If you are looking to improve your overall health, energy, mental alertness, positive thoughts and of course look the best version of yourself, then start by giving some loving attention to the tens of trillions (yep, that’s a lot!) of microorganisms that reside in your gut.
These guys are our co-workers in the journey towards optimum wellness. They work within our digestive system and impact almost every aspect of our bodies. Keep them happy, and you will be able to generate higher levels of serotonin (aka. happy juice), regulate your insulin, soothe your nervous system, process nutrients from food effectively and just perform at a higher physical level.
Drugs and pharmaceuticals can be really damaging to the delicate but powerful microbiome ecosystem so you want to stay away from these as a quick fix and focus on a long-term lifestyle-based solution that covers all bases. Think of it as snacking on junk food takeout versus sitting at a beautiful table enjoying a colorful, nutritious plate of home cooked food. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out which is better for you!
Improve your gut health by reducing stress
Stress causes chemical reactions within our bodies that affect our nervous, immune, respiratory, cardiovascular, all of our systems. Powerful hormones such as cortisone and adrenaline are released when the body goes into stress-mode. While stress hormones serve the purpose of bringing higher alertness during danger, they also interfere with our gut microbe system.
Ever noticed that when you feel a rush of stress you feel butterflies in your stomach or a lurch in your stomach? This is due to reduced blood flow to the gut (instigated by the stress hormones) which cuts off nutrient supply to your microbes, reducing their diversity and encouraging undesirable bacteria to flourish. The reduced blood supply also affects your immune system negatively.
Everywhere you read or look these days there are the warnings for stress. Stay stress-free! Reduce stress! It is easy to overlook these messages as they are so frequent.
Reducing stress is absolutely the most important thing you can do to keep yourself well and on top of things. It doesn’t feel that easy though – what about my job, my responsibilities, my lists?
The secret is, to manage your stress levels by being mindful and slowing things down a beat. This takes practice, and once you practice something enough it will become a habit. Start small and you will see the flow on effects. Try some of these ideas to reduce the stress in your day.
1. Be Mindful. Make an effort to actually think about what you are doing and practice just focusing on that task instead of letting your mind wander. Practice ‘single-tasking’ and you will find that you do things better and feel better about doing them. For example, brush your teeth, and only think about brushing your teeth.
2. Practice meditation once a day, even if this means you are just sitting still for 5 minutes and encouraging your mind to be blank. Give your brain time to switch off. If you are able to meditate for longer or try gentle relaxation activities like Tai-Chi or yoga, your brain (and gut) will thank you.
3. Accept things that are beyond your control. Is there really any point in worrying about something that may never happen, or that you cannot do anything to change.
4. Prioritize sleep and good nutrition, more on this below.
Sleep and your microbiome
It has been found that getting insufficient sleep, even just skipping a night or reducing your 8 hours to 4 hours or having a fragmented sleep, can affect the balance of the flora in your microbiome, its overall health and ability to function. Lack of sleep will also directly affect and reduce your insulin sensitivity which can lead to weight increase. Microbes that are specifically connected to your susceptibility to type 2 diabetes and obesity are affected by lack of sleep.
The microbiome has a Circadian Rhythm like humans do, and need to have sleep/rest and wakeful periods. This is an exciting new discovery and an emerging field of research.
Did you know, that as well as being the hot spot for serotonin (yes, the happy stuff) production, our magical digestive system also produces a massive amount of the sleep hormone melanin? Keeping the gut bacteria happy and well-slept means better sleep and health for you, which in turn means better sleep and health for your microbiome….so it is a cycle that is worth working on by giving sleep some priority.
Foods that boost your gut health
Microbes, or gut bacteria, need food too. And they get nutrition based on the foods we choose, and how we consume them. By adding better foods to your diet and being mindful about what you eat you can encourage the good bacteria to flourish, keep the not so helpful bugs at bay, and improve your overall health and wellness.
1. Fiber provides food (prebiotics) for your healthy gut bugs. It also reduces inflammation, keeps your digestive system running smoothly and can even assist with your mood by encouraging healthy bacteria growth. Choose unprocessed (whole) foods wherever possible – if it’s in a packet it is probably processed and has a great deal of its fiber and nutrition removed through the process. Increase your raw healthy vegetables, lentils, beans, whole grains and whole fruits (juices lose the fiber so stay away from these).
2. Probiotics actually contain the bacteria that are beneficial to your gut – they add living microbes to your system. The important factor when considering probiotics is that they need to make it to the intestine where they will live and colonize, past the harsh conditions of the stomach.
Many of the over counter probiotics you can buy will not benefit you as much as a probiotic whole food will. They may not contain actual live probiotics because if not stored at exactly the right temperature the bacteria will die. There is much discussion about the value of supplemented probiotics, so to be sure you are getting the good bugs, concentrate on the foods you eat to boost your levels naturally.
Sauerkraut, kimchee, natural Greek yogurt, miso and Tempe are fantastic natural probiotics. Steer clear of highly processed and sugar-rich packaged selections.
3. Prebiotics feed the bacteria that you have so nicely cultivated in your gut. These can be found in supplements, but are better when absorbed from the foods you eat. When you think of feeding your gut system, think of fibrous foods (as mentioned above) and onions, leeks, garlic, spinach, beans, oats, green bananas.
4. Overall, fresh, plant-based, unprocessed whole foods with different colors are best for your gut health. The different colors contain a variety of antioxidants, phytonutrients and polyphenols which will do amazing things for your overall health.
There is a lot of research to indicate that sticking to a mainly plant based diet is better for your microbiome. The high acid level of meat can disrupt a good alkaline balance which is needed for the good bacteria to thrive in.
The processing treatment in things like salami, bacon and fast food meats negates any nutritional value. Hormones that are given to most animals to quicken their growth and increase production output for farmers, even if natural, can disturb the balance you need.
Choose Certified organic foods and drinks where you can. Yes, they are more expensive, but you are guaranteed to have minimal pesticides, antibiotics and hormones passed on to your body. When choosing your fruit and vegetables, go organic ESPECIALLY when you are choosing items that do not has a thick skin, or that you consume the skin with, such as lettuces, apples, berries, tomatoes. Organic coffee and tea is really important because you consume the whole product, and animal products should be all organic to avoid the nasties as it accumulates in the meat.
Water & hydration are the key to better gut health
Too many carbohydrates, some supplements such as calcium and iron, artificial sweeteners, some medications, and food intolerances can cause constipation.
This is not only uncomfortable, but slows down the digestive process and can lead to retaining toxins that would normally exit the bowel sooner, and clog things up.
Keeping your water consumption high is important as the fluid will enable you to absorb nutrients more readily, feeding both you and your gut bacteria with the good stuff you need. Keeping hydrated with good quality water means you can flush out toxins which will help with clearing your skin, improved brain function, minimizing cramps and headaches and increasing immunity just to mention a few.
Choose good quality water where possible – the more alkaline the better, sugar-free and pure. If you live in a hot climate you may like to include a half teaspoon of Himalayan Pink Sea Salt which contains amazing minerals and will increase your ability to absorb the water. If you find you do drink a lot of water but still have signs of dehydration this might help.
Get to it and improve your gut health naturally starting now!
I hope the above tips have got you excited and motivated into making some easy and positive changes in your life. With the right food, a positive outlook and balanced lifestyle, you can work with your wonderful gut microbes and improve all aspects of your life.
Stay tuned for more words to inspire and educate you on this, plus some amazing products that I’ve tested and love.
Please connect with me if you have questions or comments – I would love to hear from you!