How To Restore Your Gut Health
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Written By: Suzanne Kvilhaug
If someone starts talking about gut health, it’s music to my ears and appropriately, I’m all ears. I’ll drop whatever I’m doing, pull up a chair and the floor is theirs. Gut health has become one of my favorite topics and I never get tired of hearing, learning or talking about it. I had a lot of different health issues when I was younger that were mainly due to a bad diet and an unhealthy gut, yet I didn’t connect it at that time. I didn’t pay attention to my digestion and I loved eating anything that could be filed under “quick but fleeting joy with long-term negative consequences”. Ignorance was bliss...till it wasn’t.
After I started to eat much healthier, I could still tell my gut health wasn’t optimal. Once I could feel that the health of my gut was directly related to my energy, moods, cravings, weight, skin and overall health, I took a serious interest in getting it on track. And so “mission to micromanage my microbiome”, began.
A quick overview of your gut
I remember being so confused when I started learning about bad bacteria vs. good bacteria. News to me! Your gut is home to trillions of beneficial bacteria. There is 10 times more of these bacteria in your gastrointestinal system than you have cells in your body. Here is more of an explanation of that, I’ll spare you the details. At birth, every gut is sterile. But over time, everyone's gut develops diverse and distinct bacterial species, determined in part by genetics and in part by what bacteria live in and on those around us.
Having a healthy gut means having the ability to kill harmful bacteria, fight infections, keep the immune system strong, absorb nutrients and rid your body of chemicals and toxins. Your gut gets rid of toxins and if things get backed up or aren’t working properly, your overall health will suffer.
The importance of the “second brain” in your gut
Do you rely heavily on what your gut is telling you? I know I do! What is going on in your gut could be affecting your brain and there is scientific explanation for that. The gut is a series of intricate nerves and message systems that command the most significant functions in your body. Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, this “brain in your gut” is revolutionizing medicine’s understanding of the links between digestion, mood, health and even the way you think. Scientists have found that gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters that regulate your mood including serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. 90 percent of your body’s serotonin – the “feel-good hormone” – is produced in the digestive tract.
If you’re experiencing depression, mood swings, anxiety or anything along those lines, starting to take a serious interest in healing your gut could positively change your entire life.
Ways To Begin To Heal Your Gut
1. Eat better
What you eat has a serious impact on your gut, says Captain Obvious. One way to nourish the beneficial bacteria in your gut is by eating a mainly whole foods diet. Need a game plan of where to begin? Eat a lot of whole foods, little to no processed food, way less sugar, much more fiber, many vegetables, a decent amount of fruit and some fermented foods.
2. Avoid animal products
Thinking of eating more plant-based or going vegan? Here’s all the more reason to- red meat, high-fat dairy products, and fried foods all reduce the growth of healthy bacteria and enhance the growth of “bad” bacteria linked to chronic disease.
3. Try supplements and herbs
When I’m in the supplement section of a health food store, all I see are possibilities around me. I feel like an eager chemist in the lab ready to see what experiment I can cook up next. Even though I don’t necessarily take too many supplements, I do love learning about them and thinking about what they could do (I repeat, possibilities…). With that said, over the years I have taken some supplements and herbs to heal my gut and they have worked. When I feel like they’ve helped a great deal or done their job, I’ll usually take a break and move on to another one.
4. Take probiotics
Back to the bacteria part. Friendly bacteria can be killed off or even wiped out by antibiotics, illnesses, a bad diet and more. Restoring beneficial bacteria is a major part of attaining a healthy gut and that’s where probiotics come in.
5. Learn how to handle stress better
Stress can wreak havoc on your mind and your gut. Avoiding stress is impossible and unnecessary, the key is learning how to better manage unhealthy stress. Practice mindfulness, start a meditation practice, breathe deep, exercise more, spend time in nature, end toxic relationships (adios meany heads!), and work on your reaction to stressful situations. Think- more like Buddha, less like Eeyore.
6. Intermittent fasting
I love fasting! And that’s something I never thought I’d say. When I started to fast, the motto “no food, no problems” came to me. It took me awhile to be able to fast but now it’s one of my favorite ways to clear up my digestion, give my mind and body a reset and lose weight. The hardest part is usually thinking about it, once you start to fast and feel the benefits, it gets much easier.
7. Consider a cleanse
The age of the cleanse. Everywhere you turn someone is selling a cleanse. I’ll take a cleanse, she’ll take a cleanse, we’ll all take a cleanse! In all seriousness, if you’re feeling like it’s time to cleanse, do it. But instead of doing a juice cleanse or something really complicated, create one that makes sense (whole foods, unprocessed foods) or find one designed specifically towards gut health that you know you’ll stick to.