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How do you Improve Gut Health? Your Complete Guide

ICYMI: Having a healthy gut microbiome is extremely important!

The gut microbiome is an internal ecosystem populated with bacteria, yeast, fungi, and viruses - these are referred to as 'microorganisms'. The human gut contains more than 400 trillion microorganisms that work to regulate the normal functions of the gut, which impact our entire body.

Gut health is connected in one way or another to almost every aspect of your health. A handful of many roles of the gut microbiome include:

  • Strengthening immune system

  • Controlling inflammation

  • Producing hormones

  • Regulating metabolism

What leads to poor gut health?

1. Diet

The hard truth about diet is this: Food can either fuel gut health or it can fuel dybiosis - an overgrowth of harmful microorganisms.

A healthy gut is balanced with about 80% good and 20% harmful microorganisms. For example, a healthy gut is home to some yeast, including the fungi Candida albicans. But problems happen when this yeast becomes stronger and overgrows the good gut bugs. Candida overgrowth can contribute to additional health problems in those with autoimmune conditions or already weakened immune systems. This creates a microbial disruption that can show up as bloating, sugar/carb cravings, or a weakened immune system.

Processed and sugary foods are the most obvious culprits of an unbalanced gut, but underlying food sensitivities to even so-called healthy foods can lead to inflammation that can damage your gut. This just goes to show the immense power of the foods you put on your plate.

2. Medications

Antibiotics are what you hear about most, but even certain over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and tums can affect your gut health. Before you take anything, it’s important to educate yourself on the possible side effects like leaky gut, increased gut sensitivity, and decreased stomach acid.

And while many antibiotics can be lifesaving, frequent use and overuse can allow for pathogenic bacteria to take over. Always ask your doctor the questions to make sure antibiotics are absolutely necessary.

3. Stress

The lining of the gut is designed to keep ingested chemicals, toxins, and pathogens OUT of the rest of our body. Too much stress damages the lining of your gut, and can contribute to bacterial overgrowth, digestive issues, fatigue, mood disorders, inflammation, and full-scale hormonal imbalances across the board.

4. Alcohol

A glass of alcohol every once in a while may not do much to your gut in the grand scheme of things. However, consistent alcohol consumption—or even occasional for those dealing with a severe gut dysfunction—can irritate your intestines and suppress the hormones that protect against inflammation and gut permeability.

5. Autoimmune conditions

Autoimmune diseases increase pro-inflammatory molecules that destroy your gut lining and lead to leaky gut. Since the majority of your immune system is located in your gut, leaky gut syndrome is both a cause and an effect of autoimmune problems like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Grave’s disease, Celiac, and rheumatoid arthritis.

6. Hormone imbalances

An unhealthy gut has been linked with hormone imbalances of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, thyroid hormones, and cortisol. This can lead to leaky gut syndrome and explain why you may not be able to feel better, despite your best efforts. You may need to focus on balancing your hormones and gut microbiome simultaneously.

7. Blood sugar problems

Just like what we eat impacts our blood sugar, it also impacts our gut health. Whatever food we put into our body is broken down and digested in the gut. Every time we eat, the carbohydrates and unhealthy sugars that are in that food will affect us in some way. When blood sugar is uncontrolled, it can lead to harmful bacterial overgrowth, increased sugar cravings, poor energy levels, and leaky gut.

8. Neurological problems

Your gut and brain were formed from the same fetal tissue while you were growing in your mother's womb. They continue this special bond throughout your whole life through what is known as the gut-brain axis. Because of this connection, stress, anxiety, and other mood disorders can lead to gut symptoms and vice versa. For example, non-diet strategies that trigger the gut-brain axis have been shown to improve bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea to the same degree as dietary interventions.

5 Tips for Gut Healing

1. Figure out your food triggers and sensitivities

In order to heal your gut, you need to stop eating foods that continue to damage your gut and increase inflammation. But overly restrictive diets can starve your good gut bacteria, put you at risk of nutritional deficiencies, and can also create a damaging relationship with food.

A modified elimination diet is my signature process for uncovering hidden food intolerances without cutting out entire food groups. By individualizing your strategy and removing specific foods for a certain amount of time, you'll be able to see which foods your body loves and which foods it doesn’t agree with.

2. Rotating your food

Eating a variety of plant foods is the number one thing you can do for your microbiome. Plants include all fruits and vegetables, legumes (peas, lentils and beans), grains, nuts and seeds. According to The American Gut Study, 30 different plant foods a week is the magic number that leads to a significantly more diverse microbiome.

The more plant-based variety in your diet, the more diverse range of gut microbes, which is linked to the health of pretty much every organ in the body, including your skin, heart and brain.

3. Taking probiotics

Probiotic-rich fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, and kimchi will reinoculate your microbiome with good bacteria. If you struggle with gut symptoms on a regular basis, and are unable to eat enough fermented foods, a probiotic supplement can give your gut a much-needed boost of essential bacteria.

4. Give your gut a break between meals

Grazing may increase risk for harmful bacterial overgrowth. The body needs to be fasted for at least 90 minutes in order for routine cleansing and detoxing to occur - a process known as the “migrating motor complex”. By giving yourself at least 90 minutes between meals/snacks, and at least 10 hours overnight, you're able to give your digestion a much-needed break.

5. Managing your stress

You can eat all the kale in the world, but if you are feeding yourself a giant slice of stress every day it can be just as harmful to your gut. Chronic stress can suppress the immune system, decrease blood and oxygen flow to the intestines, and contribute to gut lining permeability. Making time to de-stress through things like tai chi, yoga, or meditation can make a huge difference in your stress levels.

Knowledge is power when it comes to your health, especially the health of your gut. Arming yourself with understanding of what destroys—as well as heals—your gut will put you in a position of control.

Working with a qualified practitioner can help take your healing journey to the next level through customized care plans that restore your gut and get you back to your thriving self!

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