5 WAYS TO IMPROVE GUT HEALTH AND REDUCE INFLAMMATION
It has long been thought that there is a direct correlation between gut health and chronic inflammation. And, a simple look at the health, or should I say illness, of the population today shows the reality of this.
I would venture to say that you, or someone close to you, has been affected by one or more of the following:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Autoimmune disorders
These diseases and conditions are all categorized as chronic inflammatory diseases.
And, as as way of life, people as a whole are:
- Sleeping less
- Moving less
- Eating processed foods and refined sugars
- Relying on a variety of meds (from antibiotics, to painkillers and laxatives)
All of which directly affect gut health.
But, research shows that improving the health of your gut can reduce chronic inflammatory responses within the body.
YOU are in charge of your health! Let’s explore how you can improve your health, beginning in your gut, and reduce chronic inflammation in your body.
What is Gut Health?
Your gut is basically the short term for your gastrointestinal system. This system, from your mouth to your rectum, is responsible for processing what we eat and drink.
Your gut contains up to 100 trillion types of bacteria. Don’t be too alarmed at that number, though. This is a good thing. These bacteria are necessary for survival. They work together to aid in digestion, supply nutrients to the body, and to keep you healthy.
But, what research is continually showing is that when we don’t get enough exercise, have a poor diet, experience stress, and incorporate other adverse habits into our daily lives, we cause abnormal changes in the balance of these bacteria.
Controlling the microbiome (the technical name for the environment of the 100 trillion bacteria and all of their individual strands) in our gut can lower inflammation. This in turn lowers our risk for chronic inflammatory diseases like those mentioned above (cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, etc).
Truly, what we eat matters. When inflammatory foods are eaten in abundance, and anti-inflammatory foods are consumed in limited quantities, you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
All of the following are known to cause poor gut health and thus promote inflammation in the body:
- Red meats
- Processed foods
- Deep-fried foods
- Soda and other drinks filled with refined sugars and/or artificial sweeteners
- Refined carbohydrates like white flour, white bread, pastries, and pastas
Incorporating these three types of foods into your diet can improve gut health: prebiotics, probiotics, and polyphenols.
Eating foods that are high in prebiotic fibers nourish the good bacteria in your gut. Prebiotic foods include:
- Chicory root
- Dandelion greens
Probiotics also support a healthy gut. Probiotics actually contain healthy bacteria. The following foods and drinks are great sources of probiotics.
- Some yogurts
However, sometimes adding probiotic-rich foods may not be enough, and in this case, incorporating a good probiotic supplement, like the one linked below, is beneficial.
Foods rich in polyphenols are also recommended to promote a healthy gut. Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant. They are found in foods such as:
o Red chicory
o Dark chocolate
o Rapeseed oil
o Red wine
o Green tea
o Celery seed
o Dried peppermint
Have you noticed a trend in the foods listed above? From prebiotics, to probiotics, to polyphenol rich foods, when you place these side by side on your plate, you’ll notice that you are filling your body with a colorful array of nutrition. Make it a practice to “eat the rainbow” as it’s often called.
And, since we can often get into the habit of eating the same foods all of the time, even when incorporating healthy choices, be sure to try different varieties of the foods on these lists.
2. Reduce stress
According to the American Institute of Stress, “77% of people experience stress that affects their physical health, and 73% of people experience stress that affects their mental health.”
Stress can directly affect your gut health. Specifically, it disturbs nutrient absorption during digestion. Stress weakens the lining of your gut, causing harmful bacteria from foods to leak into the body.
Essentially, when we refer to improving gut health, we are not only talking about promoting and keeping the gut bacteria balanced, but in most cases we are also referring to healing the lining of your gut.
Consider the following ways to decrease stress, heal or strengthen the lining in your gut, and improve the balance of bacteria therein as well.
- Deep breathing practices
- Incorporating a daily exercise routine
- Getting adequate quality sleep
- Meditation and/or prayer
- Practicing daily gratitude
- Incorporating daily affirmations
- Spend more time with friends and loved ones
- Consistently practice self-care
3. Move more
Science has proven that exercise has a direct effect on gut health. Studies have shown that people who move more and incorporate a diet with proper nutrition have a healthier gut.
The problem is, our society is growing increasingly sedentary. From office jobs that strap us to a desk all day, to the growing trend of inactivity in our youth, to the fact that we naturally tend to become even more sedentary with age, our risk of chronic inflammation and thus serious disease has increased exponentially.
