The health of your gut is inextricably linked to your physical body, general emotional and well-being. When your gut is unhealthy, it can take a toll on the rest of your body. As we are all bio-individual beings, there is no perfect approach to diet or lifestyle that promotes gut health.
However, studies have shown that there are certain dangers to digestion that are universally harmful, from a poor diet to environmental toxins. Limiting these irritating guts is an important first step to improving digestive health, creating a strong and diverse microbiome, and setting the stage for optimal health.
Although antibiotics are sometimes necessary and have an important place in medicine, overuse of antibiotics, including recurrent use and high dosages, can damage the intestine. In recent years, antibiotics have been used more freely to eliminate harmful bacteria that cause infections, without taking time to explore other viable bacteria and solutions. This is particularly prevalent in hospitals and other urgent care settings, where immediate and short-term treatment is prioritized. Most antibiotics don’t just target the bad bacteria – they can kill the good bacteria too, creating an unhealthy imbalance in the gut microbiome. Also, overuse of antibiotics can cause bacteria to become resistant, requiring additional medication or treatment. It’s helpful to keep in mind that the body can naturally fight off many infections on its own, if given the proper time and environment to heal. Many antimicrobial properties are found in nature (and in your pantry!), such as honey, ginger, oregano and garlic. While herbal remedies should not be used in place of a doctor’s care, they can be great for prevention, early intervention, and extra support. Functional medicine doctors may recommend antimicrobial supplements containing some of these natural ingredients to help fight certain infections, rather than prescribing traditional antibiotic ingredients. To help preserve the health of your gut, it’s best to only take antibiotics when needed.
Alcohol is inflammatory. Consumption of large amounts can irritate the bowel. Use over time can create intestinal permeability (also known as intestinal leakage), which can allow toxins and undigested food particles to pass through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. By damaging the cells of the intestine, alcohol can also impair nutrient absorption, which can contribute to various vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Over time, alcohol can create damage to organs – including digestive organs such as the mouth, esophagus and stomach. In the stomach, alcohol can interfere with stomach acid, decreasing its effectiveness in breaking down food and killing potentially harmful pathogens. Once alcohol passes through the bloodstream and into the body, it can damage the liver and large intestine. Liver damage is of particular concern as its main function is to detoxify the body. Alcohol can also alter the state and diversity of the gut microbiome, which aids in the vitamins and minerals produced, as well as immunity, and can strongly influence mental and physical health.
Staying hydrated is one of the simplest and most overlooked ways to keep your gut healthy. Intake of an adequate amount of water has been shown to improve the mucous lining of the intestines as well as improve the intestinal microbiome. Water cleanses the body and helps in the detox process. Also, water is necessary for proper stool formation. While there is often a focus on increasing fiber to aid bowel movements, this must be accompanied by adequate water intake. The combination of fiber and water allows stool to form optimally and pass easily through the body.
Tip: If you are thirsty, drink water as soon as possible. A feeling of thirst is an indication of initial dehydration. Also, thirst can sometimes make you hungry, so the next time you feel hungry, try drinking a glass of water and see if that solves the problem!
The gut microbiome is very susceptible to what you put in and on your body. This includes more than food. Environmental toxins can be found in plastics, beauty and household products, and the air you breathe. Toxins contain endocrine disruptors and cancer-causing chemicals and can negatively impact the gut microbiome. Some common environmental toxins are:
– Triclosan: an antibacterial agent found in deodorant, toothpaste and soap.
– Fluoride: a mineral found in toothpaste
– Phthalates: synthetic fragrant chemicals that provide scent for home, health, and body care
– Pesticides: substances used to kill, repel or control certain forms of plant or animal life that are sprayed on non-organic products and crops
– Bisphenol-A: a synthetic compound found in plastics and tin coating
You can reduce your exposure to these types of environmental toxins by investing in natural, non-toxic products for your body and home. As a first step, pay attention to product labels and look for more natural alternatives when shopping
LACK OF EXERCISE
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Sedentary is the new smoker”? Studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle can be as unhealthy as smoking! Think about what happens if you sit on your leg for too long. Circulation is cut, which causes the sensation of your leg “falling asleep”. The body needs movement to allow proper flow of blood and energy and keep muscles strong and healthy. You have muscles in your digestive system as well – in your mouth, pharynx, stomach, small intestine and large intestine. Research has shown that the microbiome improves after six weeks of exercise. While there is no specific exercise routine that works for everyone, physical movement is essential for bowel health. It’s important to remember that not all physical movement needs to be vigorous or strenuous. Cycling, taking a walk, or even taking the stairs over the elevator are great ways to incorporate more physical activity into your life on a regular basis.
