 minutes, until soft.
- Place thinly sliced kale in a bowl of water. Lift kale out of water and add to the pan, cover with lid and cook for about 5 minutes or until wilted.
- Add the cooked kale to the quinoa mixture along with the nuts. Add crumbled goat or feta cheese, if desired. Toss and serve immediately.