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Trust your gut.
We’ve all heard that advice, and we all probably give it from time to time. The notion of “going with your gut” or “trusting your gut” alludes to some primal intuition that our gut must somehow know what’s good for us. Something is going on with the gut.
Is it truly the space where our most sound intuition resides?
Maybe. But as far as our overall health is concerned, science is devoting more and more energy to studying what’s up with the gut. And the findings are sweeping.It all gets down to what’s called the microbiome: a delicate ecosystem consisting of billions of bacteria that reside in your gut. When this ecosystem becomes unbalanced, all sorts of health problems from depression to constipation to weight gain can throw your personal balance out of whack as well.
The gut isn’t solely responsible for breaking down foods. It is actually intimately connected to mood regulation, immune system function and metabolism. An optimal balance of bacteria will keep your mind and body functioning at a high level. An imbalance can be devastating.
Making sure your gut is healthy should be a top priority for mental and physical well-being. Let’s take a look at what we mean by gut health and how you can keep yours in top shape.
What’s in the Gut?
The microbiome in the human gut is a complex and delicate ecosystem featuring a wide variety of bacteria. Within this microscopic jungle are between 300 and 500 different species of bacteria at any given time. That’s 10 TIMES the amount contained in the rest of the human body combined!
These bacteria serve various biological functions. To name a few, the gut bacteria
- maintain homeostasis in the body
- produce short-chain fatty acids (these play a significant role in illness prevention)
- metabolize drugs
- produce anti-inflammatory secretions and responses the body needs
- fight invasive pathogens
There are three main categories within the microbiome. When each is held in perfect balance, the body operates at a prime level.
Category 1: Essential/beneficial flora
We call these the “friendly” or “good” bacteria because the entire human system needs them to function. If you’ve ever taken a probiotic, it would’ve contained strains of this type.
Category 2: Opportunistic flora
These bacteria are not necessarily “bad”, but their numbers need to be constantly kept in check by beneficial flora. If they become overpopulated, a myriad of health issues can arise, including candida and cardiovascular issues.
Category 3: Transitional flora
The transitional flora enters our bodies through what we eat and drink. For example, any bacteria on the lid of your water glass is part of this group. The transitional flora usually passes through the gut without incident; the beneficial bacteria stabilize the threat. But once again, if the beneficial group does not have adequate numbers, transitional flora will be allowed to pass through your gut and infect your system.
It’s all about the balance
When your body has enough beneficial bacteria, it will effectively fight off an invasion from the bad stuff that can harm you. If the microbiome is properly balanced, it produces pathogen-fighting substances on a molecular level. A healthy gut is the body’s MAIN DEFENSE against illness, undigested foods, toxins, and parasites.
On the flipside, recent science links an UNHEALTHY gut to:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Cardiovascular problems
- High BMI (Body Mass Index)
- Every digestion issue under the sun
- Mental and psychological imbalance
The Mental Health Connection
So we know that the gut bacteria keep our immune and digestive systems functioning, guarding us against the harmful toxins in our environment. But the gut’s function goes far beyond our physical health.
The father of modern psychiatry, Phillipe Penel, proclaimed way back in 1807,
“The primary seat of insanity generally is in the region of the stomach and intestines.”
Wait a minute.
We’ve been conditioned to think that our psychological problems are all about the brain and our experiences. There’s a chemical imbalance going on in our head, or we suffered certain events that have impacted our ability to regulate moods.
It’s truly groundbreaking for most of us to consider that the solution to mental health problems lies in the condition of the gut.
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride has devoted her life to studying the gut. Her earth-shattering research goes as far as to connect an unhealthy gut to depression, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, and even autistic tendencies.
It all gets back to the importance of balance. When the underlying biological mechanisms of the human system are out of whack, the effects are all over the spectrum. Too much of the bad bacteria will impact everything about your health.
To summarize the microbiome’s relationship to overall health, let’s go to Dr. Campbell-McBride’s almost poetic metaphor of a tree:
“As we know, the roots of a tree, invisible, hidden deep under the ground, play a crucial role in the well-being of every branch, every twig, every little leaf of that tree, no matter how proudly high and far they may be from those roots. In the same way the diverse and multiple functions of gut flora reach in the body far beyond the gut itself.” (25)
Maintaining Gut Health- What to avoid
We know now the importance of gut health cannot be overstated. So what out there in the world is compromising it?
Americans are consuming them like crazy. Up to 60% of the average American’s diet consists of processed foods. This means that more than half of what we consume isn’t truly food at all. It’s something else; something foreign and artificial. Consequently, our bodies have a really hard time digesting these harmful substances. Our beneficial flora gets tapped out, unable to keep up with the supply of toxins that are constantly coming through.
The more you avoid processed junk food, the healthier your gut will be.
You may be thinking that antibiotics serve a positive function. After all, the doctor prescribes them for you when you’re sick and they help you get back on your feet.