LACK OF SLEEP
Lack of sleep can negatively affect the quality of the microbiome and, consequently, lead to greater health problems. Deep sleep is one of the few times the body can completely relax and rejuvenate. Balance is restored during this time; information and food are processed, organs recharged and the microbiome replaced. Much like sleep, the gut microbiome operates in a circadian rhythm, and when that rhythm is disturbed, it affects the microbiome’s health and its ability to protect immunity. Bad sleep can also disrupt hormones – including ghrelin, which signals hunger, and leptin, which signals satiety. When these hormones are unregulated, our appetite can be thrown out, causing us to feel hungrier than usual and to become less sensitive to feeling full. This combination sets the stage for overeating and sugary greed. foods, which can negatively affect digestion. We may crave sugary foods to make up for the lack of energy we feel when we don’t sleep well; however, these foods are not only inflammatory, creating intestinal permeability, but they also feed the bad bacteria in the intestine.
BAD EATING HABITS
The Standard Brazilian Diet is low in dietary fiber and high in processed foods and
add sugar. A processed food is any food that has been altered, either chemically or mechanically, for packaging and preservation purposes. Many processed foods contain artificial ingredients, including color or flavoring, preservatives, food additives, emulsifiers (which prevent liquids from naturally separating), added fats and sugars for flavor, and other unhealthy chemicals. During processing, many of these foods are
manipulated and refined and consequently lose most of their nutritional value. Whatever you ingest will feed your microbiome, for better or worse. Just as dietary fiber and probiotics feed good bacteria, eating plenty of processed foods can feed unhealthy bacteria, which can cause dysbiosis (an imbalance of good and bad bacteria) and poor general health.v
Processed foods, including sugar and artificial chemicals, can also cause inflammation, damaging the intestinal walls and increasing the likelihood of intestinal permeability. When this happens, excess food particles and toxins are able to enter the bloodstream, causing disease to appear elsewhere in the body. The intestine thrives on a variety of whole foods. When your gut thrives, you thrive. The diversity of the gut microbiome is linked to increased health and immunity. You can create this diversity by eating a variety of foods packed with dietary fiber. Fiber not only feeds your good intestinal microbes, it also helps lower your cholesterol, keeps you fuller.
longer, helps control your blood sugar, and helps keep things moving so you can eliminate toxins regularly! Fiber can be found in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and pulses. Including healthy fats from nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados and fish is also important for feeding your microbiome and eating healthy sources of protein.
Tip: If you’re wondering if a food is processed, ask yourself, “Could I have taken it from a plant or tree?” This clarifies that while almonds are a whole foods, almond cookies are not. Likewise, chicken is a complete food; however, frozen chicken nuggets that come in a box and have a long list of ingredients would be considered processed.
Some processing is fine. For example, peanut butter does not grow on trees or olive oil. Peanuts have to be pressed and ground to be made into butter. Olives need to be pressed to extract the oil. Try to choose foods in their most natural form or foods that are minimally processed, with as few ingredients added as possible.
Another way to keep your gut healthy is to incorporate foods rich in
probiotics and prebiotics (the fiber that powers probiotics). they are an excellent
way to enhance your good gut microbes and add diversity. Foods rich in probiotics include fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut. Foods Containing Prebiotics include unripe bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, and onions. When it comes to diet, bio-individuality must be considered. Some modifications may be necessary depending on the individual.
We’ve all heard the many dangers of smoking cigarettes and how it can negatively impact on the body – the digestive system is no exception. Smoking can increase risk of cancer of the mouth, esophagus, stomach and pancreas and has been linked to Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease. Smoking can also cause and aggravate ulcers, heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux. disease (GERD), a persistent acid reflux that occurs more than twice a week. Smoking has also been linked to pancreatitis, colon polyps, gallstones and liver disease. In short, there is continuing mounting evidence that demonstrates the harmful effects of smoking on all digestive organs, which inhibit optimal digestion, nutrient, absorption, and healthy elimination.
Have you ever noticed that it’s hard to digest a meal when you’re upset or stressed? You may find it difficult to eliminate. For others, it might be a little too easy because you may have to “run” to the bathroom. This is because the system we rely on daily to digest our food breaks down when we are stressed. Stress can also alter the microbiome, which has negative implications for overall health. You may not even recognize when you are stressed because it has become ingrained in daily routines. Stress can be experienced in many physical ways – irritability, forgetfulness, brain fog, poor appetite, racing heart and sweating, to name a few. Whether the stress is acute or chronic, it sends signals to your brain to go into “fight or flight” mode. The brain prepares and sends all its energy reserves to the parts of your body that need it most: your eyes get wide to absorb more light, blood rushes to your limbs to run, and your heart rate goes up. When this happens, other bodily systems, including the digestive system, shut down as they are considered “non-essential” during times of fight or flight. This happens whether we are stressed about a lion chasing us or an impending deadline at work. Stress management is critical to maintaining good digestive health. However, you can choose to de-stress and prioritize self-care, it is an essential component to allow the body to function properly. Regular stress management allows the body to be in a relaxed state known as “rest and digest”, the opposite of fighting or flying. A great way to manage stress is deep breathing, which involves the calming effects of “rest and digestion” throughout the day. Another way is to eat carefully. Try to bring some awareness with you to the table and make an effort to slowly savor your meals. It may not be possible all the time, but remember that small shifts can add up to big changes over time!