Understand and Improve Your Gut Health
Thousands of years ago Hippocrates stated, “All disease begins in the gut”. Simple, yet profound, recent scientific research is now proving the truth of his statement. We now know that about 70% of our immune system begins in the gut. This is due to the 100 trillion bacteria that our gut (stomach and intestines) house. Putting this into perspective; there are more bacteria in our bodies than cells that make up our body. While it might be unpleasant to contemplate, these bacteria are vital to the health of our gut and to our overall health.
Most of these bacteria, which we call microbiota, live in a symbiotic relationship with us. This means that they help us and we help them. They create vitamins and short chain fatty acids. These fatty acids provide energy for our colon and liver. They have also been linked to the decrease in diseases of inflammation, such as diabetes and heart disease. In turn, for their hard work we provide them food and a nice warm place to live. If one of the two in this relationship is not healthy, the other is affected.
You Are What You Eat
We have all heard the saying “you are what you eat”. The types of bacteria that grow in your gut depend on the types of foods you consistently eat. Simply put, the good bacteria desire to be fed items such as fruits and vegetables because these are packed with insulin and fructooligosaccharides, which help them to flourish. The bad-for-you bacteria love sugar and saturated fat. Thus, you crave what your ‘lil buggers’ are craving. The result of the increase in the wrong bacteria in our body can cause unhealthy food cravings. The gut, with our microbiota, essentially runs our metabolism. If our digestive tract is not running well or if it is a little off, then our metabolism won’t work efficiently.
When we eat foods that are high in sugar and saturated fats, such as those from fast and processed foods, the growth of bad bacteria is encouraged. This can result in, among other things, stomach and bowel issues. When we eat fruits, vegetables and fibrous foods, we feed the good-for-you bacteria. This results in a number of benefits such as weight regulation and better immunity. There is only so much room in the gut to fit trillions of microbiotas. So, the bugs not being fed will be crowded out by the ones that are living high on the hog.
The increase of bad bugs really becomes a problem when there is also an increase in the intestinal permeability of the gut. Imagine your gut being a huge dance club. The lining of your stomach would have millions of doors and bouncers (also called tight junctions) that allow nutrients to enter into your blood stream at appropriate times of metabolism.
Soon, you notice the bouncers keep getting punched by people who really want into the club. These heavy hitters in our guts include toxins, stress, and a bad diet, to name a few. As a result, the tight junctions in our stomach become loose and cannot control the particles that come in and out of our gut. This allows things like proteins and gut bacteria into our bloodstream. That shouldn’t happen. When it does, we can experience fatigue, gas, bloating, aches, pains, rashes and sometimes even confusion. Leaky gut is the term used to describe this phenomenon.
For better overall health we need to encourage the health of the gut and the bacteria therein. We need to stop habits that are encouraging the growth of bad bacteria and a leaky gut and encourage good habits by feeding the health of our gut with good nutrients. The main contributors to leaky gut and bad microbiota are diet, stress, and environment.
Food and Supplementation
First, it helps to understand the difference between probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria in yogurt and other dairy products and supplements. Doctors often prescribe probiotics for patients on antibiotics in an attempt to combat gastrointestinal side effects of the medication. And while probiotics have been shown effective in managing certain gastrointestinal conditions, they do not have the same power that prebiotics do. The prebiotic is a specialized plant fiber that beneficially nourishes the good bacteria already in the large bowel or colon. While probiotics introduce good bacteria into the gut, prebiotics act as a fertilizer for the good bacteria that’s already there.
Imagine your stomach as a garden. We want a healthy garden of bacteria (seeds). We then fertilize the bacteria and help them to grow by the foods we eat. The quickest way to get the good bacteria in is with a probiotic. This can either be with a supplement or with fermented foods (see chart). In addition, we want to continue to fertilize our garden with prebiotic foods such as Jerusalem artichokes, onions, garlic, asparagus and bananas. Go at your own pace with diet change. For better or for worse, the bacteria in your gut will see a change in 24-72 hours. By adding more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to your diet, you will begin to change the health of your gut by starving out the bad bacteria and encouraging the growth of the good.
Living in Las Vegas, proper alcohol consumption can be a challenge for many of us. Unfortunately, this libation promotes the growth of bacteria in the intestine that increases the permeability in gut toxins. The more you decrease your alcohol intake, the healthier your gut will become.
Adding probiotic foods and/or supplements will seed your garden. L-glutamine and zinc can help to heal the gut. L-glutamine is an amino acid and is found in powder form. Most practitioners recommend about 14 grams spaced throughout the day. It is recommended that Zinc sulfate supplements of 110 mg be taken three times a day.
Exercise can encourage healthy bacterial growth in the gut. If you already workout, be encouraged that consistent exercise positively affects the small chain fatty acids that microbiota produce and can improve aerobic endurance.
Stress has been seen to increase the stress hormone cortisol and that cortisol can increase gut permeability. Find ways to de-stress in order to rest your mind and body. You can do this with meditation, yoga, a good night’s sleep, or a relaxing hobby.
Your environment can be a factor in your gut health. Check the Environmental Work Group website to see which harmful environmental chemicals you can decrease or eliminate from your life.