Today we are going to discuss your gut health, also known as your digestive health. Some people get a little uncomfortable talking about their digestive tract, from their diet all the way to their poop. But it is one of the most important conversations you can have with your healthcare provider!
The first thing that is important to clarify is that just because you do not have symptoms like bloating, heartburn, abdominal pain or constipation, does not mean you have a healthy digestive track. You can have an unhealthy gut and experience symptoms like: fatigue, eczema, brain fog, anxiety, depression, rash, insomnia, frequent illness, chronic nasal congestion or even joint pains. Your digestive health is central to your overall health and wellbeing and is connected to EVERYTHING that happens in your body. Having any of these symptoms can be the early signs of gut issues and are important to address before they lead to chronic illness.
One of the most significant connections between your gut and overall health is the gut-brain connection. The brain and the gut are acutely interconnected and the gut is even considered to be a “second brain.” This “second brain” is comprised of over 100 million nerve cells which are embedded throughout your digestive system. The digestive tract also uses more than 30 neurotransmitters, just like the brain. In fact, about 95% of the body’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked to depression and anxiety, is found in the digestive tract.
In the past it was thought that emotions like happiness, anger, anxiety, and sadness trigger a physical reaction in your digestive system. It was thought to be the BRAIN-GUT connection. For example, have you ever gotten “butterflies” in your stomach when you were anxious or excited? Or gotten unwanted symptoms like reflux or diarrhea during times of stress? These are physical examples of that connection between the gut and the brain.
However, we now know due to recent research that the connection is actually much more driven by the gut. It is not just emotions affecting the gut, but the gut affecting your emotions: the GUT-BRAIN connection. Research has shown that digestive health has a significant influence over our brain chemistry, mood, emotions and behavior. For example, people with a healthy and diverse set of gut microbes are less likely to suffer from mental disease. Keeping your gut healthy is a huge part of fighting depression, anxiety and dementia. So if you are getting down or anxious, stop looking at your brain and start looking at your gut!
How can you improve your gut health?
So, if you have not been taking care of your gut thus far, then is there still hope? Can you still improve your gut health and reduce your depression and/or anxiety? The great news is there are many ways to improve your gut health and therefore improve your emotional and overall health. To get you started, here are some simple tips:
1. Diet Avoid inflammatory foods: Avoid processed foods, additives, sugar, gluten, and dairy (more inflammatory proteins—should not be a large part of your diet). Eating excess sugar and fructose will distort the ratio of good to bad bacteria in your gut by serving as a fertilizer/fuel for pathogenic bacteria that negatively inhibit the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Add functional foods: Functional foods are foods that help improve your gut health such as kefir, fermented foods, kombucha, and bone broth.
2. Supplements: There are three supplements that are essential to a healthy gut. First is a high quality probiotic to help balance the delicate microbiome in your gut. Second is glutamine, a healing amino acid, to help reduce inflammation in your gut and improve absorption. In some individuals it might also be helpful to add digestive enzymes with meals to help your gut heal and improve digestion.
3. Lifestyle and Stress Reduction: Research has found that stress leads to an overgrowth of certain types of bacteria while simultaneously reducing microbial diversity in the large intestine. To help keep your gut healthy, reduce stress where possible and improve your stress management. Try adding deep breathing or meditation throughout your day, or include yoga or acupuncture.
4. Avoid Unnecessary Antibiotics and Medications: Medications have their time and place but can affect the microbiome. Avoid these when you can!
Improving your gut health can be a very individualized process, so it is important to work with a skilled healthcare provider who understands functional medicine. If you do not currently have a provider to help you through this process, schedule an appointment at CentreSpringMD, where I would be happy to work with you personally to improve your gut and emotional health and prevent disease!
To better health,
Christina Grace FNP-C