Let’s Talk about Guts, Baby!

Did I lure you in with that sexy title about your most savory bodily organ? You are one special lady! Sure, there are more glamorous topics we could discuss (ear candling or oil pulling, perhaps) but we’ll save those for another time. Today, it’s all about the gut! And it’s hard to think of anything that is more influential when it comes to your health. Medical research across disciplines shows that your small and large intestines (collectively called the gut) play a surprisingly critical role in a myriad of bodily systems including your nervous system, endocrine system, and of course, your digestive system. If those weren’t enough, other areas impacted by the gut include your mouth and skin—not to mention your mental health!

With all that in mind, it’s hard to ignore that taking care of your gut is exceedingly important. So, read on for a simple yet holistic guide to lovin’ on your all-important gut!

Diet

When eating for gut health, it’s important to understand that the gut microbiome is made up of good and bad bacteria—and you need both! You just need to maintain the right balance between the two. To feed the good bacteria, focus on consuming prebiotic fiber (garlic, onions, and bananas are just a few great sources), fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, and homemade pickles for example), and a variety of fruits and vegetables (try consuming leafy greens, sulfur-rich veggies, and brightly colored veggies daily, like Dr. Wahls). To starve an overgrowth of bad bacteria, avoid sugar-rich and processed foods, and beware of antibiotics (unless truly medically necessary) since they kill all your gut bacteria—good and bad.

Additionally, to support your intestinal lining, consider cultivating a collagen regimen by sipping a morning cup of bone broth, or adding collagen powder to your drink of choice.

Exercise

Alright ladies, dust off the hand weights and lace up those sneakers because, along with your mood and tush, exercise benefits your gut health! It seems too good to be true, but studies show that exercise actually increases the diversity of your microbiome. Maintaining high levels of bacterial diversity is extremely important because as diversity increases, your risk of developing disease decreases—and vice versa. The less diversity you have among your gut bacteria the higher your likelihood of developing a slew of diseases ranging from eczema and allergies to cardiovascular disease. The good news is, you don’t have to be a marathon runner to gain gut benefits from exercise. Going for regular walks, maintaining a slow-flow yoga practice, or going for leisurely bike rides are all stellar—just make sure you get (and stay) moving!

Sleep

We all know catching those z’s is vital when it comes to our energy levels and under-eyes, but getting enough sleep is also crucial to our gut health. This was discovered by a group of German scientists who found that after just two nights of sleep deprivation, otherwise healthy individuals exhibited a major decrease in beneficial gut bacteria, increased insulin sensitivity, and a transformation in gut micro-organisms that is directly linked with type 2 diabetes. Yikes!

Each person is biologically unique, so not everyone needs the exact same amount of snooze-time, but it’s important to learn your body’s sleep needs and be responsive. Is your sleep getting interrupted by noisy neighbors or inconvenient lighting? Invest in some ear plugs or a sleep mask. Do you find yourself going to bed later and later? Set a few pre-sleep alarms to remind you when it’s time to start winding down for bed. Whatever you need to do, ensure you are guarding your nightly slumber for guts’ sake!

Stress Management

Gurgling, gas, butterflies, churning… shall I go on? These are just a handful of the pleasantly recognizable, gastrointestinal symptoms of stress. While you’ve probably experienced a poorly-timed audible stomach snarl or two, you may not understand why your nerves have an impact on your tummy. When stress hits, the body restricts blood flow to the digestive system, causing suboptimal digestion and the aforementioned undesirable symptoms. While it’s normal for this to occur from time to time, many people experience chronic stress, which causes more serious consequences for the gut. Due to prolonged periods with restricted blood flow to the digestive system, long-term stress is linked to decreased diversity in gut bacteria, a weakened immune system (70 percent of which resides in the gut), and a more permeable gut lining; all of which set the stage for disease development. So, if you haven’t made stress management a priority, it’s time to jump on the wagon!

Similar to sleep solutions, our stress management routines are going to be specific to our unique minds and bodies. This is an area to experiment with and explore. If you’re struggling with where to start, deep breathing, visual art creation, and laughter are all evidence-based stress management techniques you can try.  

Social Connection

Think about how many people you come into physical contact with daily. This contact can include everything from handshakes and hugs to kisses and… well, ya know… high fives. We often think of physical contact with others (especially strangers) as an opportunity for germ exposure—and this is accurate—but it’s not the end of the story. An inter-institutional study on chimpanzees revealed that during the wet season (when chimps live in community) they carry 25% more gut bacteria species than in the dry season (when they live alone). Scientists deduced that chimps share microbes by coming into physical contact with one another (e.g. when grooming or mating) and believe the same phenomenon holds true for humans. As previously discussed, microbiome diversity is critical for disease prevention and infection resistance. This means that being socially connected and interacting with different kinds of people produces a robust gut microbiome, while isolation can lead to the opposite. So, reach out for extra handshakes, cozy down with a cuddle buddy, and rest assured that you’re doing your gut good!  

About the Author 

Heather is a Florida native who has a background in education. She holds degrees from Florida State University and Duke University. Apart from teaching and writing, she enjoys hiking, nutrition, and traveling with her husband.

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