You may have heard the saying that your gut is your second brain. If you’ve ever “gone with your gut” when making a decision or felt the butterflies in your stomach when nervous, you’ve experienced the signals sent from this mysterious brainiac.
While it’s not going to help you ace your next test or interpret the data your boss just dropped on your desk, it really is the foundation of your health. Research suggests that this second brain is constantly sending signals to our central nervous system, meaning it actually triggers mood and behavioral changes. “Roughly 80-90% of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood, social behavior, sleep, appetite, memory, and even libidio, is produced in the gut (1).” In addition, 60-80% of our immune system is located in our gut, meaning that “gut imbalances have been linked to hormonal imbalances, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, eczema, rosacea, and other chronic health problems (5).” Yikes! We can clearly see its importance, but what exactly is our “gut”? The term does seem kind of vague.
The gut refers to the place where food is digested, metabolized, and absorbed to be delivered to the cells. More scientifically, it is referred to as the enteric nervous system and is made up of two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells (more than in your spinal cord) lining your gastrointestinal tract. It spans the length of your esophagus to all the way to your rectum (yeah we said it. it’s a medical term - get over your giggles). It is lined with microbes (collectively called the microbiome) which include bacteria, fungi and viruses. A little gross? Yes, but we all have a mixture of good and bad bacteria in our gut. More often than not, the bad guys get the upper hand and we experience an imbalance, signaling that our gut health is in need of some major love.
If you are concerned about your own gut health, here are 10 signs of gut imbalance:
Skin breakouts, rashes, eczema
Sore, red, stinging eyes
Poor sleep (do you consistently wake up between 2-4am? And are you burning up when you do?)
When you get hungry, is it overwhelming? (Do you feel like you could eat your arm off?)
Digestive problems (IBS, bloating, gas, stomach pain)
Increase in body fat
Short temper (if you’re normally a more mild-mannered person, this is a sign your liver needs some love! Maybe it’s time for a detox?)
Cellulite: Let’s talk about this one quickly. Cellulite occurs when the detoxification process in your body cannot keep up with the load (what you’re putting in). The body knows there are problematic substances present and tries to move them away from our vital organs so they are not present in our bloodstream. The result? It moves them to fatty tissue - specifically to the thighs. What most people don’t understand is that cellulite is an issue of poor detoxification!
If you’re nodding your head vigorously at any of the above (numbers 4 and 5 really speak to me), you’re likely experiencing a gut imbalance.
So now what? Here are 5 tips to restore your gut health and get back on track:
Be mindful of what you’re eating (and how you’re eating it): your stomach is roughly the size of your own clenched fist - and yet so many of our meals are 2-3x that size! Be mindful of how much you’re putting into your body - this means no distracted eating! Turn off the TV, slow down, put your fork down between bites, and most of all… EAT REAL FOODS. Importantly, say goodbye to sugar.
Chew your food: we know that our gut begins at our mouth, which means that the digestion process has already start when we take that first bite. Do your digestive system a favor and thoroughly chew your food until it has turned into a more liquid state. Once the food travels to your stomach, the stomach acid continues to break the food apart. Why not create less work for it by chewing thoroughly?
Hydrate before and after your meal (preferably not during): Speaking of stomach acid, let’s get a little scientific. As an acid, its ideal pH should be around 1.9 (reminder: anything with a pH less than 7 is acidic, anything more than 7 is alkaline). Water, which has a neutral pH of 7, dilutes stomach acid, taking away its power of fantastic digestion. Our suggestion - hydrate between meals so as not to compromise this process (lemon water or apple cider vinegar are great!)
Consume enough Probiotics: Probiotics have been proven effective in supporting immune function, reducing inflammation, promoting healthy digestion, as well as maintaining beautiful skin, especially when combined with prebiotic (3). But what are they exactly? Probiotics are products that contain live microbes (good bacteria and yeast) and help with food digestion and utilization. In addition, they balance pH, help your body absorb minerals, and digest lactose and proteins. Some of our favorite foods that are rich in probiotics are: yogurt/kefir, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented veggies and kombucha. If you’re finding it difficult to consume probiotics through food, you can also take a supplement.
Consume enough Prebiotics: While probiotics have gained popularity, prebiotics fly a little more under the radar. They are essentially a fiber compound that pass through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract and remain undigested, since our bodies can’t fully break them down. They are absorbed into the intestine and stimulate growth and/or activity of intestinal bacteria to promote a healthy gut (4). Again, you can take a supplement to get the adequate amount of prebiotics into your system, but some of our favorite foods that are rich in prebiotics are: onions, garlic, bananas, asparagus, legumes, eggplant, honey, green tea, yogurt/kefir.
Sound like something you can do? These tips aren’t meant to completely change how you live. But if you start to make these small adjustments, you may be able to get your gut health back on track.
Remember, we are not doctors. We simply love sharing the information that is out there and letting you know what’s been working for us. Feel free to continue reading up on the subject via the links below!