Our gut, or digestive system, is fundamental to all aspects of our health – physical, mental and emotional. In fact, so important is the gut that doctors and scientists have come to conclude that it is the second brain of the body.
Directly connected by the vagus nerve in the body, a sick gut can lead to a sick brain, and vice-versa – both can have devastating consequences for your life and wellbeing.
Although important, it’s not just about what goes into your mouth and what comes out the other end, research is now showing that there are a number of other lifestyle factors that can influence your overall gut health.
If you’re looking to improve the quality and longevity of your life, take a look at my top three things to both increase and decrease in your daily routine:
- Your intake of probiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms or bacteria that are essential for good gut health. They promote a healthy digestive tract and immune system. Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, miso, tempeh, tamari and raw unpasteurised yoghurt, or they can be taken in capsule form (the refrigerated capsules tend to deliver bacteria at a higher rate). Your local health food store, nutritionist or naturopath can recommend a probiotic capsule that is right for you.
[Learn how to pickle and ferment your own foods at home – it’s surprisingly cheap and easy]
- Fibre-rich foods and water in every meal
The easiest way to do this is to simply eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. This helps to move waste quickly through the digestive system. Try introducing a dairy-free fruit/veggie smoothie to your day. You can find the recipe for my power protein smoothie in my FREE ‘Refuel’ nutrition book.
[Green smoothies are great for keeping hydrated and getting your daily dose of fruit and veggies]
New research has established that people with higher cardiorespiratory fitness also have more diverse bacterial populations in the gut. That’s great news for those of you who are already running, swimming, cycling and walking. If you can, get out and exercise every day – your gut bacteria will love you for it.
[Cardiovascular exercise helps the gut – get that heart rate up!]
Other great gut healers include turmeric, intermittent fasting and chewing your food properly.
- Your stress and anxiety levels
The gastrointestinal tract is very sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation etc can all trigger symptoms in the gut and cause dis-ease. Consider which elements in your lifestyle may be causing you stress or anxiety and see about modifying them. You can also introduce a simple yoga and meditation practice to your day. My free ‘Stretch & Sleep’ guide is perfect for unwinding after a big day and preparing for sleep. A 20-min yoga class on the floor in your pyjamas, with some easy breathing exercises, will certainly help cool the nervous system and improve the quality of your restorative sleep.
[Yoga, breathing and meditation are all great ways to de-stress and chill the nervous system]
- Your use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
Whilst anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen and Voltaren may seem helpful with relieving short-term pain and inflammation, new studies show they could be doing more harm than good. Studies have shown that they can modify gut flora and compromise the barrier function of the lining of the gut leading to the dreaded leaky gut syndrome. Short-term inflammation of the body from a sprain or strain is a natural and healthy response to healing; avoid the NSAID and try foods with spiced with turmeric instead. Chronic and ongoing inflammation can’t be managed with NSAID; it won’t address the root cause of the problem and will leave you with ongoing gut issues.
- Foods that cause an allergic reaction or prompt discomfort
Foods that cause an allergic reaction are generally seafood, nuts, eggs, soy, milk and wheat. This is usually a severe immune response (anaphylaxis, hives, swelling, abdominal pain and vomiting) that requires fast medical attention.
However, there also may be foods that cause discomfort like gas, bloating, headaches and changes to bowel habits. If you regularly get these symptoms after eating it may be worth keeping a food diary to investigate which foods/food groups you are intolerant to. Visiting a dietician or nutritionist may also fast-track your diagnosis.
Reducing or eliminating these disruptive foods will help maintain the integrity of the lining of the gut and keep the environment healthy and happy.
Other gut damaging toxins include sugar and artificial sweeteners, unnecessary use of antibiotics, alcohol and smoking.
[Keep a food diary to help identify what’s causing your tummy troubles]