For years, scientists have known about the existence of another brain within our bodies. No, it’s not science fiction but reality. Our stomach functions totally independently and does far more than just digestion. It’s said that health begins in the gut, which is to say that its condition can influence and impact our overall health. Chronic inflammation in the gut is known to cause various diseases and conditions ranging from mild to acute.
On the other hand, lifestyle factors can be a boon to one’s microbiome, also known as the collection of the gut’s microbes. Here’s a look at a few of the variables that can help or hinder the gut’s state and what you can do to optimize your microbiome.
This one is fairly obvious, but it’s worth noting. Think: You are what you eat. A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides the fiber that makes the good bacteria happy. For example, a bowl of oatmeal with some berries is a great way to start your day and keep your gut healthy and happy.
Nutritionists and dieticians also recommend fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, kombucha and the like to balance the ratio of good to bad bacteria in the gut. If you suffer from chronic constipation and bloating, you may have an undiagnosed condition to blame. Make sure to express any concerns to your doctor and make note of any recent changes in your bathroom habits. It helps to keep a food journal so you can better connect the dots.
A good night’s rest is a friend to anyone, but there’s more to rest than we give it credit for. Just as R&R is good for your overall constitution, a deficit can also prove to be detrimental. Poor quality or not enough sleep can increase your risk of obesity, which can wreak havoc on the gut. Side note: Some experts believe it’s a chicken-and-egg phenomenon. Does obesity cause poor gut health or does poor gut health cause obesity? We’re still learning a lot about metabolism and the role the gut plays in the process. In the meantime, we know that poor sleep hygiene can take its toll on the body and mind.
Sedentary people tend to have a less diverse microbiome than those who are more physically active. Importantly, physical activity increases the abundance of beneficial bacteria in your gut, enriches the diversity of the bacteria, and can enhance the production of disease-fighting compounds. It’s also known that exercise can help us manage our weight by keeping us “regular.” Even a daily 20-minute daily walk can help aid digestion. So get moving!
Nerves got the best of you? There’s a reason some people get an upset stomach when they’re feeling uneasy. The state of our gut is reflected by our emotions and vice versa. The good news? The more you can manage stress — especially the chronic kind — the more you can maintain a healthy mix of gut flora.
Another reason to try to keep your cool? There’s a contingent of research that suggests that when we are exposed to stress, the abundance of health-promoting bacteria is reduced. The reduction in diversity and the low abundance of beneficial microbes in the gut can influence our mood, cognitive abilities, and behavior. The two-way communication system, known as the gut-brain axis, really is a powerful thing.
Travel can be a real wildcard. Airplanes, changing time zones, eating airport food and local cuisine, lack of hydration, and even stress can cause a microbial imbalance and manifest in digestive issues. However, eating whole foods can increase the abundance of healthy bacteria in your gut. Do your best to try to maintain some of your routine and your stomach will thank you.
Medications and Supplements
Certain prescriptions like antibiotics can destroy the balance in the gut. That’s why if you take one your doctor might recommend following it with a high-quality probiotic to help restore the beneficial gut flora. Other drugs can also disrupt the microbiome. Opioids, for example, like morphine, are associated with severe constipation. One study found up to 25% of 835 non-antibiotic drugs suppressed the growth of at least one bacterium.
On the proactive side of things, some people swear by collagen to nurture their microbiome on a daily basis. Collagen is beneficial to gut health because it contains large amounts of the amino acids glycine, glutamine and proline, which can be beneficial to the intestinal tract as well as the stomach.
When it comes to a healthy belly, there’s no magic bullet. What’s one gut-healthy habit you can work on this week?
We hope that you find this message to be informative and useful as we look to the promise of a new year. If you have specific questions or concerns about gut health, please feel free to contact us at (703) 822-5003. Remember, health is wealth!