As a naturopathic doctor, I talk a lot about poop. The status of your bowel movements reveals a lot about the status of your overall health. In fact, according to the International Institute of Nutrition Research, the health of your colon is a major predictor of how long you will live and how healthy you will be as you age. If you are interested in knowing what a healthy BM looks like, see my previous post here.
Gut health starts early on. As babies pass through the birth canal, they are first introduced to their mother’s bacteria, which ultimately sets the stage for healthy, normal flora inoculation in the infant gut. Babies born via cesarean sections are unfortunately not exposed to this beneficial bacteria. The nature of the gut ecology will become how and who that baby is.
Gut flora determines our relationship to the environment around us, for 70% of your immune system is based in your gut. A healthy gut also equals a healthy brain, for 90% of your feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin, is found in the gut.
Here are ways to promote a healthy gut, which translates to a healthy immune system, balanced nervous system and an overall sense of well-being.
Know your food sensitivities
It is important to differentiate the following terms:
- Food allergy: Produces an immediate and often life threatening reacting (throat swells, hives, difficulty breathing, etc)
- Food intolerance: The inability to digest a food, which typically results in gas and bloating. For example, lactose intolerance is due to an enzyme deficiency, resulting in the inability to digest the sugar in milk.
- Food sensitivity: A delayed reaction to a food (up to 3 days after consumption). Reactions can vary, including digestive disturbances, brain fog, skin reaction, fatigue, joint pain and mood changes. Food sensitivities are very common! But they are also difficult to identify because reactions are not typically immediate. Food sensitivity testing is available, and I routinely do this in my practice to identify food triggers and then create an individualized diet plan based on the results. Knowing your food sensitivities is the first step to healing your gut. However, it does not end there. Repairing the gut using the 4R approach translates to lasting results.
Create a Healthy Gut Ecology
Perhaps you have been avoiding your food sensitivities but your health complaints, such as constipation, eczema or depression, still persists. These can be symptoms of a gut infection – fungal, parasitic or bacterial. The goal is to have an abundance of “good bacteria,” such as acidophilus and bifidobacertium, to protect you from the pathogenic bacteria, fungus and parasites. Chronic gastrointestinal infections are all too common, resulting in not just gastrointestinal symptoms but other chronic conditions, such as autoimmune diseases. Typically people think of a gastrointestinal infection causing explosive diarrhea for a few days and then the body bounces back. However, some times the body doesn’t bounce back and has a difficult time defending itself against this low level, chronic infection. A GI health panel is a stool analysis that I routinely do in my practice. This test provides ample information on the status of your gut ecology (ie, infections) and gut inflammation. If an infection is present, there are natural therapies available to destroy these pathogens.
Taking a quality probiotic is the first step to promoting a healthy internal environment. You should always buy probiotics that are refrigerated and with at least 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units).
Apple Cider Vinegar
I love apple cider vinegar for its ability to prime your system for digestion. Drinking 1-2 ounces of organic apple cider vinegar in 6-8 ounces of water 15-20 minutes before a meal encourages the secretion of stomach acid. Stomach acid breaks down hard-to-digest proteins. This is a simple and effective way to promote digestion!
You know the saying, “you are what you eat,” but you are also how you eat. You can encourage digestion by practicing mindful eating, which is accomplished by first taking deep conscious breaths before each meal. This gets you into the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system mode to optimally digest and assimilate your nutrients. I encourage patients to take 10 deep breaths before each meal. Mindful eating is also remembering to chew your food until it is liquid and using your senses to explore, savor and taste.
If you are not having a regular bowel movement or you simply feel sluggish or blah, you may need a restorative plan to get your gut, and thus your whole well-being, back on track. A healthy gut is truly the foundation of your overall health.
Sarah Axtell is a Naturopathic Doctor at Lakeside Natural Medicine in Shorewood, WI. She believes strongly in treating you, not just your symptoms, and specializes in treating the root cause of illness by utilizing effective, natural therapies including clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, detoxification, and biotherapeutic drainage.