Digestive health – your microbiome. The (very) basics [Part 2]

Microbiome is a word used to describe the village of single-cell organisms (bacteria, fungi) living in your body and all the genes within them. Fun-facts: microbes outnumber human cells by about 10 to 1 and we carry around about 3-4 pounds of microbes within us every day (about the same weight as your brain)! In fact, there are more bacteria DNA living in our body’s than human.

Most of the these microbes are beneficial to us and help us in many ways. If the health of your microbiome is in jeopardy or is in disarray, so will you be. Your overall health depends highly on it. These little guys are smart and actually communciate with each other through a system much like our hormones use. We are going to focus here on the microbiome within our digestive system.

So, what does your microbiome do for you? Your microbiome helps your digestion by releasing lactic acid, which stimulates your immune system as well as promotes the secretion of digestive enzymes. It also regulates the pH of our guts, making it a more unhappy place to be for “bad” or pathogenic microbes to grow. Good gut bacteria also produces vitamins such as B12, Vitamin K and Biotin. They also produce SCFAs (short-chain fatty acids) that promote gut healing and gut health.

Bacteria in your microbiome also have the ability to protect your immune function (70 – 80% of your immune system is within the gut), or to enable issues to occur such as allergies and autoimmune conditions. Crazy right?

To help the little guys in our guts out, try these nutritional and lifestyle strategies:

  • Avoid sugar and processed foods (bad bacteria LOVE to feed on sugar & other chemicals within processed foods)
  • Avoid artificial sweetners
  • Limit grains
  • Avoid vegetable oils (think canola, soybean and peanut oils) as well as margerine and shortening. These are high in inflammatory fats and are also NOT good for our heart health. Use EVOO, avocado oil, ghee or coconut oil instead.
  • Eat a variety of plant-based foods – organic when possible
  • Drink spring or filtered water
  • Avoid unecessary antibiotics (these kill the bad AND the good and it takes your microbiome a long time to recuperate; in fact, it may never be the same again)
  • Avoid antacids
  • Limit alcohol
  • Avoid smoking
  • Reduce stress
  • Increase self-care

Bottom line – feed, nurture and protect the good microbes in your gut and you will go a long way in staying healthy and disease free.

Digestive health – why is it crucial for your health and wellness? The (very) basics [Part 1]

Not only is your digestive system responsible for the absorption of the nutrients you put into your body (food, supplements, herbs), the majority of your immune system (70-80%) is housed in your gut and it is a huge player in the elimination of waste and toxins. Let’s take a look at just a few of the amazing roles our guts play in our health.

If you have issues with proper digestion your body may not be getting the nutrients it needs to run how it should. This could be caused by many things: low-quality food, gut inflammation, gut dysbiosis (imbalance), antibiotics, stress, leaky gut, chronic toxin exposure and genetics. These can lead to a whole host of issues such as leaky gut (intestinal permeability – stuff that shouldn’t get outside your gut does), heavy metal toxicity, IBS, SIBO, various food intolerances, constipation, gas, bloating, Celiac, GERD, diverticulitis – to name just a few. PLUS, just the fact that your complex body systems are not getting what they need to function appropriately can have far-reaching affects for your health and happiness.

Your gut is often times referred to as your “second” brain and controls the enteric nervous system in the gut. In fact, the same tissues that make up your brain are the same tissues from which your digestive system deveops. The gut is the brain’s eyes and ears in the field. It receives and communicates messages back and forth to the brain via the gut-brain axis. This also helps illustrate why, when we experience various emotions such as excitement, nervousness or fear, we experience various physical symptoms (upset stomach, gas, stomach pains, flutters etc.). Another fun fact – 95% of seratonin production occurs IN THE GUT. Mind blown.

Your digestion is hugely impacted by stress – another link to your nervous system. The autonomic nervous system controls all unconscious nervous activity and has 2 factions: the sympathetic nervous system which is in charge of your flight/fight response and your parasympathetic nervous system which controls your rest/digest function. When you are stressed, your body focuses its efforts on fighting off the stress and shuts down/minimizes any effort towards proper digestion. When chronically stressed this can play major havoc with your digestive system and can cause a whole host of unpleasant symptoms (bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, stomach pain – to name a few) or can cause some serious diseases.

The digestive process begins, technically speaking, in your mouth. Chewing signals digestive enzymes and other components of the digestive system to start working. Once your food makes its way to your stomach, it is broken down further by digestive secretions, hydrochloric acid and pepsin. If there is a break down here, protein and mineral digestion could be impaired.

About 45 minutes to 4 hours after the food enters your stomach it then goes on a long journey (2 – 4 hours) through your small intestines. Here food is digested further, absorbed into the body and transported elsewhere. The verious sections of the small intestines (there are 3) are responsible for the absportion of different nutrients. When things don’t work right in this stage of the game, a whole host of malabsorption issues could occur such as celiac disease, food allergies/sensitivities, intestinal infections, SIBO, and Crohn’s disease.

Anything not used up in the small intestines moves on to the large intestines (or colon) which is about 5 feet in length. In addition to absorbing water and electrolytes, it provides a holding tank for waste. Dietary fiber is a critical component in maintaining the health of your colon as well as the elimination of waste products.

Bottom line – if you want to be healthy and happy, free from disease as well as other digestive issues such as indigestion, gas and bloating, it is imperative to keep your gut healthy and happy. The basics? Eat a diet high in dietary fiber (lots of veggies and some whole grains), drink LOTS of water and maintain a healthy microbiome [more on this in the coming weeks].