Exercise reduces fat and increases muscle. The reduction of fat cells decreases chronic inflammation in the body. And, gains in muscle tissue actually increase the production of proteins that are responsible for maintaining the proper function of the immune system.
Researchers found that those incorporating 30-60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 3 times a week for 6 weeks showed improvements in the microbiome of the gut.
But, when these same individuals returned to a sedentary lifestyle, the healthy benefits they gained through this exercise were reversed.
In other words, the addition of exercise to your lifestyle can not be a short-term, short-lived, “complete a six week program and be done” kind of thing. Improving health long-term is a lifelong commitment to the practices that benefit your body.
And, as if exercise alone wasn’t enough of a benefit, you actually are detoxing your body as you exercise. As you sweat, you are detoxifying your body, aiding in inflammation reduction.
Movement is life...so plan to incorporate movement into your life as much as possible.
- If your job has you sitting at a desk 8+ hours a day, be sure to break up your sedentary sessions. Get up at least once an hour and move around.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Park in the back of the lot when you go grocery shopping.
- Go for a walk around the block with your family after dinner each evening.
And, carve out 30-60 minutes 3 times a week for aerobic or cardiovascular exercise. Incorporate strength or resistance training sessions of roughly 25 minutes 2-3 times per week.
You, your body, and your health are worth the investment of time to take care of yourself!
4. Quality Sleep
Studies show that gut health can affect sleep. An unhealthy gut can lead to sleep loss and a disruption in circadian rhythm. Likewise, improved gut health is linked to quality, restful sleep.
Perhaps you’ve heard of melatonin in relation to sleep...or possibly as a supplement to use when in need of sleep?
Melatonin is not only produced in the brain, but is made within the gut as well. Your gut also aids in the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine.
So, incorporating the gut healthy practices that we’ve discussed thus far will go a long way towards improving your night of sleep, but since sleep itself affects gut health, let’s look at how you can achieve a restful, quality night of sleep:
- 7-9 hours of sleep nightly (consistently) is recommended
- Avoid caffeine after 2 pm.
- Shut off electronics within 2 hours of bedtime.
- Do not sleep with electronics in the room.
- Sleep in a cool room (temperatures in the 60’s are ideal).
5. Be med conscious
We generally are taught from an early age the following pattern for pain, discomfort, and illness:
- Get sick, go to the doctor, take an antibiotic or other med, get well
- Have pain or discomfort, take meds, get relief
But, here we’ve seen that everything from what we eat and drink to even our stress levels can affect our gut. So, where does medicine fit into this picture? Here we’ll look at three commonly used medicines and their effects on the body: antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and laxatives.
Antibiotics are given to attack the bad bacteria that cause infections. But, antibiotics attack bacteria, period. The medicine can not differentiate between good bacteria in our gut and the bad bacteria causing the infection.
Studies show that antibiotics, even in low doses, and even taken short-term, can permanently damage the microbiome of the gut.
The effects on gut health from extensive use of antibiotics is shown to be a contributing factor in diseases such as autism, asthma, depression, IBD, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes.
Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs
The very name of this medicine alone sounds as if one could rest peacefully knowing no harm would come to their overall health with its use. I mean, they are called anti-inflammatory drugs.
The problem here is that while these medicines have been known to decrease localized inflammation and suppress the body’s sensitivity to pain (never mind the fact that they don’t heal what is causing your pain), they cause bleeding, ulcers, and inflammation in the gut (particularly the stomach and small intestine).
Constipation is said to affect millions of Americans. And, to find relief from this common irritation, Americans spent roughly $1.4 billion on laxatives in 2019.
So, how do these supposed gut-aiding meds actually affect one’s gastro-intestinal tract?
Some studies have shown that the use of laxatives can completely erase some families of gut bacteria.
And, though the microbiome of our gut is diverse. Disruptions in this diversity can cause inflammatory conditions like Crohn’s disease and other bowel disorders.
Things to remember regarding these medicines:
- Realize that antibiotics aren’t always beneficial and aren’t always necessary.
- Remember that an anti-inflammatory lifestyle will naturally promote gut health.
- Decreasing inflammation and healing one’s gut can allow freedom from chronic pain and constipation
With a healthy gut microbiome and a lack of systemic inflammation, the body is free to work as intended without medicinal intervention: as an innate healer.
Hippocrates is often credited with the realization of the link between gut health and disease. So, in the words of Hippocrates, “let food be thy medicine.”
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Charles Livingston nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.