Improving Gut Health
Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”
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 in depth connections between our gut and other areas of our body, like our brain (have you heard of "the gut-brain axis"?). Now it’s not just about our gut per se, but more importantly are its friendly resident microbes. 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.
Whether it’s from food sensitivities, toxins from our food, birth control pill, antibiotics, or any other irritant that out digestive system is exposed to, it creates inflammation. After a period of time with prolonged inflammation, you’ll develop a gut imbalance (dysbiosis) which can become leaky gut. This is exactly as it sounds – your gut lining becomes porous! These are the first steps, along with the inflammation, which are often the starting point for many diseases that don't seem linked to the gut but have a sneaky connection there.
On a science level, when you have leaky gut, you release a protein called Zonulin which opens up our tight junctions (space between our cells) in our gut; creating permeability. Unfortunately, Zonulin is not just specific to our digestive system. When your body produces this protein is will also open up other tight junctions, including the ones in our brain! (hence the gut-brain connection). So a leaky gut often also means a leaky brain. (Think poor memory, brain fog, trouble concentrating…)
FUN FACT: Over 70% of our immune system lives in and around our gut! So healthy gut = healthy body!
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 you can stop doing to improve it. It’s always best to eliminate what can be causing the irritation, 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. Not sure what foods are irritating you? Click here to check out my last blog post to find out more on food sensitivities.
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. We need a good number of microbes (probiotics) and good nutrients for them to feed on (pre-biotics).
If you have a significant drop or deficiency is good bacteria, trying to increase your levels with foods and pre-biotics might not be enough to increase your levels high enough for maintenance.
Supplementing with a human strain probiotic (like HMF Multi by Genestra) helps your body repopulate the strains it might be missing. This one in particular is my favorite, especially for general maintenance for it has 16 different strains which allows your body to pick the ones it might be missing. I take 1 every 3-4 days as needed just to keep my levels topped up.
If your probiotic levels are good, of if you’re in the maintenance phase of a digestive protocol, ingesting probiotic-rich foods and drinks can help to keep your gut microbes in tip top shape.
Pro and pre-biotics are found in fermented foods like kombucha (be mindful of sugar content though), kefir (only if you tolerate dairy well), miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Including some of these in your daily diet help your body maintain a healthy gut flora.
Fiber also plays many 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. Whole foods are full of gut-friendly fiber. Not eating enough fiber can also increase the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. What foods have a lot of fiber? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even cacao.
Now diet is a super important factor when it comes to gut health. However, there are also various lifestyle factors that can have a huge effect on our guts. So don’t forget the uber-important lifestyle factors like getting enough sleep, managing stress (think meditation, journaling, yoga), 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.
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 food: foods filled with nutrition, probiotics, and fiber. And eliminating common gut irritants like added sugar, processed foods, and alcohol.
I put together a handout for you which includes my 2 favorite gut healing recipes: a warming morning elixir and bone broth! CLICK HERE to get the recipes directly in your inbox!
Eating properly fermented foods is a great way to maintain good gut bacteria. The problem though is that most of the products on the shelf are not fermented, but pickled (using vinegar instead of a brine). This is why making your own “pickled” vegetables is the best way to consume them!
This can be a super fun weekend activity to do with friends of family. Just choose one or multiple vegetables to pickle and maybe as your mom or grandmother for the family recipe and give it a try!
Below is a recipe for fermented carrots. These are one of my favorites to have!
Now, if you're not sure if you have a gut flora imbalance, make sure to sign up for my free 30 min consultation and receive your Whole Body Health Profile and find out where your main inbalances are if the BIE Process can help you reach your health goals!
Looking forward to hearing from you!
1 L warm water
4 tsp salt
4 carrots, medium, peeled, sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed (optional)
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: Although naturally fermenting your own vegetables can be time consuming, a good trick is that once the vegetables are eaten, refill the jar with more veggies! Just store it in the fridge for 3-4 weeks and you’ll get a second batch! I find carrots the easiest thing to do this with because they stay hard and crunchy!