You may not realize how much your guts actually do for you and how important gut health is for overall good health. According to Len Saputo, M.D., the gut is the largest immune organ you have. In addition, around 80% of our protective immunoglobulins are produced in the gut. Your intestines not only contribute to immune system health, but are of course responsible for a major role in the digestive system and in the production of B vitamins for the body. As Dr. Campbell-McBride, author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome, says, “A well functioning gut with healthy gut flora holds the roots of our health. And, just as a tree with sick roots is not going to thrive, the rest of the body cannot thrive without a well-functioning digestive system.”
What Does the Gut Do For You?
The intestinal lining has millions of cells that help protect you. It is designed to act as a filter for food being digested and nutrients being absorbed. These cells in the intestinal wall pass nutrients along into the bloodstream and hold back those food particles that are not broken down. For the body to use the vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbs, fats and other nutrients from foods you eat they must be broken down. For example, proteins have to be broken down into amino acids, carbs have to be broken down into sugars like glucose, and fats have to be broken down into fatty acids and glycerol. The intestines do the job of deciding when these nutrients are broken down enough to pass on to the rest of the body to fuel it. Another job the gut has is producing B vitamins. These vitamins, especially B-12 help us to deal with stress and to relax. The problem is that the more stressed we are, the more we use up our B vitamins and the more of them we need.
How To Support Gut Health
When looking at gut health you have to consider the population of good bacteria you have and the intestinal lining. The good bacteria is our protection against illness caused by bad bacteria, fungus, viruses and yeast and affects our metabolism. These good bacteria, or probiotics, also help the body keep producing the B vitamins we need. According to Kenneth Koch, MD, professor of medicine, gastroenterology section and medical director of the Digestive Health Center at Wake Forrest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., stress can interfere with every part of the digestive system and cause cramps, diarrhea, and heartburn, leave you open to infections and to inflammation in the gut, create spasms in the esophagus and an increase in stomach acid. The intestinal lining must be healthy to do its filtering job and not allow poorly digested food, large protein molecules, microbes, waste, toxins, antigens and pathogens into the bloodstream.
In order to maintain gut health here are considerations to take into account.
Probiotics – The probiotics that live in your gut can be destroyed by stress, antibiotics, environmental toxins and eating a diet full of processed foods, fast foods and junk foods. If you do not have a good healthy supply of probiotics in your gut, then you are lacking the protection from bad bacteria, yeast, and viruses that can cause you to catch colds, flus, Candida and many other diseases. You can help rebalance the good bacteria in your gut by eating fermented foods with live active cultures such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and miso. You can also use a high quality supplement of acidophilus, bifidus, and/or a full spectrum probiotic supplement to help support the friendly bacteria in your gut.
Prebiotics – Prebiotics are needed to feed and support the probiotics in your gut. Prebiotics are mostly oligosaccharides which are indigestible carbohydrate fibers. Even though you can’t digest these, your good bacteria thrives on them. Good food sources for oligosaccharides include fruits, legumes, and whole grains like oats, whole wheat, and barley. Inulin, from Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, and chicory root is another source for this type of fibers.
Digestive Enzymes – Digestive enzymes are necessary for your body to take foods, break them down and change them into forms the body can use. For example, lipase is the enzyme that breaks down fat molecules. Without enough of this vital enzyme, the circulatory system can be affected and lead to high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Other vital enzymes include protease to breakdown proteins, cellulose to breakdown cellulose that we get when eating fruits and vegetables, amylase to breakdown starch, maltase and sucrose to breakdown sugars and lactase to help digest dairy. As we get older, the body isn’t able to produce as many enzymes as it once could. If you diet contains a lot of processed, refined, sugary, or heavily cooked foods then you may not be getting enough enzymes from the foods you eat. In addition, enzymes can be destroyed by environmental toxins and chlorinated water. To get more of these digestive enzymes working for you, increase the amount of raw or lightly cooked veggies and fruits that you eat. You can also use a high quality digestive enzymes supplement. Taking enzyme supplements when eating can help in metabolizing fat, proteins and carbohydrates and taking them between meals causes them to be absorbed into the bloodstream to help clear out food particles.
Deal with Stress – To protect your intestines, your B vitamin supply and your gut health in general, you need to find a way to deal with stress. We all have it to one degree or another and having a de-stress plan in place is a good idea for a multitude of reasons. If you don’t have a plan, try out a variety of techniques to see what works for you. It could involve exercise, a hobby, music, sport, meditation, yoga, deep breathing, massage or anything else that helps you relax. Make sure you get enough good quality sleep to as this is necessary for stress reduction.
Dietary Changes – If you suspect that your gut health is suffering, especially if you show symptoms of an intestinal disorder such as Leaky Gut Syndrome or just poor immune system function, it is time to make some serious changes in diet to build it back up. While concentrating on building your gut health back up, stop eating foods with sugar, wheat and other gluten grains, alcohol, caffeine, processed and refined foods. It is also best to get organic food when you can. Eat more foods with essential fatty acids and rich in fiber which would include wild caught fatty fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, nuts, and AFA bluegreen algae. Zinc is also good for the intestinal lining strength as well as boosting the immune system. Good food sources for zinc include spinach, crimini and shiitake mushrooms, spinach, shellfish, lamb, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and oats.
Now that you have some idea of how much your gut really does for you, you can see how important it is to support your gut health. A few dietary changes, deal with your stress and maybe some good wholefood supplements and you’ll be on your way to a gut that will work to keep you at your healthiest.
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