We've made it to part four of our exploration of "Gut Health Basics". Need to catch up?
Part One: When You Can (or can't) Feel It In Your Gut | The Basics of "The Gut"
Part Two: The Gut Brain Connection | Who's the real mother board? The brain? Or the gut?
Part Three: Shame and Digestion | How your thoughts and feelings are affecting your health.
Now that we know what we know from the previous three installments: we're gonna chew more (part one), maybe take a probiotic (part two), and focus on the mental modifications of the mindstuff to seek our truth, speak our truth, and want what we want (part three), what's next?
We know that it's more than just the food we eat. It's so. much. more.
There are five main areas of your world that are impacting the health of your internal microbiome:
Let me go ahead and precursor the rest of this blog by emphasizing: you do not have to address all five of these areas now or ever. My goal is to promote happiness at the heart of healthfulness, so should you feel yourself feeling stressed out by pressures to change who or what you are, step back, breathe and do not engage. Because item number one on that list? Stress? Yeah. We do not want to exacerbate stress in your life.
Stress affects your thoughts, induces the fight or flight response in the endocrine system, and makes your body shut down non-essential functions (like digestion and the reproductive system). The microbes in your gut can react to stress hormones, which can change the proportions of good vs. bad flora. Over-exercising, over-working, over-analyzing—all of these things can induce a stress response in the body, so when it comes to number one on our list of "things impacting your health," let's focus on what you can cut out rather than what you can add in. What's not working? What's taking up space in your life right now that you'd love to release? Maybe this is a great time of the year to add in some lower impact exercise like yoga, tai chi, or Pilates.
Joy is a GREAT antidote to stress. What brings you more joy?
When our immune systems are compromised, so, then, are our gut flora. Infection, trauma, chronic illness—these can all temporarily and/or permanently shift the population of your gut, meaning the fighters get overwhelmed by the disruptors.
Have you ever had one sickness after another? Like, maybe you get hit with a stomach bug, and then next thing you know, you're hit with the flu. And it feels like you're on this never-ending cycle of sick-sick-sickity-sick? It's not your fault! When your body gets overwhelmed by diarrhea causing bacteria, your gut microbiome gets royally screwed. The "good" bacteria are wiped out, and the diarrhea-bacteria overgrow. Suddenly, you're wide open to any other bacteria that get invited to the party. Your immune system is compromised, and viruses like the flu are SO EXCITED THAT YOU ARE A WELCOME HOST!
So, this is where stress, probiotics, and diet come into play. A strong gut will help you boost that immune system.
Well... there isn't a damn thing we can do about this one. As I type, I'm getting older. As you read, you're getting older. It's okay! Older, wiser, and so much more beautiful. (and also as we age, our gut balance can fluctuate, leading toward a gut that's got a bit less of the "goodies.")
Some science points to the fact that it *may* not be age that's affecting your gut flora, directly, rather the domino effect of years and years of stress, medication, and diet.
Speaking of, as we age, we tend to have more life experiences, and more experiences can also often lead to a necessity for more medication. I'm a firm believer in taking your medication as an excellent form of self-care, so: how can you empower yourself to maximize your gut health whilst also following your doctor's advice when it comes to medicine?
Antibiotics especially can obliterate your gut health; they go in there to kill off the baddies, and, in doing so, the goodies get wiped out, too. A course of antibiotics should ALWAYS be completed. Like, if you're taking an antibiotic and it's got nasty side effects (like a bad taste in your mouth) and you're feeling better from the original symptoms, STILL COMPLETE THE ANTIBIOTICS. Why am I yelling? Because if you don't, even though you may think you're doing a good thing to stop obliterating your gut health with warrior antibiotics, you've actually increased the resistance of the bad bacteria. They haven't all been wiped out by the antibiotics, and they will grow stronger. So much stronger. and they will become progressively harder to treat.
This is why when you're taking antibiotics, it's especially important to up your intake of fermented and cultured foods and keep on taking those probiotics. Which leads us right onto number five:
Low fiber, high sugar, highly processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, inflammatory fats (especially trans fats), and commercially grown meat can all be a bit of a detriment to your gut. So basically, the foods we have a tendency to love may contribute to gut dysbiosis. But fear not, because there are two things to keep in mind:
To be clear, I'm not (and will never) suggesting you embark on some drastic diet. That's actually counter-intuitive because a DRASTIC change to your diet could induce stress to your system (especially if paired with extreme exercise). Instead: howsabout a slow adding in of more vegetables, frutis, whole grains, and overall plant based foods. And continue to enjoy the foods you love. No rules. No restriciton.
Is it possible to give yourself permission to NOT do an all or nothing, feast or famine, yo-yo diet?
Because I so very much would love for every single one of us to embrace a non-diet lifestyle, here are some things you can add in that encourage overall gut health. Try adding in one at a time, and see how you feel.
My hope for this series has been to lift the veil on gut health enough to quench the thirst of anyone with a bit of curiosity, but please know it is a much more complex subject than four blog posts can cover. If you are interested in this subject, there is a wealth of information out there (also let me know if you have other questions, and I'll be sure to address them in future).
Keep happiness at the heart of healthfulness, my friend.