A healthy mind and body are built upon a healthy digestive system. Hippocrates said it best over 2,000 years ago when he proclaimed that food is the ultimate medicine, but only in the last handful of years have we begun to understand just how powerful these words are. Containing approximately 60% of your immune system, the gut has become known as a powerful predictor of overall health. Imbalances in the microbiota, the “ecosystem” of nearly 100 trillion microorganisms that make up the digestive tract, can lead to hormonal imbalances, autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, eczema, rosacea and chronic health problems like fatigue and diabetes.
Several factors of the modern lifestyle contribute to damaging the beneficial bacteria that makes up the digestive system, including the following:
- Diets high in processed sugars and refined carbohydrates
- Diets low in fiber
- Dietary toxins and irritants like alcohol and caffeine and inflammatory foods like corn, soy and gluten
- Frequent antibiotic and medication use
- Unnecessary cesarean section births
- Chronic stress
Establishing and nurturing the good bacteria in the gut is critical to creating not only intestinal health, but overall health as well. Use these simple steps to help restore your gut health and improve your well being:
- Take a high-quality probiotic. Probiotics help to improve digestive function and restore the health of the microbiota by changing the overall composition of bacteria in the gut and increasing your metabolism. Look for supplements that contain 5 to 10 billion colony-forming units with multiple strains of bacteria.
- Eat a variety of foods. A varied diet consisting of many different types of food can lead to a diverse microbiota.
- Include plenty of fiber. Fiber, while not digested by your body, acts as food for you digestive tract, stimulating the growth of the healthy bacteria making up the gut. Apples, artichokes, blueberries, almonds and pistachios have all been shown to increase Bifidobacteria, a beneficial bacteria that enhances gut health. Other high fiber foods include beans, legumes and cruciferous veggies.
- Eat fermented foods. Fermented foods include yogurt, kimichi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha and tempeh. These foods are rich in lactobacilli, another beneficial type of bacteria.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners may negatively affect blood sugar levels, increasing the risk of glucose intolerance and metabolic disease. These negative metabolic effects are due to alterations in the composition and function of the microbiota.
There is an increasingly robust body of science linking the health of the digestive tract to many aspects of well-being. A disrupted micobiota can be the catalyst for a number of chronic diseases. The best way to maintain a healthy gut is by eating a wide range of fresh foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.