Nutrition and Gut Health
Our gastrointestinal tracts work hard to keep us healthy and happy. When your gut health is on the fritz, you can face major health consequences. Here I am going to tell you how to use good nutrition to keep your digestion on the right track.
Millions of people in the United States suffer from some sort of digestive illness (not including heartburn), and digestive problems account for 10% of all money spent on healthcare.
Your gut is a very hard worker. It allows nutrients and water to enter the body, and it prevents toxins/antigens from getting inside. It protects you from the outside world, but a gut in distress can’t defend your body. Instead, it allows dangerous compounds to enter.
That’s where nutrition comes in. The right lifestyle change (diet) will strengthen your gut, which will improve your overall health.
What Causes Poor Gut Health?
If your gut is not happy, then your body is not happy. If your gut is distressed, it won’t perform well and you won’t feel very good.
If you go to the doctor they will most likely diagnose you with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), leaky gut (LG), celiac disease, food sensitivities, bacterial imbalances, or they might give you no specific diagnosis at all! Symptoms of these things often overlap, and it can be hard to determine the root causes of digestive disorders.
A healthy gut barrier depends on…
- Balanced Intestinal Bacteria (our gut contains about 3-4 pounds of bacteria)
- Intact Mucosa (our gut lining replaces itself every 3-7 days)
- A Healthy Immune System (almost 70% of our immune system cells live in or around the gut)
If any of these things are off balance, your gut will not be happy, and neither will you.
You have more bacteria in your gut than you have cells in your body!
Bacteria can either be harmful or helpful. Helpful bacteria in your gut just comes and goes, and you don’t have a permanent supply. So in order to continue to have healthy bacteria, you need to continually replenish it by controlling your diet.
Your gut bacteria varies depending on your age, gender, diet, location, hygiene, stress, and medication use. The way you have/had your kids (C-section vs. vaginal delivery) and what you first fed them (breast milk vs. formula) can also determine what bacteria is in your gut. If you breast feed or were breast fed, you will generally have more healthy bacteria.
The healthy gut bacteria can help manufacture vitamins (B12, K, B6, B5, B3, folate, and biotin), help you absorb minerals better, fight off pathogens, digest food, and metabolize drugs. The bacteria even influences total body metabolism!
Balancing The Healthy Bacteria in Your Gut
Antibiotics can deprecate the healthy bacteria in our gut, which can create an ideal environment for yeast (Candida albicans) growth. Candida can increase inflammation, and symptoms associated with IBS. (Even through antibiotics are sometimes used to treat IBS, weird)
Your healthy bacteria can also reduce if you have low iron levels and/or a low carbohydrate diet. But if you eat excessive amounts of carbohydrates, it can cause Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO, the bad kind of bacteria). So for people who suffer from SIBO, it would be good to limit carbs and increase protein and healthy fat consumption.
Eating enough fiber can play a significant role in gut health. Fiber combats digestion in the small intestine, then goes to the large intestine and creates short chain fatty acids (an important source of fuel for the body). Fiber also helps you gain muscle and reduces exposure to dangerous compounds. Breaking down fiber regulates pH balance, which promotes a better environment for healthy bacteria.
Intact Mucosa and A Healthy Immune System
100 years ago we did not consume what we do today, it was unknown to our bodies back then. Having these new compounds (like gluten, casein, fructose, etc.) in our food is what has increased food allergies, intolerance’s, and sensitivities. Our gut just can’t handle what we eat now!
When your gut wall is irritated or inflamed, you get increased permeability (leaky gut syndrome). Inflammation in your body, stress, imbalanced bacteria, malnutrition, compounds in food, and food additives (like MSG) can all weaken the bonds on your gut wall.
A leaky gut can let in dangerous bacteria and not absorb beneficial nutrients. This is called Bacterial Translocation (BT), and it can hurt your brain and liver.
A leaky gut can follow conditions like…
- Type 1 diabetes
- Different Allergies
- Mental Illnesses (such as depression and schizophrenia)
- Skin Inflammation (such as acne, eczema, etc.)
- Diminished Insulin Signaling
Certain compounds (gluten, casein) cross the leaky gut and inhibit an infection, which can lead to dysfunctions in the central nervous system.
What Causes a Leaky Gut?
- Long term use of pharmaceuticals (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), birth control, corticosteroids, etc.)
- Eating too much sugar and carbs
- Drinking too much alcohol (but red wine, in moderation, can possibly improve gut health)
- Pathogenic Bacteria (infections from E. coli)
- Stress (acute and chronic levels)
- Environmental Contaminants (just stuff in the air)
Your gut communicates with all the cells in your body, which means a disturbance in your gut can show up as disturbances in other parts your brain. The brain actually starts digestion before the gut. You digest enzymes before even swallowing your first bite!
