If you really want to get healthy, the first place you should start is your gut!
Our gut controls so much of our overall health. In fact, 70% of our immune system is located in the gut. Not to mention, it’s where all of the nutrients our bodies need to function come from.
A healthy gut = A healthy you!
Before I started learning about gut health, I thought eating a healthy diet and exercising was enough to improve my overall health and wellbeing. But even with these healthy habits, I constantly felt exhausted and generally unwell physically and mentally. I always seemed to be coming down with some illness and was in and out of doctors’ offices with no concrete explanation.
Just more and more frustration.
It wasn’t until I visited a nonconventional doctor who, to my surprise, prescribed me probiotics to help with eczema, that I began to explore this topic of gut health and its far-reaching impact on our bodies.
What is Gut Health?
Your gut isn’t just your stomach, as I once thought. It’s your entire digestive tract running all the way from your esophagus to your rectum. It’s responsible for taking in and excreting the food we eat. But it also contains microbes and nerves that communicate with the brain and other parts of the body affecting everything from hunger to mood. Experts have referred to the gut as the second brain.
When it comes to gut health, it’s all about balance. Good and bad bacteria that live in our intestines make up our gut microbiome. When in balance, they allow for the proper digestion of food and absorption of nutrients which our bodies rely on for everything from energy production to hormone balance, skin health to mental health, and even toxin and waste elimination.
When this balance is off, it can create major problems, but not just for your digestive system. It can negatively impact your immune system, and lead to autoimmune diseases, skin conditions, endocrine disorders, and cancer (source).
The cause? There are various dietary, environmental and lifestyle factors that can lead to poor gut health. We’re all different and genetics play a role in what affects our gut the most. Some things to watch out for are:
- Overuse of antibiotic
- Excess alcohol
- Lack of whole foods and fiber
- Diet high in processed foods
- Consumption of GMOs
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Poor sleep quality
Given the society we live in, it’s almost impossible to avoid all of the triggers above. For me, many of these have contributed to my own gut issues.
My Battle with Gut Health
I’ve had poor gut health for years but had no idea. Of course, gut health itself is a fairly new concern. But it’s taken me years of research and doctors’ visits to put together the pieces of the puzzle and see that my gut was impacting my health in countless ways.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve suffered from poor digestion. From bloating and gas, to constipation (sorry TMI!). Not every single day, but more often than not and this became my norm.
In my Caribbean family, the remedy for most gut issues was a cup of herbal tea or tums. So that’s what I used to ease the discomfort. But for the most part I just lived with it.
Since I didn’t have IBS (or so I thought) or other more serious stomach conditions, I assumed I was perfectly fine.
But even things we consider minor or normal, like bloating, gas, reflux, constipation, irregularity, abdominal pain or occasional diarrhea can be a signal of a more serious issue going on with your gut. Don’t ignore it!
Recently I learned that I do, in fact, suffer from a mild form of IBS.
I can’t say for sure that I’ve had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (I was never officially diagnosed), but I have felt chronically tired–drained and sluggish around the clock, even after getting a full night’s sleep.
I’m far from the “I’ll sleep when I die” type of person. Very rarely do I sacrifice sleep. But I’ve always envied the people who can sleep for five hours (or less!) and wake up refreshed and recharged with all the energy in the world.
Unfortunately, I’ve never been that person. Doctors have thought that I was anemic or lacking in a particular vitamin. Their findings: I could use a bit more vitamin B.
When rest, multivitamins, or even diet changes aren’t cutting it, poor gut health might be the culprit. When your gut is overrun by bad bacteria it prevents your body from absorbing all the proper nutrients from the food you eat, leaving your body feeling exhausted.
An unhealthy gut can also become permeable (leaky gut syndrome), allowing toxins to flow through the intestinal wall and into your blood stream causing inflammation. Your cells work overtime to kill these harmful chemicals, depleting your energy levels in the process.
