Did you know that your brain fog and fatigue may be linked to your gut health? The gut is closely tied to every organ system in the body and without it none of the other systems would be able to function. The digestive system breaks food down into smaller parts so that the components of food (protein, carbohydrates and fats) can be absorbed and sent to the cells that need them.
The Digestive System
The food we eat fuels our skeletal, cardiac and smooth muscles, provides raw materials needed to repair our tissues and aging cells and the proteins used in the immune system. Without good digestion your metabolism would be sluggish and you would not be able to focus or think clearly.
The digestive system helps the body absorb nutrient and minerals that are needed for fuel, tissue repair, reproduction, metabolism, immune function and mood. Under ideal conditions the digestive system absorbs 92-94% of the nutrients that are found in your food.
The nervous system and the enteric nervous system are closely linked; the gut is full of nerve cells and contains 70% of the immune system. Serotonin a neurotransmitter found in the brain is also produced in the gut and levels are highest after you eat; this may be why people use “comfort foods” to cope with stress.
Statistics show that 60 – 70 million people suffer from a variety of digestive ailments 1 that include bloating, upset stomach, leaky gut syndrome and IBS.
Our gut is not only home to our enteric nervous system it is also home to over 1 trillion microorganisms that make up our microbiome. These organism help produce vitamin K, antibiotics and they affect everything from or weight to our immunity.
Gut health can be affected by a variety of different lifestyle factors that include poor diet, stress, medications, sedentary lifestyle and the use of antibiotics.
Poor gut health has been linked to a variety of conditions that are found outside the digestive system and include: skin conditions, joint and muscle pain, allergies, depression, headaches, depression and menstrual pain.
Medications and Your Gut
Did you know that antibiotic therapy kills the good and bad bacteria in your gut? This disrupts the fragile balance between the good bacteria and the harmful “pathogenic” bacteria; is no barrier to keep the bad bacteria from growing and taking over your gut. Harmful bacteria lead to gut dysfunction which leads to leaky gut, constipation, malabsorptive syndrome, eczema and an increase in chronic diseases. This is why it is important to eat prebiotic and probiotic foods on a daily basis and especially after antibiotic and long term birth control use.
Birth Control Pills
The use of birth control pills and its effect on hormonal balance, has been linked to disruption of the bacterial balance and increased permeability of the gut, which allows proteins and food to escape the digestive system and enter the blood.
The gut bacteria are sensitive to hormones and hormonal imbalances in the body and may lead to the overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gut.
A Harvard study, found that women who were on birth control pills for 5 years or more had an increased risk of developing Chron’s disease, an autoimmune condition of gut that leads to inflammation of the intestinal lining and leads to malnutrition and poor absorption due to destruction of the villi that absorb nutrients from food. 2
In addition to the increased risk of autoimmune diseases, birth control pills deplete many important vitamins and nutrients that the body needs. In order to process medications, the liver uses coenzymes (vitamins and mineral) to break them down when this happens they are no longer available for the body to use. Birth control use depletes the following nutrients: B vitamins, especially B2, B6 and B12, magnesium, vitamin C and zinc.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
NSAID’s are used to treat inflammation in the body and in most cases these over the counter drugs are used to treat a variety of musculoskeletal pain syndromes. One of the down sides of using NSAID’s is that it causes inflammation and ulcers in the lining of the digestive system. 3 These ulcers allow large proteins and nutrients from food to go into the blood stream where the immune system is activated. This leads to leaky gut syndrome and it has been linked to many autoimmune diseases.
When you have unmanaged stress your body will release cortisol, in addition to increasing your risk of chronic disease and leading to hormonal imbalance that affect your gut bacteria.
Did you know that chronic stress increases inflammation in the gut and this can lead to hormonal imbalance, mood changes and decreased immunity?
Chronically high levels of cortisol can also increase the permeability of the gut and suppress the immune system in the gut with increase the risk of bacterial imbalance and infection. Learning to manage your stress and taking probiotics can decrease the harmful effects of stress in your body.
Eating a diet high in refined sugars and low in fiber feeds the harmful bacteria and increases inflammation in the gut. Studies have shown that eating a poor diet can switch/change the bacteria that are growing in your gut from beneficial bacteria to harmful.
This switch increases your risk of chronic disease, mood disorders, malabsorption syndrome and many other chronic conditions. Instead eat unprocessed foods that are high in fiber this helps feed the good bacteria and maintains the fragile balance between good and harmful bacteria. It improves digestive system health by balancing blood sugar and slowing the absorption of fats.
Heal and Repair Your Gut
With a little help you can heal and repair your gut by changing your diet, eating fermented foods, managing your stress and taking probiotic supplements anytime you take antibiotics.
Prebiotics feed your gut flora and help them flourish, you can find them in a variety of different plant foods. These foods help feed the good bacteria in your gut and in turn helps keeps you healthy.
Examples of prebiotic foods include: Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus and garlic just to name a few
Probiotics are foods that contain beneficial living organisms that replenish the bacteria is your gut and help maintain balance between your good and bad gut bacteria. People who are healthy have over 100 different strains of bacteria living in their gut. When it comes to gut flora the more diverse the better. Some sources of probiotics include the following:
Yogurt – Go for plain yogurt and add fruit instead of flavored yogurt that have added sugars.
Kefir is like yogurt but a thinner consistency. It contains probiotics and enzyme called lactase; lactase digests the lactose in milk which makes it easier for people who are lactose intolerant. It is high in nutrients like B vitamins, calcium and protein. It is a more potent source of probiotics than yogurt. It contains up to 30 different strains of bacteria and has antibacterial properties.
Lassi is a yogurt based drink that is rich in lactobacillus and mixed with fruit and spices. It soothes the digestive tract, eases bloating, constipation, promotes digestion and stimulates the production of digestive enzymes. Lassi colonizes the gut with healthy bacteria, improves metabolism, reduces cholesterol and improves immunity.
Beet kvass -fermented beet juice. This is a lacto fermented beverage that is made out of beets; it promotes regularity and aids digestion. Beet kvass is rich in probiotics, B12, manganese, magnesium and many other beneficial nutrients.
Kimchi – a spicy fermented cabbage with other vegetables
Sauerkraut- fermented cabbage
In addition to eating foods lifestyle habits like managing stress, exercising, getting enough sleep can also help improve your gut and overall health.
You can also check out 3 Foods To Eat For Better Gut Health