Summer has come to a close, and with how trying the last year has been, one can hardly be blamed for feeling tempted to indulge in some pumpkin spice or other seasonal goodies. While the occasional treat is fine, it’s important not to overindulge. What we eat and how we eat it is a huge component of our gut health, one of the most critical components of well-being for both our bodies and minds.
Did you know the majority of our immune systems – 70 percent, to be exact – is concentrated around our gut? Our digestive tracts are home to “gut flora,” a variety of microorganisms that help us digest our food, allocate resources and maintain our immune systems. While gut flora help us in many ways, they can potentially be very dangerous if they become imbalanced. One example is “leaky gut syndrome,” caused when an imbalance of gut flora triggers an autoimmune response, ultimately allowing harmful bacteria and toxins to infiltrate our bloodstream.
That may all sound complex, but the practical everyday steps to maintaining well-balanced gut health are thankfully quite simple.
To help manage your gut health this fall, consider these five lifestyle tips:
Detox Your Gut – Many things we consume on a daily basis are less than helpful – or even harmful – to our gut. For example, commonly prescribed and over-the-counter medicines can have a wide range of adverse effects on gut flora. Alcohol, sugar and processed foods can also inflame our intestines and create a selection ground for microbes that cause disease. The first step to gut health and immune system support is to take a hard look at what you’re putting into your body on a daily basis and cut out – or at least cut back on – anything harmful.
Eat probiotic-rich foods – Once you’ve detoxed, you can begin to rebuild your diet with a range of probiotic-rich foods. Probiotics are microorganisms that support and strengthen our gut flora, providing a range of health benefits. Foods rich in probiotics include:
- Fermented pickles
- Yogurt (both dairy and non-dairy)
Support your probiotic intake with prebiotic-rich foods – While probiotics play a wonderful supporting role for our immune system, they need some help themselves to draw out their full potential. That’s where prebiotics come in – compounds that promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms such as probiotics. Support your probiotic-rich foods with prebiotics, and your gut flora will work like a well-oiled machine. Foods rich in prebiotics include:
- Bananas (green is better than yellow)
- Chicory root
- Dandelion greens
- Oats (sprouted, organic, gluten-free)
Be mindful of your stress and eat in a relaxed environment – Stress can break us down – physically, emotionally, mentally and physiologically. Studies have found that eating in a stressed environment can have a number of adverse effects on our gut flora, and even a perfectly healthy diet won’t be as effective if we’re stressed out all the time. Do your body a favor and be sure to eat your meals in a calm, relaxed environment. Outside of meal time, do what you can to manage your stress – it will be of enormous benefit to your health overall, not just your gut.
Exercise and sleep for overall improved gut health – Regular exercise and quality sleep are often touted as hallmarks of a healthy lifestyle, and their benefits extend to the gut as well. Active lifestyles help to promote the spread of healthy bacteria and, conversely, lack of sleep can disrupt our inner ecosystems and compromise those same bacteria. By staying active and getting enough sleep every night, you’re creating an ideal environment for the healthy bacteria in your body to do their jobs.
If you’re experiencing any gut-related issues – signaled by diarrhea, bloating, constipation, unexplained fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome, it’s critical to get tested. Even if you aren’t experiencing any symptoms, it’s a good idea to determine your potential immune vulnerabilities using a test such as the Lymphocyte Map, offered by Cyrex Laboratories. Staying aware of your gut health can be helpful to protect both your body and mind as best you can.
Dr. Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS, Advisor and Consultant on Clinical Consulting Team for Cyrex Laboratories. Dr. Larson holds a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He particularly pursues advanced developments in the fields of endocrinology, orthopedics, sports medicine, and environmentally-induced chronic disease.