And while this may not be 100% true for every disease in every person, more and more research shows that our gut (digestive system) has a bigger role in our health than we used to think. And we’re not just talking about heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, etc. We’re talking about all kinds of issues like hormonal imbalances, allergies, pain, mood disorders, and nutrient deficiencies.
There are a lot of reasons for this. Our gut is the portal to the outside world. It’s here where we take in disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. We also take in nutrients (and toxins) through our gut. The nutrients we ingest and absorb are the building blocks of every single part of our body.
We’re just learning the connections between our gut and other areas of our body, like our brain (aka “the gut-brain axis”). Not just our gut per se; but, its friendly resident microbes too. These guys also have newly discovered roles in our overall health.
So, let’s talk about the roles that our gut and our gut microbes play in our health and well-being. Then I’ll give you tips to improve your gut health naturally.
Our gut’s role in our overall health
Our gut’s main role is as a barrier. To let things in that should get in, and to keep things out that should stay out. Think of “absorption” of nutrients as things we want to let in; and “elimination” of waste as things we want to pass right through and out.
This seemingly simple role is super-complex! And it can break down in so many places.
Have you heard of “leaky gut”? It is also known as increased intestinal permeability, where the junctions of the intestinal wall become loose. Many alternative health professionals believe that bacteria, undigested food, and toxins can also get into your bloodstream by leaking through the intestinal wall, even if it’s not supposed to, and this can lead to inflammation and a number of ailments. Whether this actually occurs in disease-free individuals is up for debate in the scientific community.
Proponents of leaky gut have claimed that it’s connected to a wide variety of ailments, including autism, anxiety, depression, eczema and cancer. Most of these claims have yet to be proven by scientific studies. – Is Leaky Gut Syndrome A Real Thing? An Unbiased Look
Obviously, a healthy gut is not a leaky gut. It maintains its barrier and shuttles things through to be eliminated. Whether leaky gut causes disease is debatable. Several studies have shown an increase in intestinal permeability in patients with Diabetes, Chron’s, and IBS.
Plenty of studies have shown that increased intestinal permeability is present in several chronic diseases, specifically autoimmune disorders. However, it is difficult to prove that leaky gut is the cause of disease. – Is Leaky Gut Syndrome A Real Thing? An Unbiased Look
Mainstream medical professionals do not recognize leaky gut as a real condition. However, there is quite a bit of scientific evidence that leaky gut does exist in some people with chronic diseases. However, the amount of disease-free people diagnosed with a “leaky gut” by nutritionists, health coaches, and alternative health practitioners these days is concerning, from a scientific point of view.
The second main part of your gut are the billions of friendly health-promoting microbes. Gut microbes help us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease-causing microbes, make some vitamins for us, and have all kinds of other health benefits, including mental health benefits, reducing inflammation, and stabilizing blood sugar.
FUN FACT: About 70% of our immune system lives in and around our gut.
The Second Brain
The gut is being referred to as the ‘second brain.’ As an example, 95% of serotonin receptors are found in the gut. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness. However, this aspect of gut health may be overhyped.
Recent studies suggest that the gut also plays a major role as a reservoir for the thyroid hormones, especially for T3, the active hormone that gives you your metabolism. The gut may also play a role in the regulation of hormone activity. The hunger hormone, ghrelin, signals your brain to eat, and it is produced in the gastrointestinal tract.
Eat well, improve your digestion in order to better absorb nutrients from food, and you can improve your mental and physical health.
As one of my clients recently wrote, “I have discovered that what I eat (and how much) has a huge impact on my emotions and my ability to deal with issues that happen in life.”
How to improve gut health
Keeping your gut microbes happy is key for gut health!
By eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods, we allow ample macro- and micro-nutrients into our gut to maximize the chance for absorption. These nutrients help our bodies build and repair our gut, and every other body part as well. Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, colorful fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts, liver, fish, and yogurt.
By ingesting a diverse amount of fiber-rich foods and even yogurt with probiotics, we may also help to replenish our gut microbes.
Contrary to popular opinion, there is no research indicating that the consumption of fermented vegetables like kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi will improve your gut health. In fact, t’s unclear whether it’s the probiotics in fermented foods, or something else, such as fiber, that causes people to experience positive health outcomes when eating them.
Most of what is out on the internet regarding gut health is based on assumption. The most common unproven ‘fact’ about fermented foods is that the probiotics decrease belly fat. There is actually very little research to back this up.
The American Gut Project has concluded there is little research exploring the impact of fermented vegetables versus fermented dairy or other non-fermented foods on gut health. But we do know there are many benefits to fiber, and not eating enough fiber increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.
Fiber plays lots of roles in our gut, including whisking away some of those pesky bad bacteria and toxins so they can be eliminated. Fiber also helps to feed the friendly resident microbes that help us absorb and digest our food better. What foods have a lot of fiber? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and even cacao.
The function of your gut is key to your overall health.
The main way to improve your gut health is by eating nutrient-dense fiber-rich foods. Focus on quality and diversity; fermentation not required.
1 L warm water
4 tsp salt
4 carrots, medium, peeled, sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed (optional)
Make a brine by dissolving the salt in water.
Place carrots into a clean canning jar, packing them in tight. Make sure to leave about 1 inch of headspace at the top.
Fill the jar with brine, making sure to cover the carrots completely. Weigh the carrots down to make sure they don’t float (you can use a “fermenting weight”).
Close the jar and let it sit at room temperature for 1-4 days. The longer it sits, the more the flavor will develop. Feel free to open and taste.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Use this as a side dish, or even a snack.
Updated: May 15, 2021
Do you have questions on how to improve your Gut Health? Let us know in the comments and we might be able to help you!