Use Food & Lifestyle To Overcome An Unhealthy Gut

Use Food & Lifestyle To Overcome An Unhealthy Gut

More people than ever are aware of the central role the gut plays in the body’s ability to function optimally. The gut is often called “the second brain” due to the fact that there are 100 million neurons in the gut and nearly 2/3 of our neurotransmitters are made there. Not only does the gut impact mood, cognition, and energy levels, it has the essential task of breaking down food, absorbing nutrients, and expelling waste products in a timely fashion.

With all this going in the gut, it’s understandable that a lot can go wrong. Fortunately, there are simple actions you can take to improve GI function. This article will highlight some of the most common ways gut function is impaired with strategies for solving them.

There are five primary functions of the gastrointestinal tract:
#1: Digestion/Absorption

A properly functioning gut breaks down food efficiently, ensuring proper absorption of amino acids and other nutrients into the body.

#2: Elimination

The gut ensures that toxins and waste products are eliminated through the urinary and GI tracts and not allowed to re-enter circulation.

#3: Neuroendocrine

One of the lesser known roles of the gut is to produce hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate all aspects of human function. For example, nearly 90 percent of the body’s serotonin (the transmitter involved in mood and relaxation) is made in the gut. Hormones that regulate hunger and metabolism, such as CCK and ghrelin, are also made in the gut.

#4: Protective Barrier

The gut is made up of a single layer of cells that act as a protective barrier to all the toxins and waste products passing through the body that must be eliminated. This barrier can be disrupted by medications and high intake of sugar. Cortisol (the stress hormone) and histamine (a part of the immune response) can also damage the protective barrier and lead to intestinal permeability.

#5: Maintain Microbiome

The gut is colonized by billions of bacteria. For a healthy gut, you need to have a diverse gut ecosystem, with a greater proportion of beneficial bacteria.

It’s hard to know where to start when it comes to solving gut issues. Here are a few strategies you can adopt today:

Use intermittent fasting

When you’re constantly hammering your digestive system with food, it never gets a chance to rest and “clean out” the intestine. Fasting stimulates motility, which is the intestines contracting to maintain a downward flow of food through the GI tract. When you hear your stomach grumbling after 4 to 5 hours without food, that’s a function of motility. Both long- and short-term fasts can give the GI tract a chance to perform “housekeeping” functions to keep it healthy. Get started with short-term intermittent fasting in which you limit your eating to an 8- or 12-hour period during the day.

Manage your stress.

More stress means higher cortisol, the stress hormone that turns on your body’s “fight-or-flight” system. Elevated cortisol negatively impacts the intestinal lining of the gut, leading to increased intestinal permeability (known colloquially as “leaky gut”).

Managing stress can take many forms:

  • Stick to a routine in terms of eating and exercise.
  • Choose high-quality nutrition that balances blood sugar.
  • Incorporate deep breathing and meditation during high stress moments.
  • Focus on recovery after exercise to help clear cortisol after tough workouts.
Activate your vagus nerve

The vagus nerve stimulates the digestive organs, regulating the stomach, liver, pancreas, and intestines. Impaired by excess stress and the “fight-or-flight” sympathetic nervous system, the vagus nerve springs into action when your body’s “rest-and-digest” parasympathetic nervous system takes over. All of the well-known stress management strategies will improve vagal function, such as deep breathing and meditation, but a lesser known trick is gargling, which contracts the muscles in the throat and stimulates the GI tract. Singing and humming have the same effect, which is why both are often used to help people handle anxiety.

Feed your healthy bacteria with prebiotics.

Whether you’re taking a high-quality probiotic supplement or eat probiotic foods on the regular, it’s just as important to nurture the bacteria in your GI tract with prebiotics—foods that feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. Many plant foods contain some prebiotics, but the most abundant include asparagus, garlic, onion, leeks, bananas, artichokes, yams, seeds, tomatoes, potatoes, and cabbage. Another option is to supplement with resistant starch—a type of prebiotic that is found in starchy foods such potatoes and green bananas. The easiest thing is to buy unmodified potato starch and mix it in a protein shake or smoothie daily.

Chew your food well.

Scarfing food without properly chewing is a common side effect of our high-stress society that harms the delicate intestinal lining and feeds the harmful bacteria in your gut. The digestive process starts in the mouth with saliva providing enzymes that begin breaking down food. Simply by chewing your food so that it is fully masticated you can reduce the growth of inflammatory bacteria in the GI tract.

Rotate your protein sources.

Routine makes life easier, but when you eat the exact same proteins day in and day out, it can lead to the development of food allergies, especially if you aren’t a pro chewer. Rotating your protein sources every four or five days can help as does using a different cooking method (for example, scrambling eggs instead of eating them hardboiled).

Eat protein with fat and fiber.

Never consume protein all by itself because this reduces digestibility and increases risk of developing an intolerance. Both dietary fat and green vegetables increase absorption of protein. Many protein sources contain dietary fat, but if you’re eating super lean protein, add a handful of nuts, some coconut or olive oil, or other fat source to protect your gut.

Use digestive enzymes.

Just as with lack of chewing, low stomach allows food to enter the intestines without being completely broken down. Caused by many factors including aging, stress, and inflammation, low stomach acid exacerbates intestinal permeability and fuels the growth of harmful bacteria. Taking a combination of plant- and animal-derived digestive enzymes will improve digestion and absorption of animal proteins.

Final Words:

The gut is intricately related with your brain and hormonal systems, meaning it affects all aspects of your daily experience. By t adopting the simple lifestyle and nutrition habits in this article you can lay the groundwork for a healthy gut and top notch “second brain.”

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