For me, acne and eczema have been some of the worst symptoms I’ve experienced as a result of poor gut health. Maybe that sounds a bit dramatic, and you may be thinking “girl if that’s all you have to worry about, you should be grateful!”
However, if you’ve suffered from any chronic skin condition, you know how difficult it can be. Feeling self-conscious, helpless and in physical pain all because of your skin. It can really affect your self-esteem and overall mental health.
For acne, I took prescription antibiotics along with hormonal birth control (the pill) on and off since I was a teenager. I was willing to do almost anything to manage my acne. And it helped a lot, but I was never completely cured.
Little did I know, those years of taking antibiotics were actually doing more harm than good.
They were killing off the good bacteria, leaving my microbiome completely off balance, and jeopardizing the health of not only my gut, but my entire body.
About a year ago, I started having severe and painful eczema flare-ups on my hands. Possibly the worst place to have eczema! A doctor recommended that I try a quality probiotic as eczema and other skin irritations are linked to the gut.
Conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis and rosacea are inflammatory disorders directly related to our immune system. And much of our immune system is where? You guessed it…in the gut!
After doing more research, I realized that other health issues I was experiencing were also likely linked to gut health.
- Stress, anxiety, and depression
- Brain Fog
- Poor immunity
- Yeast Infections
Now, that’s just my list! There are so many ways that our gut affects our health and wellness. As Hippocrates said over 2000 years ago, it all starts in the gut.
The Healing Process
Getting your gut health in balance is no easy task, especially when you’ve had years of damage from processed foods, antibiotics, and loads of stress.
Here are some of the lifestyle and dietary changes I’ve made in an effort to repair my damaged gut.
- Consume Probiotics – One of the most helpful things I’ve done to restore balance to my gut is adding probiotics to my daily regimen. Probiotics help to rebuild the population of good bacteria. I take a probiotic supplement and also get probiotics from fermented food like kombucha, sauerkraut, and beet kvass that I make myself.
- Add Bone Broth – My doctor recommended that I start drinking this nutrient-dense and all around healing drink. Bone broth, with its many vitamins and minerals like glutamine and collagen, help repair the gut lining. I tried some of the store bought varieties. But I much prefer homemade.
- Reduce sugar – Sugar is an inflammatory food for most people and feeds the bad bacteria in your gut. For that reason, as difficult as it, I’ve reduced my sugar intake quite a lot. I haven’t eliminated it completely, but I’ve definitely become more conscious of how much sugar is in everything and avoided many of the sweets and snacks I once thought I couldn’t live without.
- Eliminate dairy – Dairy is also an inflammatory food that can irritate the gut and studies show that it can also exacerbate acne. So it had to go! Luckily for me, I was never a big milk drinker, I actually prefer almond milk. But I must admit, I do miss cheese!
- More whole foods – I’ve incorporated more colorful, clean, nutrient-rich foods into my diet. And that means having to cook most of my meals and limit eating out. As much as possible, I try to eat nourishing, fresh foods and avoid processed, packaged options that bad bacteria thrive on.
- More water – Drinking more water helps to flush out toxins from the body and maintain a healthy gut. My goal is to drink at least 72 oz of water a day. I find that using an app helps me keep track of my water intake and stay motivated to reach my goal.
- Eliminate antibiotics (when possible) – Once I learned that the antibiotics I was taking were actually contributing to many of health issues, I knew I had to stop taking them. Fortunately for me, the medication I was taking wasn’t for a life threatening condition. So instead of continuing to put stress on my gut, I decided to wean myself off the medication and allow my body to truly heal once and for all.
- See a Functional Doctor – I’ve gone to doctors in the past who were quick to write me a prescription for every little symptom, instead of working with me to find the root cause. It’s really helped my healing process to work with a doctor who takes a more holistic approach to health and understands how the gut works.
If you think you may be suffering from poor gut health, I encourage you to take action! Continue to educate yourself and seek help from a medical practitioner. You are far from alone! I’m on this journey with you!