August 16, 2023
Having a healthy gut plays a huge role in our bodies’ overall wellbeing. Scientists are still learning about all the ways in which this makeup of bacteria affects different parts of our bodies. One thing is for sure, though: taking care of our gut is fundamental in making sure our digestive system works properly.
What is a gut?
The gastrointestinal tract, or “GI tract”, is the part of our body that takes food from the mouth to the stomach, where it converts it into nutrients and energy before disposing of the waste. The “gut”, or microbiome, as it is officially called, is the complex network of bacteria and microorganisms in the GI tract whose proper functioning and balance is essential to the health of our entire body.
Why is a healthy gut important?
The more diverse the selection of bacteria and microorganisms in your gut, the healthier you are. About 70 – 80% of our immune function is reliant on the health of our gut and the bacteria within. There are so many things that contribute to gut health, aside from just what we eat, from stress to sleep to exercise levels. As a result, poor gut health can negatively affect our wellbeing in a host of different ways, including make us feel more tired and even contributing to the development of chronic illnesses. A healthy gut not only helps your body to absorb and process food, but also communicates with the brain through nerves and hormones, contributing to our emotional health and our stress levels.
“As we get older, our digestive system changes,” says Tonda McGillis,
Natural Choice Advisor at Calgary Co-op. “We may think we’re suffering indigestion and antacids are often used to relieve the symptoms, but the problem is more often low stomach acid, rather than high. You should always consult a doctor, but some of our customers have found Betaine HCl helpful. It’s a source of hydrochloric acid derived from beets to increase acidity in the stomach. This is important, because the valve that releases stomach contents into the digestive tract is pH sensitive, and if the pH is too high (alkaline rather than acid) the valve doesn’t open, preventing timely transit of food. This can lead to acid reflux into the esophagus”
Healthy Gut Tips
Now that we understand what a gut is and why it’s essential to keep it healthy, let’s look at some of the ways we can do that.
Eating slowly and mindfully is the first step to cultivating a healthy diet. It prompts us to be more aware of what we’re eating as well as teaching us to understand when our body is full. Overeating overloads your GI, which has negative effects on your gut whereas chewing your food slowly promotes proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. The longer you chew, the more surface area there is for enzymes to act upon the food.
Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water has so many health benefits but specifically when it comes to gut health, it has been shown to positively affect the lining of the intestines as well as help our body to break down foods.
“Try to drink two glasses of water after you wake up to help your body rehydrate after sleep,” suggests McGillis. “Also, consuming good quality fiber like vegetables (and an enzyme with amylase if they cause gassiness) is important.”
Get Your Probiotics and Prebiotics
Probiotics are live good bacteria and prebiotics provide food that helps good bacteria to thrive in your gut. Both have been proven to help maintain gut health, lower inflammation and provide the microbiome with fibre, which it needs in order to perform at its best. You can consume both in the form of supplements or by incorporating specific foods into your diet.
Probiotic foods include live fermented food such as lacto-fermented pickles, kefir, sauerkraut and sourdough bread. Prebiotic foods include garlic, onions, leeks, bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, oats and apples.
“I prefer fermented foods or those with active cultures as it more mimics how we ingested probiotics through history; you can get these from foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha.Although, they may not be enough for some people. If you need a supplement I recommend Renew Life, Flora, Progressive, and New Chapter. Living Alchemy is another brand that makes food-fermented active culture probiotics using specific foods or herbs that address specific issues.”
Lower Your Stress Levels
Stress contributes to our gut health as our microbiome is in contact with our brain via its nerves and hormones. So if you’re feeling anxious, your gut will feel it too, which can lead to the reduction of essential healthy bacteria, causing problems such as inflammation and even chronic diseases. Equally, if your gut is stressed out, you’ll likely feel it in your brain, too. Your microbiome influences your mood hormones, which has a direct effect on your emotional wellbeing and anxiety levels. McGillis says that Dr. Formulated Mood+ probiotic can be helpful for some people experiencing mild to moderate depression.
Get Enough Sleep
Not getting your ZZZ’s has innumerable consequences on our overall wellbeing. When it comes to gut health, a poor sleep cycle can put our microbiome in a spin, disturbing its bacteria and digestive processes. Besides, when we’re tired we’re less likely to eat well and more likely to drink coffee, both of which can irritate our gut.
Research has shown that regular cardiovascular exercise (brisk walking, swimming, cycling or jogging for 150 minutes per week) contributes to a healthy gut. It gets your colon moving, aiding proper digestion, as well as promoting the production and maintenance of a diverse range of healthy bacteria in the microbiome.
Manage Digestive Issues
Many of us deal with digestive challenges, such as dairy or wheat intolerance.
McGillis recommends other products to help ease the symptoms associated with those intolerances.
“Enzymes can help with specific digestive challenges, such as dairy or wheat intolerances, and should ideally be taken in the first couple of bites of a meal, but if it’s taken right after, that’s okay too. Enzymedica has a line of enzymes that range from dietary maintenance to specific issues. Glutenease is for gluten or wheat intolerance, and Dairy Assist can help with digestion of all dairy products because it helps with not only milk sugar (lactase), but also casein, a hard to digest protein in milk. Prairie Naturals’ Bile Force and Trophic’s Digest Aid contain ox bile to help emulsify fat for better digestion. Especially for those with no gall bladder. Lipid Optimizer by Enzymedica works on all fats as well.”
Overall, a healthy gut is a happy gut and the more we do to promote good digestive health, the more benefits we will see, not only in our tummies but also in our stress levels, emotional wellbeing and immune system. Following a few simple tips will put you on the right path to keeping your microbiome working as it should!
Please Note: Health information is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional health advice. This general information is not intended to diagnose, cure, or treat any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Any information, advice, or suggestions given by Calgary Co-op staff is not a replacement for medical advice from your Doctor, Dentist, or professional Practitioner. Consult with your healthcare professional with any questions you may have.