Although we may sometimes take it for granted, our gut serves a crucial function in our body and plays an essential role in our overall health and wellbeing.
The father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, recognised how important gut health was when he declared that, "All disease begins in the gut".
Unfortunately though, the modern health care system is often more focused on treating symptoms than addressing underlying causes.
One of the main ways it falls short is often by the lack of emphasis placed on diet, nutrition and lifestyle when it comes to the health of the digestive system.
What Exactly Is The Gut?
The gastrointestinal tract is a long and convoluted tube, which begins in our mouth and ends at the butt. It is more commonly called the gut.
What happens in our gut is central to our health. Without you being aware of it, your digestive system is subject to all sorts of threats that not only endanger the health of your gut but that of your entire physical and mental system.
Your gut and your brain are connected both intimately and intricately, to the extent that the gut is often called the body’s second brain.
You may have heard the term gut biome. This refers to the more than 100 trillion bacteria, also called your “gut flora”, that resides in your stomach and other parts of the gut. These bacteria must have a healthy balance or many potential health problems could ensue.
How The Gut Impacts Health
There are many different types of bacteria in your intestines and most benefit your health. However, some are not so beneficial and too much of the not so good type can lead to disease. There must be a proper balance of good and bad. If there is an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria, we get what is called gut dysbiosis.
Here are some of the consequences of this:
- Uncontrolled Flatulence
- Acne & other skin problems
- Bloat: A distension of the stomach
- Gluten Intolerance: Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat. Those who are gluten intolerant get bloated and suffer pain after consuming foods containing gluten.
These are unpleasant and unnecessary but if the underlying causes are not addressed then, over the long term, other more serious diseases can also show up. Conditions such as:
- Autoimmune Disease
- Chronic Inflammation
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Leaky Gut
- Stomach Ulcers
- Crohn’s Disease
Common Causes Of Gut Problems & Disease
Numerous factors are potential causes of digestive problems that could threaten your health. Listed below are some of the most serious and some suggested solutions…
Diet & Food Choices
What food you consume is the number 1 factor when it comes to the health of your gut. "Fast food", is, more often than not, more appropriately called “junk” food. It is full of artificial chemicals, such as sweeteners, colour agents, preservatives, even hormones. And an over consumption of these potential harmful substances is definitely not conducive to a healthy gut.
Sadly, much of what you purchase at the grocery store is also full of chemicals, too much refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, and other constituents, which can disrupt your digestive system and the important gut microbiome.
In addition, these foods are completely deficient in anything to feed, and often they destroy, the good bacteria within your gut and so disrupt a healthy microbiome balance.
Eating Too Fast
In addition to what you eat, the way you eat is actually also quite important too. Eating quickly and on-the-run is not ideal when it comes to this important first stage of food entering into your digestive system.
Make sure you chew your food thoroughly and not gulp it down. Eating meals at a slower pace promotes proper digestion and absorption of the nutrients in healthy food. There has been a movement in recent years called "mindful" eating which similar to the meditation practice of the same name, it embodies more deliberate and conscious behaviour when it comes to the way you prepare and the manner in which you eat your food.
Pharmaceuticals & Antibiotics
In recent times, there has been a rise in prescription medications, such as antibiotics, which have been used to treat even minor infections. The effect of this over use is similar to carpet bombing, not only do these wipe out the bad bacteria but also the good ones, which we desperately need.
When this happens the pH balance can become too acidic and bad bacteria thrive, so disrupting the balance vital for the proper working of your digestive system and health.
When suffering from bacterial infections or viruses try more natural alternatives before resorting to antibiotics.
Common herbs like garlic, turmeric, oregano, and ginger all have powerful anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. These properties don't kill the good bacteria; if anything they enhance it.
Unfortunately, some prescription medicines weaken the immune system, which is our body's natural defence against infection. An example of this is the overuse of corticosteroids, a medicine widely used for pain in muscles. Indeed, although most medications, if used properly, shouldn't damage the immune system care must be taken to ensure prescription guidelines are strictly followed and not overused.
The jury is still out on whether alcoholic drinks are always bad for you or whether some, such as red wine, are beneficial. It is certain though that when it comes to alcohol, moderation is best, particularly in drinking hard liquor such as rum and whisky. Put simply, excess alcohol use damages your good gut bacteria.
On the bright side, as a result of polyphenol content, the drinking of small amounts of organic red wine can be beneficial to your gut biome balance. Also, beers brewed naturally without preservatives or additives, in moderation and combined with a healthy diet, assist the restoration of a healthy gut.
