The National Institute of Health reports that 70 million people, about a ¼ of us, suffer from digestive disorders; ranging from bloating, gas, heartburn, nausea, diarrhea and constipation, to name a few. And feeling discomfort isn’t the only consequence of an angry stomach: a growing legion of experts, alternative and mainstream practitioners alike, agree that there is a connection between what happens inside our gut and what goes on throughout the rest of our bodies.
Researcher shows the poor gut health is linked to the like of allergies, arthritis, autoimmune disease and mood disorders; further confirming that a healthy gut leads to a healthier outlook on life. Our stomachs are a phenomenal indicator of what is occurring within; whether we experience gurgles or gas, stomach upsets typically signal a problem linked to bacteria, stress or even our favorite foods.
A healthy gut is cultivated from birth, when the digestive system immediately fills with trillions of bacteria; so much in fact, that digestive bacteria outnumber our body cells by 10 to 1. Sadly, many of us struggle to maintain a healthy balance of flora from an early age. With the typical North American diet being low in fiber and high in processed, sugary foods; it is no wonder why many of us have digestive systems that lack equilibrium. Even those among us who prioritize a clean lifestyle, can be doing much harm by overusing medications; certain antibiotics, anti inflammatory and acid blocking drugs can impeded normal digestive function.
You would be surprised to know that exposure to germs, in fact, strengthens a developed immune system and fills the gut with beneficial bacteria. Over use of antibiotics can be harmful to health because they destroy not only the bad bacteria in the body, but the good stuff too.
And for women who find themselves wound up on more than one occasion, take heed; there is a nervous system in our bowels that works independently of our brains and has been dubbed the second brain; so research is beginning to suggest that stress upsets our stomach and an upset gut is likely to cause depression as the brain is to cause IBS. One of the reasons anti-depressants that maintain serotonin levels incite GI problems because 95% of serotonin in the body is found within the gut. Bombarding the system with neurotransmitters can upset the GI tracts balance and trigger nausea, diarrhea and constipation.
Sometimes food that we refer to as healthy can be upset stomach catalysts. Bloating, cramping, gas, nausea and diarrhea can result in irritation from the following:
Dairy: Milk contains a sugar called lactose; and normally the body produces lactase in order to digest it. However, some people make less lactase as they age, leading to stomach upsets. Try low fat milk or other alternatives like almond milk to find relief.
Soy: Tofu, edamame, soy milk are obvious sources of soy; but soy is found in many cereals, broths and soups. So be sure to read the labels closely.
Fructose: Like lactose, many people lack the ability to digest fructose, a condition called fructose malabsorption. Eat less fruit, fruit juice, honey, sugar and high fructose corn syrup to find relief.
Gluten: Although one would think that Celiac disease is intolerance; it is in fact an auto immune disease. Celiac suffers should steer clear of wheat, barley, rye as they all contain gluten.
To keep our guts working at an optimal level, we should follow these rules to stay on track.
- Eat Fresh
A few indulgences here or there will not affect too much change; but a daily junk food habit can cause harm. The majority of our diets should consist of natural and unrefined foods that can be easily broken down by our bodies.
- Feed the Bacteria
Fiber filled foods act like fertilizer for bacteria within our stomachs; insoluble fiber like wheat, beans, bran and green leafy vegetables help move waste out of our bodies. Aim for 25 grams per day.
- Keep It Moving
We should all have one bowel movement per day; and it should be banana shaped and float. This is a sign that things are working okay on the inside. For those struggling to “get moving”, try 2 tablespoons of flaxseed, or vitamin C powder to jump start the system.
Adding a probiotic to our regimen can have dramatic effects on our intestinal flora but limiting harmful bacteria and growth of yeast. Look for products containing at least 10 billion CFUs; high levels of probiotics are found in fermented foods such as kimchi, miso, sauerkraut and yogurt.
- Say No To Colonics and Enemas
Although many celebrities report using colonics to detoxify; the best way to speed transit time is to consume plenty of fiber. Colonics can perforate the colon and introduce harmful bacteria.
- Drink Up
Staying hydrated increases the chance of your stools being soft and easy to pass. An easy way to know that you are consuming enough water is to check the color of your urine; very light yellow means you are on track.
Staying balanced with a healthy diet, exercise and stress free living contributes to our digestive health; and the occasional flare up is pretty common- we are human and imperfect after all. But more than a few episodes could signal something beyond the occasional over indulgence. If your problems persist, even after making lifestyle changes, consult your health practitioner to assess the issues; and learn tools, tips and tricks to love your gut again!