You have probably already been told to trust your gut when facing a decision; or you’ve had a gut feeling about something. Any idea why? I’ll tell you. It turns out that the gut is our second brain; it’s called the the enteric nervous system (and it actually contains more neurotransmitters than our actual brain). It therefore needs to be healthy and happy for you to be as well.
What is the gut exactly, and why does it need to be healthy?
The gut is the long tube that starts at the mouth, travels through the stomach, the small intestine, the colon, and ends in the rectum; it’s the gastrointestinal tract or digestive system.
Funny story, nearly 70% of the immune system is located in the gut; and the bacteria living in it are our first line of defence against the outside world. Bacteria in the gut, you ask? Absolutely! There is a whole ecosystem of thousands of different species living in there; it’s called the gut microbiome. It’s made of good bacteria (Lactobacillus or Bifidobacteria for example) and bad ones (yeasts, parasites, and fungus).
The good bacteria support almost every aspect of our health: they help digest food, eliminate waste, fight diseases, promote healthy immune function and regulate the metabolism.
It’s therefore super duper essential to keep a balanced microbiome. If your gut is not happy and healthy, you won’t be either – physically and mentally. As simple as that.
What are the signs of bad gut health?
When the unhealthy bacteria outnumbers the healthy bacteria, it’s called gut dysbiosis, and it leads to the following signs:
- Loose, unformed and smelly stools;
- Digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhoea, gases, bloating;
- Skin problems like eczema, acne, or psoriasis;
- Moodiness, anxiety and depression;
- Brain fog;
- Autoimmune diseases.
What causes unhealthy gut?
This won’t come as a surprise, an unhealthy diet and poor lifestyles choices are the main culprits.
- Unhealthy and poor diet: lack of nutrients; consumption of trans fat, sugar, processed food, refined carbs (the white ones), soda, energy drinks, caffeine, and alcohol – in other words, everything we know we shouldn’t put in our system;
- Lack of physical exercise;
- Lack of sleep or simply poor quality of sleep;
- High level of stress;
- Overuse of medications such as anti-inflammatory medication and painkillers, antibiotics, steroids and hormones;
- Undetected food intolerances/allergies: gluten, dairy, eggs, soy and corn mainly. They can really have a negative impact on your gut health, and therefore on your general health. (I’ll tell you below how you can detect these food sensitivities).
And to a certain extend, genetics also plays a role in bad health gut; unfortunately, there is nothing much you can do about it. On the other hand, you can definitely do something about your diet and lifestyle.
How can you improve your health gut?
- Eat a diverse range of plant-based foods: you know, the regular good stuff: legumes, fruit, beans and whole grains as they contain lots of fibre and can promote the growth of healthy Bifidobacteria, and may help reduce levels of unhealthy bacteria such as E. coli
- Eat probiotic foods: fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kefir contain healthy bacteria and they can reduce the amount of bad bacteria (you can also make you own fermented food, I’m currently experimenting with pickled cucumbers – stay tuned!);
- Eat prebiotic foods: prebiotics are a type of fibre that stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria. You can find it in onion, garlic, leeks, bananas, asparagus, peas, legumes, eggplant, green tea, yogurt, cottage cheese, and kefir;
- Chew your food well: We tend to shovel food down, and that’s no good. Chewing well – mindfully – allows you to absorb more nutrients from the food, which is a very good thing. It also improves digestion and prevents digestive issues like gas and bloating ;
- Engage in physical activity to enhance digestion and immunity, and reduce your stress levels. I have one word for you my friends: YOGA! And if not yoga, anything else will do: walking, swimming, badminton, you name it;
- Test yourself for food allergies/intolerances; figure out if eating either gluten, dairy, soy, corn, or eggs is responsible for your discomfort (gases for example) or more serious condition such as psoriasis. Your gut will tell you, if you listen. How can you do that? With the Elimination diet. I’m at the end of the process myself at the moment so I’ll share with you my experience in a further post. In the meantime, I’ll explain what it is all about.
What is the Elimination Diet?
Research and my own personal experience has shown that it is one of the most effective way of identifying the foods that trigger inflammation and disease in your body. My mom has experienced it with dairies, and I have with gluten.
Basically, you eliminate all five main irritants from your diet (gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and eggs) for 28 days. Only 28 days. After that, you reintroduce one ingredient at the time every three days to see which one is the odd one out and causes the condition.
Let’s you have a skin rash, and can’t figure out what causes it and how to treat it. You go on the elimination diet for 28 days, and your skin gradually clears out (I’m not saying it’ll cure it right away). Good, but how do you know which one is causing it? That’s where the gut comes into action! You reintroduce them one by one, every three days. The order doesn’t matter. You really miss cheese, so you start with dairy – and luckily for you, it stays clear. Three days later, you reintroduce eggs – nothing happens, it even keeps improving. Three days later, you eat gluten again – and bim! the rash comes back. You can be 99.99% certain that gluten is what’s causing the condition.
Then, you take it from there and learn ways to adapt your diet. Whatever causes the rash (the bloating, the fatigue, the brain fog, or the asthma), you will need to make long-term and sustainable lifestyle changes. And this is were I come into action. As a Health Coach, I can help you with that!
This is a condensed explanation of the whole thing, you can read much more details about the elimination diet and how to proceed here.
The bottom line is: keep your gut healthy and happy, and you’ll be too! It all starts from there.
I’ll leave the final words to Hippocrates:
(Disclaimer : I am not a doctor; I’m a Health Coach. All the above information comes from my Integrative Nutrition course, nourished by the many experts on the topic such as Liz Lipski, Libbi Weaver, and the fabulous Christiane Northrup.)