Gut health is one of the top trends in modern health. It seems like every week more studies come out showing the connection between gut health and just about every other aspect of health. Though not conclusive, the mounting evidence suggests that maintaining a happy, healthy gut might be an important first step when trying to achieve better overall health.
Not sure where your gut health stands? Here are 6 signs your gut could use a little tender-loving-care (TLC):
1. Occasional digestive issues (e.g., occasional upset stomach, gas, bloating)
We’ve all experienced some type of physical discomfort associated with our stomach at one point or another. And while the occasional stomach upset or bloating goes away on its own, it’s a sign of a less-than-optimal gut environment and is something that shouldn’t be overlooked.
2. Brain fog
That’s right… that fogginess you notice from time to time might stem from the depths of your gut. Research shows that there is direct communication between the gut and the brain, what is referred to as the gut-brain axis. This means that maintaining a healthy gut is key to supporting optimal brain function.
3. Differences in Mood
The majority of serotonin – a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood – is made in your gut. Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome supports the production of serotonin which promotes a positive mood.
4. Food cravings
While we all crave something salty or sweet from time to time, food cravings can impact the balance of gut bacteria; listening to those cravings may tell you what your body might need more of to stay in balance.
5. Weight management
This one also ties back to maintaining a balance of beneficial gut bacteria. With food cravings that make it hard to say no to sweets or to control your appetite, maintaining a healthy weight can be a challenge.
6. Poor sleep
Serotonin levels play a major role in regulating our body clock and sleep cycles. Maintaining a balanced gut microbiome helps promote serotonin production (as mentioned in #3), which helps support melatonin production, the ‘get-good-sleep’ hormone.
Giving your gut the attention it deserves
Knowing how to maintain a healthy gut starts by knowing what can offset it. Things that are likely to cause minor, occasional gut issues often work by disrupting the gut microbiome (aka, the bacteria and other microbes living in your gut) as these little critters play important roles in digestion, immunity, metabolism and mental health. Things to avoid to promote a more balanced gut microbiome include:
- Antibiotics: They work by killing ALL bacteria in the gut as they cannot differentiate between “bad” (harmful) bacteria and “good” (helpful) bacteria. Maintaining a healthy bacterial balance in your gut helps promote a healthy metabolism, and fat storage, supports normal hormone levels as well as brain function and positive mood.
- Stress: Reducing everyday stress levels can help support a balanced gut microbiome, which helps promote overall good health. As mentioned above, these changes may disrupt aspects of your day, mental clarity, and feelings.
If you find yourself experiencing any of the minor gut issues listed above, there are a handful of things you can try that will promote a balanced gut microbiome –
Eat right: The foods you eat can feed the helpful bacteria and starve the less desirable bacteria. To make sure you are feeding only the helpful bacteria, eat things like plants, fruits, seeds and nuts. To starve the less desirable bacteria, minimize your consumption of processed foods, breads and pastas.
Fill up on prebiotic foods: Prebiotics are natural, non-digestible food components that promote the growth of helpful bacteria in your gut. To include more prebiotics in your diet, eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains such as bananas, onions, garlic, asparagus, wheat, oats and ancient grains like quinoa, millet or chia.
Avoid overusing antibiotics: Because antibiotics kill off all bacteria, it’s important that you only take them when necessary. If you do you have to take them, consider taking a probiotic supplement to promote the growth of the healthy bacteria.
Eat fermented foods: Fermented foods contain a healthy dose of probiotics—the good-for-you bacteria. These foods include: tempeh, miso, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, kombucha and kimchi.
Take probiotic supplements: Like fermented foods, probiotic supplements contain the “good” bacteria that help maintain a healthy ecosystem of bacteria in your gut.
Manage everyday stress: Reducing your everyday stress can help maintain the balance of beneficial bacteria in your gut. To promote a healthy balance, finding ways to manage stress is important. Things that have been shown to help reduce everyday stress include—meditation, yoga, spending time with friends and family, adequate sleep, and aromatherapy.
For optimal health, make gut health a top priority. Specifically, work to maintain balance in your gut microbiome as it plays a role in many important body functions. Maintain balance by engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors, and consider giving your gut a little extra TLC (e.g., take a probiotic) in addition to engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors to help maintain the balance that is so critical for optimized health.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author
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