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7 Strategies to Restore Optimal Gut Health.
If we suffer from some type of digestive disorder, including irritable bowel, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, reflux, gas and things too gross to mention in print, something might be wrong with our gut.
Over 100 million Americans have digestive problems. The number three and seven top selling drugs in America are for digestive problems, costing us billions and billions of dollars. Over 200 over-the-counter (OTC) remedies exist for digestive disorders, many of which unfortunately create additional digestive problems. Visits for intestinal disorders are among the most common to primary care physicians.
Most of us do not recognize or know that digestive problems wreak havoc on our entire body, leading to allergies, arthritis, autoimmune disease, rashes, acne, chronic fatigue, mood disorders, autism, dementia and cancer.
Having a healthy gut means more than just becoming annoyed by a little bloating or heartburn. It becomes central to our entire health and connects to everything that happens in our body.
That’s why I almost always start helping people treat chronic health problems by fixing their gut.
Good gut health determines what nutrients we absorb, but also what toxins, allergens and microbes are kept out.
How can we define good gut health? I would describe it as the optimal digestion, absorption and assimilation of food.
That becomes a big job, ultimately depending on factors such as healthy gut flora—the bugs in our gut are like a rain forest, a diverse and interdependent ecosystem. They must be in balance for us to be healthy.
There are 500 species and three pounds of bacteria in our gut; it’s a huge chemical factory that helps digest our food, produce vitamins, regulate hormones, excrete toxins and produce healing compounds that keep our gut healthy.
Another barrier to good gut health is a compromised gut lining. Our entire immune system—and our body—is protected from the toxic environment in our gut by a layer only one cell thick. This thin layer covers a surface area the size of a tennis court, yet it basically contains a sewer. If that barrier becomes damaged, we will get sick and create an overactive immune system, producing inflammation throughout the body.
We also have a second brain, our gut nervous system.
In fact, our gut contains more neurotransmitters than our brain.
It is highly wired back to our brain and messages travel back and forth. When those messages alter for any reason in any direction—from the brain to the gut or the gut to the bran—our health will suffer.
Then, of course, our gut has to get rid of all the toxins produced as a byproduct of our metabolism that our liver dumps in through the bile. If things get backed up, we will become toxic.
Amidst all this, our gut must break down all the food we eat into its individual components, separate out all the vitamins and minerals and shuttle everything across that one cell thick layer into our bloodstream for us to stay healthy.
Considering these and other factors, we can understand why even in a perfect world our gut has a hard time keeping up!
But in our imperfect world, many things can knock our digestive system off balance, including a high-sugar/low-fiber diet, medication overuse, gut imbalances and toxins.
It makes sense, then, why many diseases, seemingly unrelated to the gut—like eczema, psoriasis or arthritis—are actually caused by gut problems.
From that perspective, focusing on gut health creates systemic health.
So, how do we keep our gut healthy?
We must remember every case is different, so generalizing a strategy to eradicate gut issues is not a one-size-fits-all situation. That said, we can all benefit from employing these strategies to restore good gut health and function:
- Take digestive enzymes with meals. These help break down food while our gut heals. We may need those for two or three months, and many people benefit from taking them permanently.
- Remove sugary, processed foods. Besides wrecking your gut, these foods contribute to diabesity. Replace these with real, whole, fresh foods. Take an afternoon to hunt and gather in the kitchen. Be merciless. If it is not real food, throw it out.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Inflammation underlies many gut conditions, so we want to incorporate plenty of anti-inflammatory foods, like wild-caught fish, into our diet. We also use herbs like quercetin and turmeric to reduce inflammation and heal leaky gut and other gut conditions. Fish oil and an anti-inflammatory protein powder can also reduce the fires of inflammation in our gut.
- Take gut-healing nutrients. Other nutrients that help heal the lining of the gut including GLA (from evening primrose oil), zinc, vitamin A and glutamine. We might also consider a combined gut-healing nutrient supplement.
- Eat fermented foods. Include plenty of probiotic-rich foods like kimchi, kombucha, miso or sauerkraut. We can also eat yogurt if we are not allergic to dairy. Try unsweetened sheep or goat yogurt. These are all foods that help our gut flora get and stay healthy.
- Exercise regularly. Even 30 minutes of vigorous walking can help improve gut conditions. If we need something more intense, try high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or weight resistance. Click here for a comprehensive, easy-to-apply fitness plan.
- Reduce stress. Studies exist that show chronic stress can exacerbate gut issues. Whether we employ yoga, meditation, deep breathing or tapping, we want something that controls stress that we can do regularly. My UltraCalm CD is a great way to melt away stress and anxiety.
If you are not getting better, you may need medical help. You may need treatment for SIBO, food allergies or other underlying conditions.
If you’ve ever struggled with any sort of gut problem, what strategy would you add to improve gut health? Share yours below or on my Facebook page.
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Author: Mark Hyman
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Google Images for Reuse