“All disease begins in the gut.” – Hippocrates
More and more research shows that our digestive system has a bigger role in many diseases than we used to think. And we’re not only talking about the things you might connect to digestion such as heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, etc. But also other issues like allergies, pain, mood disorders, and nutrient deficiencies.
There are many reasons for this. Our gut is our body’s connection to the outside world. It’s here where our body decides what gets in and what doesn’t. The good news is that the nutrients we ingest and absorb are the building blocks of every single part of our body. However, we can also take in disease-causing bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxins.
We’re just learning the connections between our gut (or rather it’s friendly microbiome) and other areas of our body, like our brain. So, let’s talk about the roles that our gut and our gut microbes play in our overall health. Then I’ll give you tips to improve your gut health naturally.
FUN FACT: About 70% of our immune system lives in and around our gut.
Roles of the Gut
- Our gut acts as a barrier. To let things in that should get in, and to keep things out that should stay out.
Think of “absorption” of nutrients as things we want to let in; and “elimination” of waste as things we want to pass right through and out. This seemingly simple role is super-complex and it can break down in so many places.
For one thing, our guts can become permeable or “leak.” Yes, like a long tube with holes in it, it can allow things to get into our bloodstream/bodies that can wreak havoc (bacteria, undigested food, and toxins). You name it, whatever you put into your mouth can be absorbed by your gut and get into your bloodstream, even if it’s not supposed to.
How does this happen? Well, when your gut wall gets irritated, it can cause inflammation and the tight junctions open up and “leak,” which is a starting point for many diseases that don’t seem linked to the gut (but have a sneaky connection there).
A healthy gut is not a leaky gut. It maintains its barrier and shuttles things through to be eliminated.
- The gut is home to the billions of friendly health-promoting microbes.
Gut microbes help us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease-causing microbes, make some vitamins for us, and have all kinds of other health benefits, like mental health benefits, reducing inflammation, and stabilizing blood sugar.
Want to get started improving your gut with a delicious sugar-free meal plan and guide?
Pillars of gut health
- Maintaining a healthy gut barrier is the first pillar of gut health.
There are a lot of natural ways to improve gut health. Let’s start with what to stop. It’s always best to eliminate the cause, so let’s stop giving our guts junk to deal with by eliminating added sugars, processed foods, and alcohol. Try that for a few weeks, and you may be amazed at how much better you feel.
You may also want to eliminate dairy and grains as they contain common compounds known to irritate some people’s guts. Sometimes you only need to eliminate them for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference for your health.
Then add in nutrient-dense foods. These nutrients help our bodies build and repair our gut, and every other body part as well. Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, colourful fruits and veggies, liver, and fish.
- The second pillar of gut health is to nurture our microbes.
By ingesting probiotic-rich foods and drinks, we can help to replenish our gut microbes. These are found in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Make these a part of your daily diet.
Whole foods are full of gut-friendly fiber. Inadequate fiber intake increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Fiber plays important roles in our gut, including removing bad bacteria and toxins and feeding our friendly microbes that help us absorb and digest our food better. What foods have a lot of fiber? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even cacao.
And don’t forget important lifestyle factors such as getting enough sleep, stressing less, and getting the right amount (and intensity) of exercise for you. It’s easy to forget some of the simple, but key links there are between what we do with our bodies and how well they function.
The function of your gut is key to your overall health. There are two pillars of gut health: maintaining a good barrier and maintaining healthy gut microbes.
The main ways to improve both of these naturally is by eating nutrient-dense whole foods filled with nutrition, probiotics, and fiber. And, by eliminating common gut irritants like added sugar, processed foods, and alcohol. If you would like help in getting started, download my 5-day meal plan here. Your gut will thank you!