Having a healthy gut is a mainstream phenomenon. We hear the term “gut health” thrown around on social media, on cable TV, and of course from functional medicine practitioners. It has been linked to everything from weight loss to cancer prevention. But do you really know the true benefits of gut health? Before I delve into everything that can go wrong with the gut and how to heal your gut, I would first like to highlight its function in our bodies, and how it affects every aspect of our health.
Our Second Brain
The gut is often referred to as the second brain. This collection of our digestive organs is responsible for the breakdown and metabolism of everything we consume. When it functions properly, we absorb all of the nutrients we need and eliminate everything we don’t. Contained within the gut is an entire microbiome of 10-100 trillion beneficial bacteria. Our bodies actually contain more bacteria than anything else! This is why functional medicine practitioners like myself discourage the use of antibiotics, which kill off all bacteria indiscriminately. Gut health is one of the first things we target in functional medicine because when the gut is imbalanced, everything else in the body will follow suit.
The term “gut feeling” refers to an instinctive, split-second judgment call. The gut is closely tied to our mental health. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of ease and happiness, is dependent on a healthy microbiome for production. Even conventional medicine is beginning to recognize the connection between gut issues and mental health concerns like anxiety and depression.
One of the best and easiest ways to support a healthy gut is to consume probiotics regularly. These are available in food and supplement forms. These beneficial bacteria replenish strains that may have been wiped out by conventional medication, illness, or living a toxic lifestyle. The following are a few of my favorite sources of these beneficial bacteria:
Fermented foods are not only packed with beneficial bacteria but are easy to make and delicious! Kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir are a few of the most popular. These foods encourage the growth of probiotics.
It can be difficult to choose the best probiotic supplement. Many companies have jumped on the bandwagon. You can even find a sugar-laden, gummy version available in most stores! For the most effective probiotic, choose a supplement with multiple strains. It should be stabilized to survive the stomach’s hydrochloric acid. Refrigerated, carefully shipped brands are often high-quality. Remember, these are live bacteria, and we want them to survive the process! Once in the small intestine, the colony will start to multiply and thrive.
Diets That Support Gut Health
A healthy gut requires more than a high-quality supplement, however. A low-stress lifestyle with plenty of rest, stress-relieving techniques to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, and a healthy diet are all necessary pieces of the puzzle. Unfortunately, many of us are led to believe that we have achieved our best health if we master even one of these. If you have a thriving yoga practice but indulge in a donut after class, you’re setting your system up for failure.
Grain-free, whole food diets are one of the best options for ensuring gut health. Not only do most of these diets encourage stepping away from processed, sugar-laden foods (Paleo, AIP, Whole 30), but they eliminate common allergens as well.
If you suffer from a sensitivity to scented perfumes, you likely avoid the department store perfume counter. However, many of us have underlying sensitivities to common foods like gluten and dairy but still consume them on a daily basis! By eliminating these foods from the diet, we give our bodies the chance to shift out of attack mode (which is what is truly happening during an allergic response) and instead allow our bodies to digest completely.
The Right Tests to Discover Your Underlying Health Concerns
Many of my patients have found immediate relief with making these small, yet significant changes. But for some, underlying conditions like small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can complicate the process. As a trained functional medicine practitioner, I will order the right tests to uncover the underlying conditions that are keeping you from optimal health. Together, we will address these issues and create a plan to help you achieve your health goals!
The Benefits to Heal Your Gut
By making small lifestyle shifts like incorporating probiotics and eliminating common allergens, we can start to support one of the most important systems in our bodies. When we digest our food properly, we feel nourished, hydrated, energized, and relaxed after a meal. Digestive complaints like irritable bowel syndrome disappear, as the connection between our brain and gut is functioning properly. Mental health thrives because the neurotransmitters responsible for positive responses are in balance. Hormones are produced in the right amounts at the right times because our bodies are no longer in fight-or-flight mode.
While our modern lifestyles may neglect gut health, this doesn’t have to be the case! I can help you uncover the root cause of your deepest health concerns, in order to achieve optimal health. If you’re ready to heal your gut and ditch your health problems for good, contact me today for a FREE consultation!
Rich Jacobs is a Board Certified Integrative and Functional Nutrition Practitioner who specializes in resolving gut, insomnia, low libido, fatigue and fat issues. He uses a holistic approach and functional lab work to identify root causes such as hormone imbalances or gut pathogens that could be impacting your health.