Your emotions also influence your gut health. When you are scared, your brain and gut realize it, and your digestion slows down. Think about it, have you ever not been able to eat when you feel really anxious? That’s because blood flow and enzyme production in the gut are limited during stress.
When you are at rest, your gut receives more than half of all organ blood flow. But when you exercise, blood flow to your gut can drop to less than 20% from when you are at rest. Lack of blood flow to the gut during digestion can lead to leaky gut.
However, people with heart failure and endurance exercisers are both susceptible to leaky gut syndrome. In both cases (but for different reasons) not enough blood is going to the gut.
Here are some symptoms of a disturbed gut that may seem unrelated…
- Joint Pain
- Disturbed Sleep
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
- Skin Irritation
- Night Sweats
Serious gut problems can result in weight loss and nutrient deficiencies (from malabsorption).
What Causes Gut Distress?
More often than no, it’s the foods we eat! Foods that are beneficial for some people might not be beneficial for you.
Here are some common ones…
- Lectins – types of proteins. The most irritating kind is found in seeds (such as grains, beans/legumes, and nuts)
- Gluten – other similar proteins found in grains (such as hordein in barley, secalin in rye, or zein in corn)
- Casein, lactose, and other immunoglobulins in dairy.
- Fructose – fruit sugar. People who struggle to digest fructose often have trouble with other complex carbohydrates
For some people, these compounds can make a lot of cells produce histamine, which mimics a food allergy and increases the risk of leaky gut and inflammation. They can also mimic symptoms of respiratory allergies (sneezing, runny nose, and throat irritation).
For other people, these foods stimulate an immune system response, and create or escalate autoimmune symptoms (joint pain, eczema, etc.).
Then some people just don’t have the digestive enzymes they need to process these compounds. This can make your stomach upset, give you gas/bloating, nausea, and constipation/diarrhea.
Interestingly enough, some of the foods that contain these compounds can make you addicted to them because you feel a sense of well being. You might not be to digest casein, but right after you drink some milk you feel amazing. Then afterwards your gut gets upset.
How Do You Improve Your Gut Health?
Here are some things you can do to improve gut health…
Find the root cause – There is always a cause, so you need to find it before you start taking medication for all of the different symptoms.
Eliminate any foods/drinks you may be sensitive to – You may need a Food Sensitivity test to determine what you are sensitive too, and limiting or cutting out those foods will help tremendously.
Balance your bacteria -Take some probiotics, and regularly eat or drink things that are rich in probiotics (yogurt, raw cheese, cultured vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi, etc.
Only eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re satisfied – If You have gut problems and are still gaining body fat, you are probably consuming too much sugar, processed grains, processed meats, and dairy.
Limit or avoid sugar -If you have a lot of bloating and cramping, you need to eliminating sugar because it can cause those things.
Chew slowly – Eating slower is important for breaking food down into particles that are manageable for your gut. If you just inhale food, it will not breakdown as well and will make your gut work harder.
Consider glutamine -Glutamine can help reverse the effects of leaky gut and fuel your intestinal cells.
Maintain good vitamin D levels – Low vitamin D levels could decrease immune function.
Check iron levels – Decreased iron levels can result in poor gut function usually from malabsorption. Vegetarians/vegans and endurance athletes are especially prone to this.
Supplement wisely – Natural compounds that might improve your gut health include melatonin, curcumin (turmeric), chamomile, arrowroot, peppermint, artichoke leaf, zinc, aloe vera, etc. Doing this will help your digestive intolerance.
Get plenty of omega-3’s and healthy fats – Omega-3’s include flax seed, walnuts, hemp, chia, fish, etc. And healthy fats include olives, avocado, coconut, nuts, seeds, etc). It will help with inflammation.
Flavonoids can help improve gut health – Fruits, vegetables, beans, tea and coffee are the major sources of flavonoids. Foods in the cabbage family and vegetable broths can also help.
Recover smart – You need to sleep well, manage stress, and exercise to improve your body and control inflammation. However, excessive exercise can lead to poor gut health. So make sure you have your recovery days (meditate, do yoga, or do nothing).
Eat real food – Food preservatives and additives are difficult for our bodies to process.You need to focus on whole foods that are non-processed and organic.
Get fiber – High-fiber complex carbs (like vegetables) are important in your diet. Eat your veggies! Beans, peas, nuts, seeds, fruits, and whole grains are also some high-fiber complex carbs.
Breast-feed – Children who are breast-fed tend to have less gastrointestinal infections and inflammatory disorders.
If you have to go, GO! – If you need to evacuate your colon, do it. Do not wait! You need 1-3 bowel movements per day.
Managing, monitoring, and improving your gut health is ESSENTIAL when you are trying to lose weight and improve overall health. Work on your nutrition priorities, exercise regularly, and give your body time to recover.
If you have any questions about nutrition and gut health, please leave a comment below!
Live Well and Live On,