it's time for a gut check
Gut health… It might not be the sexiest topic but it is one of the most important for your overall health. The state of your gut health, and more specifically the balance of bacteria in your gut, can inform whether you are at your peak or not. In fact, an imbalance in the gut could be the root cause of a number of seemingly unrelated ailments.
All About the Bugs
The gut microbiome is really just a fancy sounding term for the trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi found within the gut. This collection of microorganisms can be easily influenced or altered by diet and lifestyle habits. While some types of these bacteria have beneficial effects on health, others can be harbingers of disease. The key is to balance these bacteria so that the “good” bugs outweigh the “bad.” Here are some signs that you may be experiencing an imbalance.
It is surprising how many people ignore or accept poor digestion as a “normal” part of their everyday experience. Diarrhea, constipation, bloating, excess flatulence, IBS or IBD, these are the most obvious signs (that something is wrong!). On a slightly more subtle level, everyone has a different baseline when it comes to their daily bowel habits. Some may have one bowel movement per day, some may have three, others may go every other day. Any significant shift away from your own baseline is a sign that something is amiss.
If you’re suddenly tired all the time with no change in your usual lifestyle it could be a sign of a problem, you guessed it, in your gut. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is largely produced by certain bacteria in the gut. Serotonin regulates melatonin, the all important sleep chemical. A faulty gut can have difficulty producing and regulating these hormones and lead to insomnia, restlessness and fatigue.
Unexplained weight gain or unexplained weight loss can all point to a serious imbalance. Studies have shown that those with obesity have a completely different gut microbiome than those who are at a normal, healthy weight. For some who are overweight, probiotics have been shown to help with weight loss. On the flip side, unexplained weight loss can be a sign of nasty bugs like H. pylori that lead to difficulty digesting and absorbing the nutrients in your food.
Some other symptoms of poor gut health include mood imbalances, brain fog, sudden food intolerances, autoimmunity, hormonal imbalance and skin conditions like acne and rashes.
What NOT to Do
Let’s talk about what makes gut health worse.
Eating heavily processed foods too often
Seed oils, gums, fillers, the preservatives found in fried, packaged and processed foods have a negative influence on the state of your microbiome. These foods also tend to be low in fiber.
Tip: avoid them as much as you can.
Too much sugar
Sugar is the primary food source for certain fungi like yeast and candida and too much can lead to a harmful overgrowth of these and other microbes.
Tip: be mindful of how much sugar you’re consuming. Are you adding a sugary (and processed oil) filled creamer to your morning (and even afternoon) cup of coffee? That granola you're adding to the top of your smoothie–it could be full of sugar. Flavored Greek Yogurt can vary dramatically brand to brand in regards to the number of grams of sugars they contain.
Consuming artificial sweeteners
Research has shown that artificial sweeteners also feed bad gut bacteria.
More than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women can lead to gut dysbiosis - another word for an imbalance of the good and bad bacteria in your intestines.
Tip: Try swapping in a non-alcoholic beverage.
Not getting enough sleep
Lack of sleep increases the stress hormone cortisol which leads to inflammation in the body and a cascade of digestive difficulty.
Experiencing too much stress
Chronic, unmanaged stress is often a trigger for people with IBS and has been shown in studies to lead to dysbiosis.
How to Heal
It all starts with diet and lifestyle. Add probiotics and fermented foods to the mix and you will be well on your way to better gut health. Start with these simple strategies.
Eat a diet rich in a variety of whole, fresh, unprocessed foods
Reduce processed grains, foods, excess sugar and artificial sweeteners
Drink more water to keep things moving
Drink alcohol moderately or reduce your use
Include plenty of fiber in your diet
Manage your stress and get to sleep
Exercise is good for your gut, prioritize it
Keep a food journal so that you can identify problematic foods
Consume prebiotic foods like: garlic, onions, asparagus, apples, bananas
Consume fermented foods like: yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh
Eat foods high in resistant starch: green bananas, legumes, cooked and cooled potatoes
Consider using probiotic supplements
Gut issues can be complex and may not respond to a one size fits all approach. If all else fails, you may need to explore a more personalized approach to your dietary changes. This may require doing some deeper testing to identify the specific imbalances that you may be facing with your gut.
Curious to read more about gut health? We’ve got a handful of Pursuits that’ll help you on your quest to dig into this topic even deeper.