The Importance of Gut Health
Sometimes it’s more convenient to fall into unhealthy routines. When my kids fight me every single meal about what I make, it’s just easier to let them eat the same three things over and over again. If I don’t get much sleep, it’s easier to just say I’ll just push my workout to tomorrow. Another thing that’s really easy to neglect is caring for our “good bacteria.” In recent years, there’s been enough chatter about probiotics so most of us know the importance of gut health. But sometimes I forget to take my probiotic or we don’t have any fermented foods in the house, and I figure I’ll just deal with it later; however, I just watched a docuseries, called Broken Brain, which made me realize I need to be a lot more vigilant.
There are a multitude of medical studies linking the gut to our immune system and brain function. We understand the pivotal role good gut bacteria play in our overall health and why we should take probiotics. In Broken Brain, Dr. Mark Hyman highlights the results of poor gut health. Just a few of those diseases and dysfunctions are listed below:
- Hormonal Imbalances, such as PCOS
- Autism and ADHD
- Alzheimer’s and Dementia
- Depression and Anxiety
- Autoimmune Diseases
- Skin Disruptions and Weight Gain
There are a number of things you must do in order to improve the good bacteria in your intestines. If only we could pop a probiotic pill and be done with it! Dr. Hyman asserts that we need to focus our attention on more than just probiotics. A large number of his colleagues discuss their clinical findings which reveal the same information – taking probiotics is just one important factor in maintaining optimal gut health. I had no idea that in addition to consuming the good bugs, gut health depended upon these other factors:
- Eating a Large Variety of Vegetables and Fruits
- Eliminating Sugar and Refined Carbs
- Avoiding Heavy Metals
- Stop Over-Sterilizing and Limit Antibiotic Use
- Cutting Artificial Sweeteners
- Eating More Prebiotic Foods
While I more than appreciate this list since I’ve already put each action point into practice for other reasons, it’s correlation to gut health isn’t so apparent. Every one of these steps deserves it’s own explanation since the importance of gut health is clearly crucial to our body’s function. Of course it makes sense to cut sugars and avoid heavy metals but why does it matter when we’re discussing gut health? Here’s a really quick breakdown for you.
Eating a Variety of Veggies and Fruits
Every bacteria strain eats something different (there are over 400 different strains, by the way!). Some like the stems of vegetables while others like the flesh of a sweet potato. Not only is eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables going to feed the myriad of probiotic strains in your gut but they also all have different properties our bodies require to function properly. We should make sure we’re eating the rainbow, as they say.
Eliminating Sugars and Refined Carbs
Sugars and carbs are what the bad bacteria (the ones overtaking your gut and making you sick) eat. They thrive on sugar. Refined carbs are converted into sugar when you eat them so you need to watch your intake of things like wheat too. I’m gluten-free and no longer have brain fog.
Avoiding Heavy Metals
Heavy metals destroy our intestinal lining, which is what the good bacteria use to attach to our gut so they can then colonize. Heavy metals are things like lead and arsenic. Even though a lot of metals are found in our environment either naturally or through pollution, you can lessen exposure in ways such as switching to a reverse osmosis water filter, eating organic brown rice and no longer using aluminum foil.
Stop Over-Sterilizing and Antibiotic Use
While we may be killing the bad bugs, we’re also killing the good ones with bleach and clorox. Use “green” cleaners and stop turning to antibiotics for every ailment. I do believe antibiotics are necessary but we are using them way too often. We’re also consuming antibiotics through meat and dairy so please make sure you buy organic. I worked in the same medical office as an endocrinologist who told me if you could afford to buy just one organic thing, it better be your meat!
Cutting Artificial Sweeteners
I wouldn’t have guessed this one. I know artificial sweeteners aren’t good for us but I didn’t realize they actually alter our gut bacteria. Here’s a great article breaking down what Israeli researchers have discovered.
Eating More Prebiotic Foods
Prebiotic foods act as a catalyst to help those good bugs do their thing. Foods like garlic, onion, jicama and asparagus are all foods that help probiotics balance your gut.
These are all very simplified explanations. Dr. Hyman and the other physicians in his docuseries briefly touched upon the science behind it and my eyes glazed over. If you’re looking for more in-depth info, there are plenty of medical papers and books out there providing science-backed proof. I also want to mention that the importance of gut heath was just one subject the Broken Brain series touched upon. There are other factors contributing to a “broken brain,” which Dr. Hyman covers. Depression and autism aren’t going to be cured just by repairing the gut but it’s a great way to improve symptoms. These are also really wonderful ways to be proactive to avoid developing Alzheimer’s or ADHD.
As I mentioned, I was already doing most of these things but it did take me some time to get used to certain things, like eliminating aluminum foil and cutting sugar. And I certainly regress from time to time. How easy is it to grab a Clorox Wipe to clean up a mess?! But the sooner you implement these steps, the better off you’ll be.