Irritable bowel Syndrome (IBS) is the most common reason people miss work.
And in 2018, approximately 61 percent of Americans experienced at least one gastrointestinal symptom, such as heartburn, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation in the previous week.
Life doesn’t have to be this way.
Your digestive health has a direct impact on your overall health. It’s the foundation for breaking down the foods you eat, for absorbing the nutrients that supply neurotransmitters and hormones, and receiving the nutrients needed to perform things like detoxification and cellular repair.
Your health and quality of life LITERALLY depends on your gut and digestive function!
So what does it take?
Key Characteristics of a Healthy Gut
Microbial diversity: We need a diverse quality and robust quantity of gut microbes. These bugs support your immune system, strengthen the lining of your gut barrier, synthesize vitamins like B12 and K2 and protect against other bacteria that cause disease. The more diverse, the better!
Adequate stomach acid: Stomach acid kills pathogens and helps break down proteins. Low stomach acid is one of the most common issues I see in my practice. Without ample stomach acid, you allow opportunistic bugs, parasites, and pathogens to take up shop inside your gut. It’s also needed to break down food. When you’re not breaking down food, you’re also not getting nutrients you need.
Gut lining integrity: Your gut is lined with delicate epithelial cells held together by tight junctions that prevent large protein molecules and other foreign objects from entering the bloodstream. When this delicate lining becomes damaged and the junctions become loose, “leaky gut” ensues and systemic inflammation creates a cascade of symptoms throughout your body that appear far removed from your digestive health.
Rich mucosal barrier: A layer of immune cells, enzymes and microorganisms make up the protective mucosal barrier. Any compromise to this will lead to problems throughout the body. This is where the MAJORITY of your immune system lies. You cannot have good immune health without good gut health.
Prioritizing a diet that includes good quality animal protein and whole foods is a good base for anybody. But if you’re experiencing some digestive issues consider including some of these into your diet.
Superfoods for your gut
Bone Broth. This traditional medicinal food that’s making a comeback deserves a spot on your shelf for good reason. Rich in the amino acids glycine proline and glutamine, these help to stimulate the production of stomach acid, protect against gastric ulcers, maintain the integrity of your gut barrier and mucosal lining.
I personally make a batch of bone broth a couple times a month and have a serving of this liquid gold a few times a week. You can cook with it or just sip on it from a warm mug with a few shakes of good quality sea salt.
Sauerkraut and Kimchi. Naturally fermented foods contain live microorganisms that can help with digestion, immune function and nutrient absorption. It’s also rich in Vitamin C and K and antioxidants.
Always choose live culture fermented foods which are found in the refrigerated section. My favorite way to enjoy them is on the side of scrambled eggs or next to a hamburger.
Resistant Starches. Not all of the starch you eat gets digested. Some of it is resistant to digestion and passes straight through to your colon. We call these resistant starches. Once these compounds get to your colon, they feed your (hopefully very diverse!) bacteria. These bacteria then form Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs). The most significant of these is Butyrate which is the preferred fuel for the cells that line your colon.
Resistant starches can reduce inflammation and aid in digestive disorders such as constipation and diarrhea, but also diverticulitis, IBS, Ulcerative Colitis and Chrohn’s Disease.
Cooked and cooled rice and potatoes (you can reheat them after they have cooled, it’s the initial cooling process that turns the starch “resistant”) and green bananas are my favorite sources of resistant starches.
Raw honey. Studies show manuka honey provides a significant gastroprotective quality against stomach ulcers and reduces inflammation. Honey also contains prebiotics which help feed your existing gut bugs.
Ginger. Ginger is a digestive stimulant that contains enzymes that aid in proper digestion. It stimulates stomach acid and has been known to reduce digestive discomfort, nausea, and inflammation.
The Bottom Line
What you eat plays a vital role in your digestive health for better or for worse. If you want to improve your gut health, start by adding in one or two of these on a regular basis.
Almario CV;Ballal ML;Chey WD;Nordstrom C;Khanna D;Spiegel BMR; “Burden of Gastrointestinal Symptoms in the United States: Results of a Nationally Representative Survey of over 71,000 Americans.” The American Journal of Gastroenterology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30323268/.
Wang, Bin, et al. “Glutamine and Intestinal Barrier Function.” Amino Acids, Springer Vienna, 26 June 2014, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00726-014-1773-4.
DL;, Bird AR;Brown IL;Topping. “Starches, Resistant Starches, the Gut Microflora and Human Health.” Current Issues in Intestinal Microbiology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11709851/.
Nikkhah Bodagh, Mehrnaz, et al. “Ginger in Gastrointestinal Disorders: A Systematic Review of Clinical Trials.” Food Science & Nutrition, John Wiley and Sons Inc., 5 Nov. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6341159/.