It might be hard to see how the getting of regular light exercise and gut health are connected. However, because of the way, it affects your metabolism and assists digestion, exercise promotes beneficial gut bacteria.
You must get some exercise for good health; if you have a very physical job then this is helpful. However, the majority of us don't. If you sit for long periods during the workday, or during your leisure time, deliberately make the effort to get some exercise, such as a vigorous 10-20 minute walk or some calisthenics. Even better, join a gym and be diligent about using it.
Learn More: How To Boost Your Energy Naturally
If you don't get enough sleep, then effects on your gut and overall health can often follow, which can then cause even more sleep issues. As a priority, try to get 7–8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Sleep, like exercise, is essential to all health.
Learn More: Top Natural Ways To Boost Relaxation & Chill
Although water is something we often take for granted drinking lots of water has a very good effect on the mucosal intestinal lining and helps the good bacteria in the gut. Being properly hydrated is essential for the promotion of a healthy gut.
Signs & Symptoms Of Digestive Issues
There are few of us who haven't experienced digestive upsets at some point or another. Sometimes it's hard to know if symptoms are just a minor inconvenience or something more serious.
Gastrointestinal or digestive symptoms can range from mild to very serious. If you find that you have any of the following symptoms repeatedly, particularly when they cause major discomfort, you may have a diagnosable and or chronic digestive condition.
IMPORTANT NOTE: As with anything to do with health, if you have ongoing symptoms and issues, always seek medical advice.
What are some of these most common symptoms?
Bloating & Excess Gas
Although this can often accompany overeating or a reaction to eating certain types of food, bloating can also be a sign of some more serious conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), or Celiac disease.
If you have 2 or less bowel movements per week or you have hard, dry stools then this is fairly strong indication that you're constipated. Apart from the discomfort, constipation is an unhealthy problem in its own right and also a warning sign for other potentially more chronic gut health concerns.
Occasional diarrhea is common to most of us. Diarrhea features bowel motions that are liquid and/or explosive. If the diarrhea lasts for days then it is considered chronic. Like constipation, persistent chronic diarrhea could well indicate a more serious digestive disorder.
If you have heartburn several times a week, you could have what is called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). This is discussed more fully soon.
Nausea & Vomiting
Nausea is a common experience, the sufferer feels that they want to vomit and often does so. Like all symptoms, it can indicate nothing more than some food or drink which makes you feel bilious allergy to something as serious as cancer.
Other Common Signs & Symptoms
Other symptoms of digestive problems that you should be aware of are chest pain, abdominal pain, a constant feeling of fullness, appetite loss, irregularities in sleep, thyroid problems and poor immunity.
Common Gut Conditions & Issues
The previous sections talked about the importance of and some causes of problems for gut health as well as common signs & symptoms. In this section, we look at some of these actual problems:
We have all experienced indigestion and for a variety of reasons. Indigestion goes by the name dyspepsia but most simply call it upset stomach. In a nutshell, indigestion is simply impaired digestion.
Often, acid reflux is called heartburn, but interestingly the heart is not involved.
It usually happens after you have overeaten and can last as long as a few hours.
When you have it then stomach acid flows back into the tube that connects the mouth and stomach (oesophagus). This backflow of acid reflux often irritates the oesophagus lining, sometimes with serious effects, such as ulcers.
Acid reflux is usually caused by overconsumption of modern foods such as processed sugar, refined grains, and meat, which overwhelm the digestive system when eaten in excess.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD is a chronic digestive disorder affecting the muscle between the esophagus and stomach which can lead to regular bouts of heartburn or acid indigestion.
As previously mentioned, acid reflux can lead to stomach ulcers...
Stomach ulcers are called gastric ulcers, they are open sores on the stomach's lining.
They can also manifest in another part of the digestive system, the intestine, which is close to the stomach. These ulcers are called duodenal ulcers.
Both of these ulcers are called peptic ulcers.
Stomach ulcers aren't necessarily painful. Some who have them may have other symptoms, such as indigestion or heartburn.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a digestive problem, which affects the large intestine. It causes problems that are very similar to other digestive disorders. It is quite common with up to 40% of the population having it at any time. IBS usually lasts for 3 months or longer.
Although there is no specific clinical test to 'confirm' that someone suffers from IBS, many people who persistently experience one or more of the symptoms described above, are often diagnosed with it.