The problem with antibiotics is that in addition to killing the bad bacteria of which you may be infected, they kill the good stuff too. In fact, the medical community used to think that the bacterial ecosystem recovered fairly quickly after a round of antibiotics, but the recent work put into gut health is pointing towards longer-term mal effects from these powerful medicines.
Also, your body doesn’t just get antibiotics from the doctor. If you eat dairy, meat, any animal product that is not 100% organic, it most likely contains some amount of antibiotics that will seek out and kill the beneficial flora in your gut.
So take it easy on the antibiotics. Let your doctor know you’d like to avoid them whenever necessary. And eat fewer animal products. The amount of antibiotics in the meat and dairy supply has never been higher.
Starvation and overeating are both big-time threats to the bacterial balance. The all-or-nothing extremes of these behaviors put a huge strain on your beneficial flora. Like processed foods, poor eating habits will leave them overworked and depleted.
Grains, sugary foods, and complex carbohydrates have been shown to be detrimental to gut health. These foods are very complicated on a molecular level and therefore take more time and effort to break down in the digestive system. Our good bacteria simply cannot keep up with the demand when we consume empty calories like this on a regular basis.
Take control of your eating habits. Eat at regular intervals, not too much or too little, and avoid overloading on sugar and carbs.
The Good News- Gut helpers
While our gut does face a number of adversaries in our processed world, there are a number of things we can do to boost that good bacteria and feel great.
The opposite of antibiotics, adding a probiotic gut health supplement to your diet actually introduces good bacteria to the microbiome. The term probiotic refers to any source of outside beneficial bacteria that you are ingesting. You can get probiotics in pill form or in a powder form to put in juices and smoothies.
An EXCELLENT way to include probiotics in your diet is through fermented foods. Kombucha, kefir, and sauerkraut all contain those helpful bacteria that the gut needs. They can be an acquired taste, but it’s worth it for an easy health boost.
Triphala is an ancient ayurvedic medicine that has been used for thousands of years to treat all kinds of ailments in India. From the Sanskrit word for three fruits, it is comprised of the extracts of three dried fruit species indigenous to the region.
Polyphenols from these super fruits work to regulate the gut microbiome and keep that ever-important balance in check. Plus, the gut will actually use Triphala to create anti-inflammatory compounds.
Clinical trials have shown that regular use of this power combo reduces constipation, abdominal pain, and overall digestive problems. Triphala has various other benefits including antioxidant and adaptogenic effects. But its positive impact on the microbiome is what keeps this amazing medicine in the arsenal of gut health proponents everywhere.
Click HERE to buy potent Triphala powder you can put in juice, water or smoothies.
Like Triphala, Gynostemma Tea is known to have a plethora of health benefits. It also possesses adaptogenic and healing properties. In fact, the tea is specifically used in the treatment of ulcers, gastritis, and other illnesses because it is able to mechanically disarm certain pathogens on a molecular level.
The gut loves this medicine.
It is a healthy stimulant that the good bacteria need to metabolize and replicate. Regular consumption of Gynostemma Tea has been shown to not only increase the numbers of beneficial flor but actually lower the population of the types that need to be consistently held in check. Because of this boost in gut balance, it is also considered helpful in the treatment of diabetes and constipation.
If you didn’t know before, you know now.
Gut health, or the balance of the bacterial microbiome, is a singular determinant to overall health and well-being. Everything from your immune system to your moods is regulated by the impressive microscopic ecosystem that resides in the gut.
What you do or do not ingest is going to directly impact this delicate environment.
No need to be overwhelmed, just take small steps. Eat less processed foods. Take a probiotic or gut health herbal supplement every day. And always trust your gut. Take care of it and it will take care of you.
Besten, Gijs den, et al. ((September 2013). The Role of Short-Chain Fatty Acids in the Interplay between Diet, Gut Microbiota, and Host Energy Metabolism. Journal of Lipid Research. Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3735932/
Bisci, Fred, et al. (2015). Our Elders Speak- Discover the Real Keys to Vibrant Health, Longevity, and Happiness. Awareness Press.
Campbell-McBride, Natasha. (2017). Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, Schizophrenia. Medinform Publishing.
Karolinska Institute. (06 November 2008). Anti-Diabetic Effect of Gynostemma Pentaphyllum Tea in Type 2 Diabetic Patients. Retrieved from: clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00786500
Li, Yantao, et al. (2016). Anti-Cancer Effects of Gynostemma Pentaphyllum (Thunb.) Makino (Jiaogulan). Chinese Medicine. Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5037898/
Orho-Melander, Marju. (23 February 2018). New Link between Gut Bacteria and Obesity. Retrieved from: www.lunduniversity.lu.se/article/new-link-between-gut-bacteria-and-obesity
Peterson, Christine Tara, et al. (01 August 2007). Therapeutic Uses of Triphala in Ayurvedic Medicine. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. , Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5567597/
Quigley, Eamonn M. M. (September 2013). Gut Bacteria in Health and Disease. Gastroenterology & Hepatology. Retrieved from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3983973/