Gut Health; How It Effects All Areas Of Wellbeing
Aching joints, hormone imbalances, autoimmunity, headaches, skin issues, fatigue, depression, anxiety? What could they possibly all have in common? An imbalance in your gut may be the driver, or even the root cause, behind your ailments.
Some scientists have referred to the gut as ‘the second brain’ due to its relationship with stress and emotions as well as producing neurotransmitters. Inside our gut exists a complex ecosystem made up of trillions of beneficialbacterial cells, known as the microbiome. The microbiome plays many vital roles including the production of vitamins, such as vitamin K, the production of that ‘happy feel good’ neurotransmitter many of us are familiar with, serotonin. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and low mood.
These beneficial bacteria help govern many functions in the human body. What we eat, stress, medication, sleep, exercise, how much time we spend outdoors, are all things that can influence the health of the microbiome.
It is estimated that anywhere from 70%-80% of our immune system resides in our digestive tract. Inflammation is driven by the immune system and is almost always the driver behind any disease process. So it makes sense that if such a large portion of our immune system resides in our gut then it is a good starting place for healing, even if you don’t have gut symptoms.
Stress has an enormous impact on the health of our digestive tract. Phrases like “I have butterflies in my stomach” or “I have a nervous tummy” demonstrate how sensitive our gut is to stress. Many people who suffer with IBS have much worse symptoms when stressed.
From an evolution perspective we are actually quite primal in the way we are wired, hence why the fast pace of modern life and all the stresses and pollutants that come with it are wreaking havoc on our health. The stress you may feel from opening your email inbox and seeing 100 emails will trigger the same chemical stress response as being chased by a sabre-toothed tiger. The stress response will prioritise blood flow to muscles and the brain so you can think quickly and run fast but shunt blood away from your digestive tract as digesting food is not a priority while in survival mode! It will also prioritise making stress hormones over sex hormones which is one of the reasons stress can lower fertility.
In short bursts stress and the stress response is actually good for us and cortisol (the hormone released when stressed) has benefits. Chronic stress is where we start to run into problems. Ongoing raised levels of cortisol can effect sex hormones, thyroid health, negatively impact the gut microbiome and increase the likelihood of insulin resistance.
So managing stress is clearly as a priority for gut health and overall well-being. A few deep breaths before a meal can measurably lower cortisol levels and help you digest your food for efficiently.
Probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are live organisms that help contribute to the diversity of our gut microbiome and help it multiple. Whereas prebiotics are a non-digestible fibre that feed the microbiome, helping them to thrive. Both can be found in foods.
Probiotic foods are things like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, and kombucha tea. Prebiotics are found in high amounts in leeks, onions, chicory root (chicory coffee is a lovely option!), asparagus, under ripe bananas, Jerusalem artichoke, apples and garlic. Of course you can take pre and probiotics in supplement form but it is best to try and get them from foods first. Prebiotics are essential for the healthy gut bacteria to survive, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and vegetables are all excellent sources too.
For optimising gut function nutrition and stress management are excellent starting points. Here are a few more tips on how to have a healthy ‘second brain.
Remove processed foods, refined sugar and artificial sweeteners as they can lower the diversity of your microbiome. A lower diversity of healthy bacteria in the microbiome means disturbances in everything from blood sugar regulations, to increased cravings, to brain fog, and more….
Apologise ahead of time to the bread lovers but more people than not feel better off of gluten. Gluten is has been shown to cause something called ‘leaky gut’. Having a leaky gut activates your immune system. You can do a blood test to see if you are sensitive to gluten – this is different to having coeliac disease. However the cheapest and easiest was to know is to come off of gluten and see if symptoms lessen or resolve within a matter of weeks. If you do eat bread rye, sourdough, and spelt can be easier to digest and less likely to cause irritation. Cow’s milk can cause similar irritations so I would suggest removing it for 4 weeks to see if there is an improvement.
It sounds so simple but it is a very powerful tool to aid digestion….chew your food slowly! I have seen this simple and cost free suggestion work wonders on acid reflux and bloating.
Bone broth contains collagen and glutamine which help repair a leaky gut.
Healthy fats are very healing for the gut. Examples include, avocado, wild caught salmon, egg yolks and coconut oil is not only healing but very easy to digest and absorb.
Steaming apples and/or pears is very soothing and a good way to repair the gut. I like to stew apples with cinnamon. This can also help with diarrhoea.
Healing herbs and spices for the gut include, turmeric, chamomile, fennel, ginger, peppermint (great for gut spasms with those suffering from IBS, particularly in an essential oil form). You can have them in herbal teas or add them to cooking. Liquorice is good for digest upset caused by emotional stress as it also helps balance cortisol levels.
Some essential oil company’s do blends that can help sooth digestive problems as well. In the past I have found a mix of peppermint and DoTerra’s Digestzen very soothing when massaged into my abdomen.
If you are suffering with any digestive issues I suggest seeing a Nutritional Therapist and getting a comprehensive stool test. Sometimes a Nutritional Therapist can make helpful recommendations and tailor a plan that won’t require a stool test. Irritating or uncomfortable digestive symptoms can sometimes be a myriad of possibilities – parasites, bacterial overgrowths, yeast overgrowth, a lack of digestive enzymes, or the result of a ‘leaky gut’ so sometimes a stool test can be useful to decide which supplements and gut healing protocol are for you.