Leaky Gut is an intestinal permeability problem; undigested food particles, bacteria, and toxins leak through the intestinal wall and pass into the bloodstream.
Your intestines normally include a barrier to prevent this leakage. When leaky gut strikes, this barrier is compromised or damaged.
This is serious for your health because the barrier not only prevents unwanted material passing from your intestines into the blood but allows passage of wanted nutrients into the blood and then throughout the body. It also prevents harmful substances from entering the intestine.
Leaky gut can have very serious consequences, such as arthritis, chronic fatigue, diabetes, fibromyalgia, and mental illness!
Depending on how bad the leaky gut is, healing can take from a couple of months to years. Once better, people no longer suffer from these symptoms and have much better energy and mood.
Top Natural Remedies for Gut Health
One of the top ways you can naturally help your gut health is by being more conscious about diet and the foods you eat. With the digestive system's role to break down, process and absorb nutrients from food, the more you can support it and the colonies of "good bacteria", the more efficiently it will function and support your health and wellness.
Top Plant-Based Foods For Digestive Health
Having a diet with plenty of whole foods based on plants is a good way to promote gut health. These foods assist the cleansing of your intestinal tract and provide your whole system with essential vitamins and minerals and are much easier for your digestive system to break down, process and absorb than highly-processed foods.
If you suffer from indigestion, have trouble digesting food, or merely desire an improvement in digestive health then check out these foods and herbs. They are all easy to digest and should in your diet to be certain of healthy digestion.
These particular gut-health-promoting fruits, vegetables and herbs have micronutrients and specific properties which can help to strengthen your digestive health:
- Black Pepper
- Coriander Leaf
- Ginger Root
- Green Peas
Prebiotics & Probiotics
Very useful natural remedies for digestive problems, which come from foods are called probiotics and prebiotics.
Probiotics and prebiotics have had a lot of publicity in recent times and, like many natural substances, there are a lot of supplement products for sale, allegedly full of probiotics.
If you are determined to purchase some then make sure you know the source. Be wary of anything that is dispensed in pill or capsule form. It is sensible to stick with probiotics and prebiotics in food, drinks and certain powders.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are living microorganisms that boost a healthy digestive tract and immune system. Indeed, many of the microorganisms in products marketed as probiotic are the very same as, or quite similar to, those in our bodies.
Probiotics are not something new that has recently been discovered. The best external sources of probiotics for millennia have been made from fermented milk or plants. Some good plant-based sources of probiotics include:
- Pickled Vegetables
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are not the same as probiotics. Simply put, prebiotics are dietary fibres, which the good bacteria in the gut consume. They are like fertilizers stimulating the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
They are found in many fruits and vegetables, particularly those containing complex carbohydrates, such as fiber and some starch. These carbohydrates are not digested by the body, so they go through our digestive systems and are food for the good bacteria. They can be found in many well-known vegetables, including:
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Onions, shallots & spring onions
How pH Balance Plays A Role
In an earlier section, we talked about the importance of proper hydration. Proper hydration is closely related to what is called the pH balance.
pH is that it is a measurement of the acidity in watery solutions. The opposite of acid is alkali. Acidic solutions have lower pH than alkaline solutions. Acidic solutions have pH greater than seven up to 14; alkaline solutions range between 0 and 7. Ideally, there should be an Acid/Alkaline Balance in the human body.
What does this mean?
The acid-alkaline balance is very important to health. If there is too much acidity then problems usually follow.
The modern diet leads to high acidity levels in many people. This diet often is typified by excess sugar, meat dairy products, and processed grains all leading to greater acidity.
As the body changes food to energy, there is waste, which is acidic. Frequently with our modern diet, there is an excess of waste, meaning the kidneys must work more, this causes kidney and other problems.
It is difficult for the body to adjust its pH levels unless the diet is controlled. This occurs when there is plenty of nutritious plant-based food.
No discussion of natural remedies for the gut would be complete without mentioning sodium bicarbonate. Sodium bicarbonate, is an alkaline mineral more commonly known as baking soda, it is one of the most effective and common remedies for common stomach upsets. In fact, it's an "antacid" used as a key ingredient in many off-the-shelf products for heartburn and indigestion.
Here are some of its properties and benefits for the gut:
- If taken internally, mixes with the gastric acid and neutralises it
- Contains antiseptic, alkaline and antacid properties when dissolved in water that ease digestive tract problems.
- Anti-inflammatory properties for irritated digestive tracts
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