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If you haven’t noticed, gut health is big in the news. It seems like every week new research is coming out showing the connection between gut health and just about every other aspect of health. Though not conclusive, the mounting evidence suggests that maintaining a happy, healthy gut might be an important first step when trying to achieve better overall health.
Not sure where your gut health stands? Here are 6 signs your gut could use a little tender-loving-care (TLC):
- Occasional digestive issues (e.g., stomach aches, gas, bloating, heartburn)
- We’ve all experienced some type of physical discomfort associated with our stomach at one point or another. And while the stomach ache or bloating often goes away on its own, it’s a sign of less-than-optimal conditions and is something that shouldn’t be overlooked.
- Brain fog
- That’s right… that fogginess you notice from time to time might stem from the depths of your gut. Research shows that there is direct communication between the gut and the brain, what is referred to as the gut-brain axis. This means that any interruption in gut function can quickly interfere with the optimal functioning of the brain.
- Interrupted mood
- The majority of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, is made in your gut. Any imbalances in your gut microbiome (the bacteria, viruses and fungi living in your intestines) can interfere with the production of serotonin which can then alter your mood.
- Food cravings
- While we all crave something salty or sweet from time to time, food cravings can mean an imbalance of gut bacteria; something that can be disruptive to your health.
- Weight management issues
- This one also ties back to gut bacteria. With food cravings that make it hard to say no to sweets or hormonal changes impacting your appetite control system, maintaining a healthy weight can be a challenge.
- Poor sleep
- Serotonin levels play a major role in regulating our body clock and sleep cycles. If there are imbalances in our gut microbiome, serotonin production can go down (as mentioned in #3). This can lead to less melatonin production, the ‘get-good-sleep’ hormone.
Giving your gut the attention it deserves
Knowing how to maintain a healthy gut starts by knowing what can offset it. Things that are likely to cause problems often work by disrupting the gut microbiome (aka, the bacteria and other microbes living in your gut) as these little critters play important roles in digestion, immunity, metabolism and mental health. Things that are known disruptors of the microbiome include:
- Antibiotics: They work by killing ALL bacteria in the gut as they cannot differentiate between “bad” (harmful) bacteria and “good” (helpful) bacteria. This creates a bacterial imbalance in your gut which can lead to altered metabolism, modified fat storage, changes in hormone levels as well as interrupted brain function and mood.
- Stress: Elevated stress levels have the potential to deplete your good bacteria which leads to an imbalance in the gut microbiome. As mentioned above, this imbalance can disrupt many aspects of your health.
If you find yourself experiencing any of the signs listed above, an imbalance in your gut microbiome might be to blame. To restore balance, there are a handful of things you can try –
- Eat right: The foods you eat can feed the helpful bacteria and starve the less desirable bacteria. To make sure you are feeding only the helpful bacteria, eat things like plants, fruits, seeds and nuts. To starve the less desirable bacteria, minimize your consumption of processed foods, breads and pastas.
- Fill up on prebiotic foods: Prebiotics are natural, non-digestible food components that promote the growth of helpful bacteria in your gut. To include more prebiotics in your diet, eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains such as bananas, onions, garlic, asparagus, wheat, oats and ancient grains like quinoa, millet or chia.
- Avoid antibiotics: Because antibiotics kill off all bacteria, it’s important that you only take them when necessary. If you do you have to take them, consider taking a probiotic supplement to help restore the healthy bacteria.
- Eat fermented foods: Fermented foods contain a healthy dose of probiotics—the good-for-you bacteria. These foods include: tempeh, miso, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, kombucha and kimchi.
- Take probiotic supplements: Like fermented foods, probiotic supplements contain the “good” bacteria that help maintain a healthy ecosystem of bacteria in your gut.
- Manage stress: Elevated stress levels can be problematic in many ways, one of which is disrupting the balance of bacteria in your gut. To avoid any imbalances, finding ways to manage stress is important. Things that have been shown to help reduce everyday stress include—meditation, yoga, spending time with friends and family, adequate sleep, and aromatherapy.
For optimal health, make gut health a top priority. Specifically, work to maintain balance in your gut microbiome as it plays a role in many important body functions. Maintain balance by engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors. If you find yourself experiencing signs of disruption, be sure to give your gut a little extra TLC (e.g., take a probiotic) in addition to engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors to help restore the balance that is so critical for optimized health.