Digestive health is an extremely important and often overlooked part of our overall health. Recent research says that our gut is our second brain, if not our first brain – meaning that what’s happening in the gut affects the brain, and vice versa. There is a phrase in the functional nutrition world that says “gut on fire, brain on fire” – eluding to what’s irritating the gut and causing inflammation is in turn irritating the brain and causing inflammation and symptoms like brain fog, poor memory, fatigue, anxiety, depression, etc.
Gut bacteria manufacture about 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin, which influences both mood and GI activity. People suffering with mood disorders such as the ones listed above are likely experiencing an imbalance of gut bacteria and producing less serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for our mood and behavior.
The bottom line – heal your gut and you can heal your brain. If you suffer from occasional indigestion, constipation, gas, IBS or other digestive complaints, simple changes to your diet and how you manage stress can help immensely. In addition, therapeutic supplementation can also be effective.
The following have been found to help promote healthy digestion:
1. FIBER. The lack of fiber intake in the industrialized world is starving our gut microbes. Fiber is important for keeping the gut healthy. Eating enough fiber can prevent or relieve constipation, helping waste and toxins to move through the body. It also encourages healthy gut microbiota. Incorporate foods like beans, fruit, oats, nuts and a large quantity/wide variety of vegetables!
2. PROBIOTICS & PREBIOTICS. Probiotics contain “friendly” bacteria that can stabilize the digestive tract and aid in digestion. They restore the composition of the gut microbiome and introduce beneficial functions to gut microbial communities, and can result in the prevention of gut inflammation and other intestinal diseases. Incorporate foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi and kombucha. Prebiotics are a form of dietary fiber that feed the “friendly” bacteria in your gut. This allows your gut bacteria to produce nutrients for your colon cells, which leads to a healthier digestive system. Incorporate foods like chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic and onions.
3. STRESS REDUCTION. Deep breathing exercises can have a significant impact on your state of mind. Intentional breathing can activate a relaxation response. This can help relieve stress and anxiety. Even mild physical activity can help reduce stress and depression. As an added bonus, body movement can help digestion and bowel function – including relief from constipation. A daily, 30-minute walk is a good start for most people. Here are some more. ideas for relieving stress:
- Sitting Meditation – Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the ground and your back straight. Place your hands in your lap. Slowly breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you breathe, focus on the rising and falling of your body. Continue for at least 5 minutes.
- Body Scan Meditation – Lie on your back in a comfortable place with your arms at your sides. Starting at your head, slowly scan down your body. Pausing and concentrating on each part of the body. Work your way down to your toes, then restart the process from the opposite direction – scan from toe to head.
4. TRIPHALA. This ayurvedic herbal mixture is designed for ongoing use. Triphala promotes regular bowel function through its mild laxative properties and helps regulate bowel tone. Consider using triphala (capsules only) for 10 weeks, then taking a two-week break. This is best taken at night and if you have tendencies towards constipation.
5. DIGESTIVE ENZYMES. This is a mixture of enzymes designed to assist the body’s natural process of breaking down food. However, for those of us who experience digestive distress, often times our stomach acid isn’t properly secreting and breaking down our food and our pancreas doesn’t get alerted to send out our enzymes. So, temporary supplementation can do wonders for those struggling with gut issues. For example, bromelain, derived from pineapples, can help digest specific nutrients and help in cases of food sensitivity. Take 1-2 approximately 15 minutes before the meal begins.
6. DGL, ALOE, SLIPPERY ELM. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), aloe vera and slippery elm are all beneficial herbs in soothing and protecting the lining of the esophagus and stomach. Taking these once or twice a day can help heal leaky gut, acid reflux and other irritations of the digestive system. You can find them blended in a capsule like this.