Drew Mulvey MS, CDN
When we think of getting a gut feeling, more than likely we associate that feeling with our stomachs. The gut is not only composed of this vital organ but refers to the gastrointestinal tract, which runs from the mouth to the anus. This includes organs such as the esophagus, stomach, gallbladder, pancreas, small intestines and large intestines.
Along the GI tract, particularly in the stomach and intestines, there are tiny microorganisms responsible for several different processes in the body. For starters, these little bacteria regulate about 80% of immune function, aid in digestion and assimilation of nutrients, and synthesize several vitamin metabolites.
There are several different strains of the bacteria but most fall under two genera, Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes. Having more Firmicutes can cause symptoms such as difficulty losing weight, increased susceptibility to infection and decreased digestive function leading to bloating, constipation and cramping and disrupt the integrity of the lining of the intestines. Some things that can disrupt the natural balance of beneficial to harmful bacteria is lack of sleep, infection, mental anguish, and more importantly, a poor diet.
Exposure to these stressors over an extended period of time not only increases production of our stress hormone cortisol, but can decrease the production of hydrochloric acid, or stomach acid responsible for breaking down food into smaller particles for assimilation. Common symptoms include bloating, constipation/diarrhea, skin rashes and eczema, mood swings, hay fever, and lethargy/fatigue.
We should be energized by the food that we eat, not feeling sluggish afterwards. Therefore, it is best to turn to foods for ways to nourish these little bacteria. Here are some ways nutritionally that you can support a healthy gut.
These are microorganisms, or “cultures”, in our food that repopulate the beneficial bacteria in our guts and crowd out harmful organisms. As mentioned above, these tiny organisms are responsible for proper digestive function, generation of important metabolites and 80% of our immune system. They can be found in foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha. All help to repopulate beneficial gut bacteria.
There are two forms of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber helps with regularity by helping to push bulk along while soluble fiber helps to decrease blood cholesterol and sugar levels. Fiber is found in foods such as beans, fruits, veggies, organic whole grains, nuts and seeds.
One subset of soluble fiber that is particularly beneficial for gut function is prebiotic fiber. This particular type acts as a direct fuel source for probiotics in our gut. They can be found in foods such as bananas, asparagus, berries, garlic, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, organic apples, gluten-free oats, leeks and dark chocolate. Both prebiotics and probiotics work in tandem in creating a symbiotic environment to keep the gut healthy.
This may be the easiest and single most important nutrient for gut health. Dehydration can lead to constipation, which can further lead to recirculation of toxins generated from the liver and to symptoms such as weight loss resistance. Water is needed for the intestines to pull into the bowel allowing the “bulk” to move through the colon and add moisture to stool. It also flushes out the kidneys which further decreases toxin exposure in the body and is needed for proper digestion. For optimal gut health, drink at least 8 - 12 8 oz glasses of water per day.
Want to learn more about Drew? Check out her website redeeminglifenutrition.com for more nutrition tips.