Nicole Spear, MS, CNS
Back to the Basics of Gut Health
In the same way the engine keeps a vehicle running, the gastrointestinal (GI) system is the working engine that keeps the body healthy. Far too often, the importance of this organ is undermined as we fail to recognize that this organ system alone, is responsible for absorbing vital nutrients, filtering toxic substances, and is the primary caregiver of the immune system. Problems and dysfunctions of the GI system can be at the root of psychiatric conditions, learning problems, skin rashes, autoimmune conditions, heart disease, some cancers, and even the basic “cold.” The health of your gut can determine if your days are marked by exhaustion and sickness or vibrancy and wellness. Optimizing this organ system is the first step in gaining optimal health.
You are what you eat! Did you realize that 70 to 80 percent of the immune system is housed in your GI tract? This is the crucial relationship between what you eat and your health. A plethora of beneficial bacteria reside in the GI tract and are responsible for feeding, cleaning, and maintaining your immune system. Unfortunately, the fragile balance of helpful bacteria in the gut is compromised by the unhealthy diets, chronic stress, environmental toxins and unbalanced hormones which characterize most American lives. If we don’t supply the proper foods for maintaining a healthy gut environment and immune system, our health suffers. We are sick because “we are what we eat!” If you eat junk, you will become (and feel like) junk!
Sugar The chief culprit for creating havoc in the gut environment is sugar. Regardless of whether it is in its natural state or refined, all forms of sugar work against the beneficial bacteria in your gut by feeding dangerous, unhealthy bacteria and yeast. These harmful bacteria overwhelm the system, crowd out the beneficial bacteria, and compromise your immunity. Therefore, a low-sugar diet is very important for the gut and immune system to function optimally.
Fiber While reducing sugars may starve the dangerous bacteria, increasing dietary fiber will feed and multiply the beneficial bacteria. As the good bacteria ferments dietary fiber, healthy by-products are formed which work to feed the intestinal cells, rebuild immunity, and supply you with nutrients such as vitamin B12. Foods such as beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables are high in dietary fibers that keep your gut healthy and your immune system strong.
Probiotics & Fermented Foods A lifestyle of stress and unhealthy eating habits often leads to poor quantities of beneficial bacteria; therefore, it is often necessary to replenish them while improving our diets. More commonly known as probiotics, beneficial bacteria are found in some fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kumbucha tea – a fermented drink. While fermented foods are an excellent way to maintain a good quantity of probiotics, a supplement may be more appropriate when the gut needs repaired or health is less than optimal. Probiotics are especially important during pregnancy to ensure the baby begins life with a health gut environment. They are also critical after finishing a course of antibiotics, which disrupts your beneficial bacteria and can lead to a perpetually unhealthy gut.