Foundational Gut Health Truths
Hippocrates once said, “all disease begins in the gut” - this famous phrase shaped one of the fundamental principles of functional medicine and the gut is often referred to as a foundation pillar of health for the body.
Gut health can be complicated. Your gut impacts so many bodily functions (mood, skin, metabolism, etc.), and your microbiome that lives in your gut is home to trillions of species of bacteria. And that’s not including the bacteria’s own DNA that we’re also responding to. It’s no wonder when we think about how to support optimal gut health, it can get overwhelming with where and how to start.
But just like a house won’t stand without a strong foundation, intentionally taking care of your gut health begins with solid foundational habits. Some of the best gut health choices are actually quite straightforward and don’t require expensive supplements or time! Here are three simple foundational truths that will set your gut up for success:
1. Eating Hygiene: The health of your mealtime habits can determine if you experience digestive symptoms or not. This is because digestion doesn't start in the mouth. It starts in the brain. Your brain and gut are connected by the vagus nerve and the enteric nervous system (ENS). When the ENS is in parasympathetic nervous system mode (rest and digest), the brain tells the entire gastrointestinal tract to prepare to secrete digestive juices for digestion and absorption. If the nervous system is in a stressed state (fight or flight), the brain signals to the body that it must prioritize survival. This can disrupt digestion and lead to uncomfortable symptoms after eating…and….if your food isn’t broken down well, it creates maldigestion and a lack of nutrients being available for your cells. If this is repeated for a long period of time, we become undernourished.
Practicing eating hygiene is at the core of a healthier, happier gut. To begin, focus on your environment. Sit down in a comfortable distraction free environment where you can make eating a priority. Before you begin to eat, take 1 minute to do deep belly breathing to tell your brain you are safe to digest food.
While enjoying your meal, focus on chewing each bite 20-30 times, or until it’s the consistency of baby food. Put your utensil down between bites and focus on savoring the moment! Pay attention to the smells, the textures, the flavors and how the food makes you feel. Try avoiding chugging any liquids during your meal. This will optimize concentrations of stomach acid, digestive enzymes, and bile—three chemical compounds that are hugely important for healthy digestion.
2. Stress Less: Stress can disrupt and even halt your digestive secretions, but it also alters the gut microbiome. Existing research shows this, with a 2011 research review published in the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology4 supporting findings that exposure to stress results in alterations of the gut-brain axis.
The "gut-brain axis" via the vagus nerve and ENS, is bidirectional, meaning the gut sends signals to the brain, and the brain sends signals to the gut. Irritation in the gastrointestinal system sends signals to the brain via the central nervous system (CNS) that trigger mood changes, while mood signals from the brain to the gut. When you're stressed, this gut-brain axis carries high-alert stress signals from the brain to the gut. Your brain releases the stress hormones corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), cortisol, adrenalin, and norepinephrine, and the GI tract has lots of receptors for these hormones. If you’re under attack by a wolf, your brain wants you to run away from the wolf, not prioritize digesting food. Your body reacts the same way when under modern day stressors.
You can start supporting your gut health by being mindful of how you perceive stress and how you respond to life events. Beginning daily stress management techniques can help you activate your rest and digest mode to help you and your body feel safe in your world. Ideas for creating peace and calm include: yoga, tai-chi, qi-gong, gratitude journaling, deep belly breathing, snuggling a pet, being in nature, dancing to your favorite music, singing, eating whole foods, reducing caffeine, taking a warm bath, reading an intoxicating book. Only you know what will bring you calm, and it’s also up to you to make them a part of your regular daily ritual.
3. Move Your Body: Getting sufficient movement is critical to your gut. Not only is it going to help you get better sleep and help with your mental health (rest and digest activated!), but research even shows exercise positively influences the gut. Not only that but aerobic exercise can even increase the amount of bacteria in your digestive tract and contribute to overall bacterial diversity. Other research has shown that the more physically fit you are, the more diverse your microbiome is. As a 2017 review published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity explains, numerous studies point to exercise enhancing the number of beneficial microbial species, enriching gut microflora diversity, and improving the development of commensal bacteria.
Taking care of your gut might seem complicated and maybe even scary, however beginning with the foundation will not only help you get well, but to stay well! We recommend beginning with incorporating one foundational truth at a time and slowly building up your foundation… brick by brick. If after incorporating these building blocks into your daily life, you’re still having gut challenges, we invite you to join our upcoming Gut Recovery Blueprint that will be launching at the beginning of the new year. Stay tuned for details coming soon! If you're interested in being on our waitlist, please complete this form.
This blog post is for informational and educational purposes. It’s not meant to treat any health condition or to be prescriptive for anyone.
Always be sure to work with your healthcare practitioner before implementing new recommendations and/or supplements