Trust Your Gut
In recent years, “gut health” has become a popular buzz phrase with scientists, physicians, and on social media. The idea isn’t new – Hippocrates once said that “all disease begins in the gut.” Improving digestive health has been a foundational ethos of Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. As a society, we’ve strayed from prioritizing health and nutrition over convenience, and are seeing the ramifications in increased obesity, heart disease, and other ailments that weren’t as prevalent before processed foods became a mainstay in our diets.
So why does the gut matter? Does having a drive-thru meal once a week really make that much of a difference? Your immune system, mood, sleep, digestion, heart, and brain all say yes.
Over the next few months, we’ll be looking at why gut health is important, and the roles of some of the unsung heroes of the digestive system.
Why it Matters
More than 100 trillion bacteria live in the gut.
That’s not a typo. There are more bacteria than human cells in the human body. Gut bacteria help our esophagus, stomach, and intestines work together to comfortably digest foods. When the biome is thrown off, it can lead to heartburn, bloating, constipation, nausea, and loose stools. The little bacteria can’t ward off infection or communicate well with the brain through nerves and hormones.
Roughly 70% of the immune system (by weight) lives in the digestive tract.
Without getting too technical, the Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT) is the largest mass of lymphoid tissue in the body, and helps protect the body from infection in the gut. The gut’s mucosal surface is thin – it to be in order to allow food absorption. That also means that it’s vulnerable to infection. GALT helps protect the body from a large population of plasma cells (which produce antibodies) – larger than the spleen, lymph nodes, and bone marrow combined.
90-95% of serotonin (the body’s mood boosting chemical) is produced in the gut.
You read that right. You’re probably familiar with serotonin as a brain neurotransmitter, right? A recent Caltech study shows that certain bacteria in the guy play a pivotal role in serotonin production. The foods we eat impact our moods beyond what we refer to as “comfort food.”
Up to 90% of diseases can be traced back to the gut microbiome.
An estimated 70 million Americans have digestive diseases, and almost 1 in 5 have IBS. Those little bacteria strengthen the digestive tract’s wall, protecting us from pathogens. When the pathogens get through, it leads to inflammation and digestive disorders.
Help a Gut out Already
There are some easy things you can do to help give your gut a break (while avoiding any allergens):
1) Eat a variety of whole grains and legumes
2) Minimize eating out
3) Stop eating when you’re full
4) Eat fresh fruit and vegetables every day
5) Have a handful of nuts each day
6) Drink lots of water
7) Avoid artificial sweeteners and minimize candies and confections
8) Keep a food diary. If you get heartburn, feel bloated, or experience other digestive distress after eating certain foods, try eliminating or minimizing them in your diet.
9) Get some exercise
11) Be careful with antibiotics. If you need them, add yogurt to your diet for the duration of the prescription.