Hippocrates got a few things wrong about health and medicine but his one posit that has stood the test of time is that most, if not all, diseases begin in the gut. Ayurveda, too, places a huge emphasis on digestive health as part of its precepts for holistic health.
More recently, scientists and medical professionals have linked a huge number of diseases to the makeup of our gut microbiome, the countless bacteria and microbes that live in our gut. Each person has about 200 different species of bacteria, viruses, and fungi in their digestive tract. Research also indicates that having a large variety of bacteria in the gut may help reduce the risk of conditions like diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and psoriatic arthritis.
If you routinely experience bloating, food intolerance, constipation, diarrhea or heartburn, nobody needs to tell you that your gut is in bad shape. But it isn’t just food that leads to poor gut health: stress, antibiotics, poor sleep and more can hurt your tummy too. This can not only upset other aspects of your physical health like weight and skin, it can also affect your mental health.
The gut-brain connection is a vast and exciting subject that needs an article of its own. For now, let’s focus on what you can do to improve your gut health.
Try an Elimination Diet
If your stomach is always upset, it might be caused by something you eat on the regular that may not be suiting you. Food intolerance can show up at any time in your life. The usual suspects are: lactose, gluten, citrus and more. An elimination diet is like a science experiment. You hypothesize on what you think is causing your gut problems, and eliminate those foods for about three weeks. Then, try reintroducing them in small amounts and gradually, one by one. The moment you reintroduce something and it causes a reaction–you’ll know to eliminate that.
Take a Probiotic
No, we’re not talking about supplements. According to thegoodgut.org, most probiotic products and supplements don’t contain enough diversity, or quantities of bacteria, and usually don’t make it to your gut alive. A better, more healthful option is to get your probiotics from natural sources, such as yogurt and Italian white cheeses. If you’re a vegan, kombucha, non-dairy kefir and fermented food like kimchi and tempeh. Be sure to also take in plenty of prebiotics, that feed bacteria. This includes fiber-rich foods like pectin-rich fruits, oats, barley and psyllium husk.
A time-tested wellness practice is the good old fast. But you don’t have to do it for the typical 24-48 hours. Research shows that intermittent fasting, which involves time-restricted eating, could favorably influence the balance of beneficial gut flora. If you don’t want to, or can’t fast, start by eating gut-friendly dinners and cutting out nighttime snacking — your gut, much like you, needs a break everyday!
Take Care of Mental Health
It’s a fact: your gut and your brain are closely connected. So taking care of one usually takes care of the other. Get help for issues like anxiety and depression; and make sure to maintain healthy routines like getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and even introducing meditation. Some breath exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing, also help one’s gut health.