Oh, the gut. It’s a popular topic with naturopaths and health bloggers, but not necessarily the type of thing we like to chat about with colleagues over lunch.
But the more research conducted, the more we realize that the gut deserves more attention than its been given over the centuries. Especially considering it may be central to our overall health—from physical ailments to mental health issues.
We now know that our digestive microbiota is comparable to the immune system in importance to overall wellness and uniqueness from person to person.
Fun Facts about your guts
- it’s home to approximately 100,000,000,000,000 (100 trillion) microorganisms
- contains 100x more genes than you do
- the 100 trillion microorganisms/bacteria itself weighs approx. 1.5 kg
- is specific only to you (your guts are unique to you)
- contains heritable components (you can inherit some microbes from your family)
- can be modified by diet (you can add microbes via foods)
- can be impacted by illness or antibiotics (these scenarios can eliminate healthy microbes and interfere with gut function & balance)
“Supporting intestinal health and restoring the integrity of the gut barrier will be one of the most important goals of medicine in the 21st century.”
(Source: Chris Kresser)
Gut micro-flora is divided into three types. Beneficial flora (these are the good ones that we want a high amount of), opportunistic flora (these can cause havoc if the beneficial bacteria get damaged or aren’t functioning properly) and transitional flora (these are the microbes that we receive daily when we eat or drink. When the gut is protected by beneficial flora these are not an issue, but otherwise these can cause disease.)
Recent studies are linking gut micro-flora to:
- Mental wellness (probiotics may have an impact on lowering anxiety and depression)
- Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes (insulin sensitivity as it regulates fat storage)
- Heart Disease (impaired intestinal barrier function)
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (certain microbiota can show a predisposition to RA)
Ready to start focusing on your gut? First you need to consider whether or not you have any concerns in the digestive department. And then assess how serious these issues actually are.
Signs to watch out for
Here are the top 4 signs to look out for:
- Are you always running to the bathroom? Prolonged bouts of diarrhea (i.e., for more than 48 hours) or loss of bowel control are definite cause for concern.
- Peek at your poop. If there’s blood or pain – see your doctor.
- Eating more, yet losing weight? If you’re experiencing unexplained weight loss, make a doctor’s appointment as soon as you can.
- Waking at 2AM to do a Number 2? Your body is literally giving you a wake-up call. Call your doctor to discuss.
The above symptoms could indicate inflammatory bowel disease or other concerns, so make an appointment with a doctor or specialist as soon as possible. The sooner you are assessed, the better.
Not to worry
Not all unusual bathroom visits should make you worry. The following signs are usually more embarrassing than they are serious. No need for an awkward talk with your doc when it comes to these 4:
- Does your stomach like to talk? If it growls or gurgles before or after a meal, typically you’ve got nothing to worry about. You may want to track the foods that make your system ‘noisy’. If the noise precedes and upset stomach, definitely track what foods trigger those and cut them out or minimize.
- Going several times a day or just a few times a week? If either isn’t a deviation from your usual routine, then it’s normal enough—as long as there is no associated pain or cramping.
- Feeling bloated in the late afternoon onwards? Perfectly normal! …unless the bloating occurs earlier in the day, frequently or lasts for several hours. Again, if this is a regular occurrence for you, you may want to start a food diary to track which foods are triggering discomfort.
- Do you tend to get constipated while on vacation? No cause for concern here! A lot of times we don’t get the urge to go when we’re away from the comfort of home—simply because our brain and gut are so connected. (or it could be the rich foods we are indulging in!)
Now that you know what you should be looking out for and the importance of a healthy digestive system to our overall health, here are 7 easy ways to keep your guts happy!
7 ways to help rebuild or maintain a healthy gut
- Drink water on the regular if you aren’t as regular as you’d like to be.
- Make a point of eating fermentable fibre, like sweet potatoes, to encourage healthy gut flora.
- Take probiotic supplements—especially after a dose of antibiotics—to restore good bacteria.
- Did you know fermented foods, like kefir, kimchi and saurkraut, contain probiotics too? Try to incorporate these into your meal planning.
- Cut down on alcohol and caffeine, especially if you suffer from diarrhea more often than you’d like to. These digestive stimulants simply help speed things up—not what you want in this case!
- Take steps to manage your stress. Because we all know what it’s like to get butterflies in our stomach—or worse—when we’re feeling anxious.
- Chew 40 times before swallowing. Our parents were on to something! Eating slowly and properly chewing our food is good for the gut.