What is Your Gut Telling You?
By Lisa Diers, RD,LD, E-RYT Director of Nutrition and Yoga Services Manager
Many of us are familiar with the phrase "trust your gut" and now science is starting to show us why that saying couldn't be more relevant or important. In fact, the gut has been coined as "the second brain" because we are beginning to fully understand the complexity of the gut, the important role it plays in communication to the brain and the mechanisms by which the two are linked -- driving many bodily functions from nutrient absorption to serotonin production. As the importance of gut health and it's relation to overall health continues to unfold, you may find yourself both curious and confused about your own gut health. When it comes to the complexities of the gut, I equate it to the complexity of our galaxy. I know my spatial orientation and I can identify the big and little dipper. Beyond that I need to stop, pull out my astronomy guide and consult with someone more knowledgeable in this area. If you are suspecting you are suffering from gut related distress, it is important you track your symptoms and find a resourceful navigator like a registered dietitian, physician, gastroenterologist or another trained health care provider as you start your journey to healing your GI tract.
Some tips for exploring gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms:
- Bring awareness to how your GI tract is feeling before and after meals. Write it down. Are you experiencing an usual amount of gas, bloating, cramping, discomfort?
- What did you eat at those meals?
- Do you have a "suspicion" of what foods may be causing the distress?
- How often do the symptoms happen?
- How long do the symptoms last?
- Communicate your symptoms to a health care professional -- it's not always easy to discuss these things, but it's important in finding relief and healing.
- Aim to eat your meals at a consistent time each day. This helps the body prepare gastric juices that aid in digestion.
- Notice the pace at which you eat. Rapid eating usually means taking in more air while eating, and that can contribute to excess gas.
- Slow down before meals. Take a deep breath and incorporate a centering practice. Try to relax your body to aid in digestion.
- Chew your food well. It is important to chew food to an oatmeal or apple sauce consistency. This also aids in digestion by releasing key enzymes in your mouth to break down food components. It's also just physically easier for your digestive tract to digest what you have consumed.
To learn more, read the following on digestive wellness from Kacey Morrow, RD, LD, CLT who specializes in gut healing and functional nutrition. Kacey is well versed in the area of gut health and we are happy to have her share her expertise!
Digestive Wellness: By Kacey Morrow, RD, LD, CLT
Hi all. My name is Kacey and I'm a Registered Dietitian specializing in functional nutrition and founder of Ambia (ambiawellness.com).
"Gut health" has become quite the buzz phrase. Some people may identify with digestive unrest in the form of heartburn, nausea, loose stools, constipation, etc., but few realize the affects that these unpleasantries have on their entire body.
Let's begin to explore some roles of the gut and considerations for healing.
What is the Gut? In an adult, the "gut" is the 20+ foot tube that starts in the mouth and includes all segments of the digestive tract.
The Gut's Function:
- The digestive tract is responsible for mechanically breaking down food (i.e. chewing, churning in the stomach, pushing through the gut) as well as chemically processing these mashed-up bits into something useable by the body (i.e. breakdown via acids and enzymes into individual proteins, carbohydrates, and fatty acids). In fact, the food we consume is considered functionally "outside" of the body until it is properly digested and absorbed. Only then, when nutrients have passed through the gut wall and are now circulating through the blood stream, do we fully benefit from the foods we eat.
- Serves as a home to over 100 trillion microorganisms. In fact, we have approximately 10 times more microbes in and on our body, than we have of our own cells. Talk about Cosmic Complexity! Not only is this okay, but these microscopic bugs are actually vital for our survival. Our microbiome has been linked to everything from helping us digest our foods, to producing vitamins, to enhancing our immune system, to modulating our neurological processes.
- A Third role is vital (enter "second brain"). Our digestive tract is directly connected to our brain via a system of nerves that is equal to the number of nerves found in our spine. Your "gut instinct" has been confirming this for years. Whether it is excitement, stress, anger, or fear, we can often times feel an immediate impact in our digestive tract (ex: loss of appetite, nausea, "butterflies", etc.).
Hippocrates said that "all disease starts in the stomach" over 2000 years ago. However, research and media attention are now emerging to back-up this time honored belief. So what happens when something goes wrong? When you are one of the 75% of Americans reporting gut-health issues? Consult with your Registered Dietitian, Physician or member of your health care team to explore the underlying issues.
If you are interested in a Functional Medicine approach to uncovering the root cause of your digestive unrest and to begin healing your gut, consider the below. Take the time to work with your dietitian or health care team for the best approach in eliminating or managing your symptoms.
The 4 R's to Gut Healing:
Remove. This stands for the experimental trials to discover what foods may be triggering your digestive symptoms. Remove also indicates the possibility that unhelpful microbes may need to be "removed" from your GI tract (pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and/or parasites). For all individuals, especially those who have a challenging relationship with food, it is vital to receive support and guidance from a nutrition professional who has been trained in food allergies and sensitivities. It is recommended to start by exploring foods first, and to seek further guidance for removing pathogenic microbes if symptoms persist.
Replace. Many individuals with unrest within their guts have insufficient digestive acids and/or enzymes. This may be due to periods of malnourishment, inadequate stimulation of these processes within the GI tract (ex: restriction or purging), or inflammation throughout the gut as a result of unknown food intolerances. Just like with the "remove" steps, it is important to get guidance around whether or not taking digestive acids and/or enzymes would be safe and appropriate.
Repair. This is the time when emphasis is placed on all the incredible, nourishing foods that one needs to be consuming in order physically repair the delicate gut tissues. Of all the therapeutic foods used in this process, traditional bone broth is by far the most beneficial. Other foods include phenols from dark-colored fruits and vegetables, a variety of fats, as well as ample amino acids from a wide-array of protein sources.
Re-inoculate. In addition to removing opportunistic bacteria and the like, we also want to be sure to encourage the gut to build-back its levels of beneficial microbes. Traditionally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha are all examples of how past generations were constantly introducing beneficial bacteria and yeast into the gut. If you struggle to incorporate these foods and beverages for any reason, probiotic supplements can be discussed with your healthcare team. In addition, including a wide variety of high-fiber foods will help feed the beneficial microbes and ensure a well-balanced gut, as well as an opportunity for overall optimal health.
If you struggle with your gut health it is of the utmost importance to uncover the root cause and take the steps necessary for healing. Your body, as well as your mind, will reap the benefits of digestive wellness.