What Is Gut-Health?
There has been lots of talk recently about what has become known as “gut-health.” Wait. Recently?
More than 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates — the father of modern medicine — suggested that all disease begins in the gut.
But does it? And what is gut health?
Hidden within the walls of your digestive system is what is known as “your second brain.” This “brain in your gut” is changing the way that we look at the links between mood, digestion, health and even the way that you think.
“Gut” is simpler to say than “digestive tract and digestive system.” It is a group of organs that includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon, and rectum.
Your gut health, therefore, is the condition of your entire digestive system and digestive tract as well as how they are relating to the rest of your body, mind, and soul. Gut health is a big deal.
Does Disease Begin with Gut-Health?
The answer is “NO.” Not all the diseases start in the gut.
For example, it doesn’t apply to genetic or inherited diseases—although it does impact them.
But, there is evidence that a lot of chronic metabolic diseases begin in the gut. We can prevent these diseases by following some easy steps.
Step 1: Know What Second Brain and Why Does It Matter
This “little brain” is called the “enteric nervous system” or ENS and it comprises 2 thin layers of over 100 million nerve cells that line your GI tract from your esophagus to your rectum. If you were to lay these out, this would cover the area of a tennis court!
The role of the ENS is to control digestion, including swallowing to releasing the enzymes that help break food down, to the control of blood flow, which aids with both nutrient absorption and elimination.
The ENS communicates with our brain with significant results.
When you have an unhealthy gut the symptoms of that can manifest themselves in other parts of your body. It’s your body trying to tell you that something is wrong or out of balance.
Studies have found that increasing your gut-health can lead to improvements in:
- Immune function—80% of our immune system is located in our gut
- Brain function
- Symptoms of anger, sadness, and depression
- Toxin levels in the body
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
What Results? How Is This Even Possible?
The ENS may sense things that our cerebral brain can’t. Evidence has been found that when the GI tract is irritated it sends signals to the central nervous system, which can trigger our mood and ultimately affect it. When you consider that between 30%-40% of the population has bowel problems of some kind and that a higher percentage of these individuals develop depression and/or anxiety it’s easy to see how there could be a connection.
Our bodies are filled with bacteria – good and bad. There are more bacteria in a human body than there are cells and there are an estimated 100 trillion microorganisms living in our bowels alone. The key here is to have more good than bad bacteria in your gut — the fancy name for the good microorganisms is probiotics.
Probiotics help us do things like:
- Digest food
- Absorb nutrients
- Breakdown medications
- Kill some of the bad bacteria that lead to infection
Step 2: Get More Probiotics
There are quite a few ways to get probiotics, but one of the easiest is to take a supplement called a probiotic. You will find many different kinds under different brand names. These are my two favorites: USANA Health Sciences and Klair Labs. (Affiliate links)
There are foods that are also high in probiotics. Unfortunately, many of them are not widely available or thought very highly of in America.
These foods include:
- Unpasteurized Cheese—Gouda, Cheddar, Provolone, and Gruyere are some examples
- Kefir (dairy kefir and water kefir contain different microorganisms)
- Apple Cider Vinegar (“with the mother”)
- Yogurt—be sure and read the labels on the different yogurts; avoid the ones with a lot of sugar
Getting more probiotics into your system is one of the best ways that you can improve your gut health.
More Probiotics, What Else?
The ones we struggle with. The ones you hear about over and over. The things that you’ve heard since childhood.
Stress Less. Laugh More.
Stress, especially long-term stress, not only affects our gut bacteria, but it also affects the productions of hormones and neurochemicals that communicate with our brain. When it is long-term stress these chemicals and hormones can change permanently (unless you specifically work to change them back). Long-term stress may also lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach ulcers, IBD, IBS, and potentially food allergies.
Sign up for my Seven Strategies to Soothe Stress in 60-Seconds (or Less)
Laughter really is the best medicine. It helps to reduce stress and floods your body with the happy hormones and chemicals that make the good overtake the bad.
There was even a study conducted where researchers studied healthy people as well as those with atopic dermatitis (a disease that is often associated with imbalances in gut bacteria.) The researchers had the participants watch funny movies daily for one week. In only one week, the patients’ gut flora had changed and resembled healthy participants.
Step 3: Play in the Dirt and Play with the Dog!
This is true both literally and figuratively. Gardening is good for you because it gets you outside, gives you exercise, and putting your hands in soil introduces your body to the microorganisms that are found on the plants and in the ground.
In a more figurative way, stop killing all the bacteria. They have recently stopped putting anti-bacterial agents in things because humans are killing all the bacteria, the good and the bad. And what is happening? The bad bacteria are getting stronger and the good bacteria are dying.
You don’t need antibacterial hand soap. You just need soap.
Studies have shown that kids who grow up with a dog have both a lower risk of allergies and a healthier immune system. Dogs are associated with a type of house dust that actually exposes us to important strains of bacteria, L. johnsonii is one, which is essential within the digestive tract.
Dogs also work somewhat like a probiotic, helping develop healthy bacteria that boost your immune system, stopping you from getting ill, and possibly reducing allergies. They generally reduce stress and increase loving feelings. Dogs also help you (or perhaps force you) to exercise more and help relieve stress in your life.
It may well be that a large part of maintaining good health is maintaining good gut health. There are many ways that you can do this, including exercise, and learning to listen to your body; however, some of the easiest changes that you can make are to:
- Get plenty of probiotics – through supplements and food
- Manage your stress better
- Don’t over sterilize or try and kill all bacteria
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