Let’s talk gut health!
Listen to your gut – the famous saying we’ve all heard time & time again, but only recently started to discover the true meaning behind what it means (in the health world!) and the immense power that our guts hold over our health. As an integrative and functional dietitian who practices holistic health, gut health is at the forefront of my mind when working to treat all of my patients. Gut health is an extremely large (and often complicated) topic and there are a ton of components that fall under its umbrella.
Think about the gut like it’s a car engine – it’s the most important thing to keep the car running and once it starts to have leaks or cracks, the entire machine starts to break down.
What you need to know for a healthier gut
So, what do you really need to know and what should you be focusing on? Let’s break this down.
Before we dive into specifics, let’s quickly chat about what the gut actually is and why it’s so important. Gut is a shorter term for our gastrointestinal tract and digestive system, and focuses on everything from our esophagus down to our colons. The health of the digestive system greatly impacts the health of the whole body, in large part due to the hundreds of trillions of bacteria residing there to help break down our food, fight pathogens, enhance our immune system, and control our metabolism.
The trillions of bacteria and microorganisms in our digestive tract is known as the microbiome, a term that I’m sure you’ve heard quite a few times (and for good reason!). When there’s an imbalance of the different bacteria in our gut microbiome, complications and symptoms start to arise, which is called dysbiosis. The symptoms of dysbiosis are typically what help me (along with doctors and other professionals) identify that there’s a gut issue and to begin digging deeper to understand WHY and what we can do to help treat it. There’s a very wide range of symptoms that come with gut imbalance, but some of the most common ones include the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Excess gas
- Bowel complications (diarrhea, constipation, irregular stool texture/color)
- Food allergies & intolerances
- Skin issues (acne, hives, rashes)
- Weight loss troubles
- Autoimmune conditions
What you can do to promote gut health
One of the reasons gut health can be a little complicated is because it’s extremely personalized based on the individual and the specific symptoms they are experiencing. If you find that you’re experiencing digestive complications or any of the symptoms above, I’ll typically always recommend that you work with a doctor or nutrition professional to help get you proper testing and an individualized plan for moving forward. However, there are still some general tips that will benefit almost anyone dealing with some gut complications –
- Introduce more healthy gut foods
- Limit or eliminate processed foods
- Limit foods that contain added sugars (both real and artificial sugars)
- Reduce meat intake (if your diet is high in it)
- Increase hydration levels
- Get enough sleep! (our bodies NEED to recharge at night in order to function properly)
- Move your body (a little bit every day goes a long way)
- Manage stress levels (this is essential for our gut!)
When looking at how to help treat the gut, oftentimes we start by weeding out the bad bugs that might be living there using herbs, supplements, or medications.
How to know if you have more bad than good gut bacteria?
Great question! I’m a big believer in stool testing because it has the ability to show the levels of each type of bacteria. I’m able to see which groups of bacteria might be too high or too low and direct my attention to addressing those imbalances. In addition to weeding out the bad bugs, we also want to feed the good bugs by using things like probiotics and prebiotics.
Probiotics and probiotics
I think we all know by now that anytime you hear the phrase gut health, the words probiotics and prebiotics are not too far behind. For anyone who isn’t familiar, probiotics are a combination of live beneficial bacteria and/or yeasts that naturally live in your body. The main job of probiotics is to maintain a healthy balance in your body (remember an imbalance = dysbiosis). Prebiotics (more info here!) are the important non-digestible fibers that help promote the good bacteria in our gut. Think of prebiotics as the good bacteria promoters, and probiotics as the good bacteria. Prebiotics are crucial to help the probiotics aid our gut health and gain more good bacteria! Both probiotics and prebiotics can be found in specific types of food, and/or be taken in supplement form.
Again, gut health is very individual and everyone has a completely different microbiome (aka different levels of good/bad bacteria). It’s important to understand that many of the symptoms we’re all dealing with on a daily basis are not normal! Excess bloating, gas, gas odor, diarrhea, skin irritations, bowel irregularities, are all signs to listen to your gut – something is a little off!
If you feel like you might be in need of some gut repair, you’re certainly not alone. Even as an expert in this field, I’ve had to work on my gut for years after I found out I was dealing with some unwanted parasites in my body. Reach out and let’s chat about how I can help!