Everywhere you look, people are talking about our guts. A little strange, but everyone is talking about the gut microbiome.
It's "so hot" right now.
Tell that to Hippocrates, who said 2,500 years ago that “all disease begins in the gut”. The gut’s always been a hot topic - it's just coming more in the limelight now, an exciting time!
We used to think the gut was just in - process - out. We're still learning.
But why its such a hot topic now is because in the past couple decades, we’ve come to realize that the gut’s role isn’t limited to the pulling of nutrients out of food, and making poop. Research is just beginning to explore the effects of the gut microbiome on our overall health, our mental state AND our digestive capabilties. Gut bacteria have been shown to communicate with the brain through the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems, and there is growing evidence that healthy microbiomes and possibly some probiotics can improve the mood of both depressed and nondepressed people, as well as support weight management and so on and on and on. We are even finding evidence of a clear association between gut problems and skin disorders. For clients needing clearer skin; digestion is always worth taking a deep look into. The gut flora promotes normal gastrointestinal function, provides protection from infection, regulates metabolism and comprises more than 60% of the immune system.
In the 60's and 70's fermented foods was hot in the alternative health circles for rejuvenating, living foods with high energy.
Flash forward to now...., research into the scientific benefits of gut bacteria in our body has exploded, and scientists across the world are looking into how these microbes can help improve health and work as preventative mechanisms.
Unfortunately, several features of our modern lifestyle contribute to unhealthy gut flora:
- Antibiotics and other medications like birth control and NSAIDs
- Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods & low in fibers
- Food toxins like GMO wheat, soy and seed oils in our packaged foods
- Chronic stress
- Chronic infections
An important point to remember is that maintaining a healthy gut is a bit more complicated than simply popping a probiotic pill, however. There are several other ways to improve your gut health, which I've listed below. Probiotics rarely (if ever, we are learning) permanently colonize the intestine (although they do lots of other good even if they don't get all the way there!) and while prebiotic fiber is important for feeding permanent inhabitants, some prebiotic fibers can cause digestive upset depending on the person.
But the gut doesn’t like only plants: Butyric acid (mostly from butter, or butyrate made from gut bacteria) helps maintain a healthy gut lining, and parts of meat (such as the amino acid glutamine) can also help keep your gut healthy, which is just one more reason we should have a balanced diet. (See our popular bone broth recipe here!)
We know that our gut health is important and that research is finding more and more connections.
My goal as a consultant is to simplify complicated nutrition science down to easy-peasy bites for you. So what does "taking care of our gut" mean in the real world?
- Eat fermented foods daily.
- Look for fermented foods that are raw and organic, "traditionally" done.
- Drink clean, filtered water that has had chlorine removed from it
- Eat whole foods that give us fiber: fruits and vegetables daily.
- Lesson your intake of the stressors for the gut: white sugar, cows' dairy, gluten (from non-traditionally prepared breads - white bread, brown bread), genetically modified foods and artificial sweeteners
- Don't stress out about probiotics, it is all still new and we are still learning! It's not necessarily the most expensive ones that are the best, so don't feel the need to drop hundreds of dollars on bacteria supplements
- Take steps to manage your stress
The generic advice is simple: Pay more attention to the health and function of your gut. The specifics can get hazy since gut research is still new and much is unknown. Chances are high that eating a diet rich in as many unprocessed plants and (grass fed) animals as possible would be appreciated by your gut lining and the bacteria there, a whole foods diet is the best insurance.
If you are experiencing digestive issues and dietary changes are needed or not yet working, work with a local Holistic Nutritionist.
Remember, its not all about science. "There’s something very special about shredding cabbage like great grandmothers in the early 1900’s, or fermenting tea like some of our ancestors. It’s slightly magical."
Eat well. Life is good.