Recently I was asked a tricky question:
“If you had one single piece of health advice to share for living a healthy lifestyle, what would it be?”
This is a tricky question for a number of reasons, the first and most obvious one being that every individual is different and everyone needs their own tailored solution for achieving a healthy lifestyle. Yes, that’s true, but that doesn’t mean this question can’t be answered.
I see a question like this one as a personal challenge; how far can I zoom out to accurately answer a question like this one and truly address nearly every single health concern that plagues modern man? Is that even possible? I’d venture to say that yes, it’s possible.
The single most important piece of advice for healthy living is to HEAL YOUR GUT.
Heal your gut and the rest will follow.
That’s the advice. It’s that simple. You might be thinking that we’re right back where we started, that ways to “heal your gut” are as varied as the individual, or that surely there are tons of diseases that have nothing to do with gut health.
You might be mistaken.
If the gut isn’t working properly, nothing is working properly.
Vitality starts in the gut where we assimilate input from the outside world into resources for inside our bodies. Gut health is crucial for the health of every other system in our bodies. It affects our skin, our immune response, our hormones, our weight, or energy level, our bowel movements (obviously), even our MOOD and PERSONALITY. That’s right, there are studies taking place now that attempt to isolate certain bacteria in the gut responsible for depression and anxiety. That level of detail hasn’t been worked out in the lab yet, but rest assured that altering the human biosphere to address any number of mental health problems is in the not-too-distant future. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself.
5 Facts About Gut Health that Might Surprise You
1. The microbiome in the gut comprises more than 60% of our immune function (some say as much as 75%)?
We have more cells of bacteria in our bodies, and especially in our gut, than we do human cells. 10 times more, in fact. Certain bacteria in our gut represent the body’s ability to fight off invaders, and they actually communicate with those neurons I just mentioned above. When the right bacteria are overtaken by the wrong ones, we start to see both acute and chronic malfunction in our bodies, often accompanied by inflammation and pain.
A healthy gut means a healthy immune system.
2. 95% of serotonin is found in the Enteric Nervous System.
It makes sense that medications aimed at addressing depression through SRIs (serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) would disrupt bowel function, considering that so much of it resides in the bowel. Surely it would follow that ensuring the healthy functioning of our second brains would some day enter the scope of practice in mental health care. That day could come very soon indeed!
A healthy gut means a healthy mood.
3. Gut permeability (aka “leaky gut”) is the culprit for a large number of autoimmune diseases and possibly allergies too.
In fact, leaky gut is arguably to blame for the sharp rise of food allergies (gluten, corn, dairy, soy to name the most common).
If your intestinal lining is compromised, you could suffer from something called gut permeability. In layman’s terms, what should stay inside your intestines leaks out into the rest of your body through tiny holes that shouldn’t really be there. The partially digested food that leaks into the gut is seen by the body as a foreign invader, so an immune response occurs– an allergy.
The causes of gut permeability definitely vary from person to person, but a major factor is inflammation. Inflammation can occur for a number of reasons and is actually implicated in the chronic diseases of the western world – heart disease, diabetes, obesity, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis. Inflammation in the gut can occur due to over-consumption of inflammatory foods, gut dysbiosis (too much of the wrong kinds of bacteria wreaking havoc in the gut), and too much sugar in the diet (can be a cause of gut dysbiosis). That’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but it’s a good start.
A healthy gut means less allergies and inflammation (often resulting in healthy skin).
4. The gut is often called our “second brain” due to the more than 500 million neurons that reside in the Enteric Nervous System (ENS).
In fact, communication between the gut and the brain is a two-way street, with information going from gut to brain far more often than we ever thought was the case in the past. The term “gut feeling” is a lot less metaphorical and a lot more literal than you might think.
A healthy gut means proper communication between the systems of the body.
5. The bacteria in your gut might determine your cravings AND your ability to gain/lose weight.
Scientific studies are being done to test this hypothesis, and very interesting findings are coming about. We’re learning so much about the communication between the bacteria in our gut and our brains, and while major conclusions haven’t yet been drawn as it relates to common medical practice, this field of research could revolutionize the way we address obesity in medicine.
“…the capacity of bacteria to adapt is such that if it is to their advantage to influence their host preferences for food, they will.” (source)
It’s been shown that “bad” bacteria such as candida thrive on sugar and foods that quickly turn to sugar. When there’s an overgrowth of candida, the bacteria actually cause you to crave those foods that they like to eat! Likewise, when you have “good” bacteria at healthy levels in your gut, you’re more likely to crave a diet that they want to eat – one rich in fiber.
Studies have also shown that when certain bacteria are placed into the intestines of mice, and the mice are fed the same exact diet, those implanted with “bad” bacteria gained weight and those implanted with “good” bacteria lost or stayed the same.
A healthy gut means a healthy weight.
Heal Your Gut, Change Your Life
You might be surprised at some of the easy changes you can make to start improving your gut health today. Of the listed suggestions, for me personally eliminating sugar is by far the most challenging to stick with consistently. It might be a different story for you, but considering how much sugar we as a country consume every day, I’m guessing we might have this in common.
If you truly want to see positive results in your health, this is one of the only times I suggest going cold turkey.
If you completely eliminate sugar for at least 2 weeks, it will have a synergistic effect with the rest of the suggestions on this list. If you do all the things below but remain on a high-sugar diet, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. Sugar is a highly inflammatory food. After your two weeks of cold turkey, test the waters with fresh berries or a small amount of dark chocolate, but pull back for another week or so of you see negative side-effects.
5 Ways to Heal Your Gut:
- Eliminate sugar from your diet for two weeks to a month (depending on the severity of your problem) and then slowly reincorporate natural sugars only and very sparingly.
- Take a probiotic and eat foods rich in live cultures (kim chee, kefir, sauer kraut, yogurt, kombucha).
- Heal the gut lining and reduce/eliminate permeability by drinking bone broth and/or supplementing with l-glutamine.
- Eat foods that support the propagation a healthy gut biome – fiber-rich foods that represent every color of the rainbow.
- Explore the possibility of food sensitivities through an elimination diet (start with the ones I listed above). By identifying trigger foods, you can help reduce inflammation and promote healing. Once your gut is healed, you can attempt to reintroduce the trigger foods watching closely to see if any old symptoms return.
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