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There is not one quick fix to gut health, unfortunately. These tips all work together to create a more harmonious environment to promote healthy digestive and colon function. A poor functioning gut can lead to malabsorption of nutrients, decreased immunity strength, a buildup of “bad” bacteria and diseases such as IBS, leaky gut syndrome, ulcerative colitis and may even lead to liver disease, heart disease or cancer. Studies are also showing links between gut health and depression and mental health, as well as various inflammatory autoimmune diseases (such as Crohn’s, Hashimoto’s). Allergies are also another common symptom of poor gut health.
Bulk refers to just that, a bulk of food to create regular bowel movements. Ideally we are having a bowel movement 2 times per day. Now, not all food is created equal, obviously. Fibre is the key to creating bulk. You’ve heard the term fibre time and time again, I’m sure, but did you know what it is or why it is so important? Fibre is the indigestible part of plants. There are two forms, insoluble which creates bulk and prevents constipation (ie. wheat bran, whole grains, fruits and vegetables) and soluble fibre which helps slow the digestion of sugars and prevent blood sugar spikes (ie. beans, lentils, pears, broccoli, sweet potato). The average intake of fibre should be between 25-40 grams per day and a good balance of both soluble and insoluble fibre. If you’re intake of soluble fibre is too high, it can cause dehydration in the colon and constipation.
If the colon is not properly hydrated, then the ability to achieve adequate bowel movements is impaired. The natural wavelike movement of the colon is called peristalsis and the most effective way to maintain that movement is through hydration. What is hydration? WATER! Clean, pure, unflavoured, additive free, water. Adding things like lemon and fruits to water does have its benefits, such as adding electrolytes, alkalizing the body and added nutrients and vitamins. But adding too many things to your water can impact its ability to hydrate properly, so be sure to drink enough plain water daily also. On average it is recommended to drink 8 glasses (8oz) per day. That said, everyone is different and it is important to listen to your body. If you drink lots of coffee or tea for instance, you might need to drink more water vs. someone who drinks only water. It is good to notice how you feel, your skin texture, frequency of urination, and to keep track of how much water you are having each day. Exercise intensity (ie. sweating), diet and length of sleep can also impact the amount of water you need.
This sounds like water but lubrication actually refers to the healthy fats in your diet. Essential fatty acids or EFA’s are omega 3’s and omega 6’s and are used not only for colon health but for most functions of cells in the body. Super important! That is why you hear “eat your healthy fats” everywhere these days, because it is essential to a healthy body. Optimal sources of EFA’s are flaxseed, walnuts, hazelnuts, chia seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, among others.
4. Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation is a term thrown around a lot these days, but what is it exactly? Inflammation is the body’s response to injury and is when the immune system is triggered to protect the body from foreign substances. The act of protection causes increased blood flow and that can cause inflammation in the area of injury or infection. In the gut, the colon can become infected by an increase in “bad” bacteria and become inflamed, which can lead to a variety of issues including leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut is when the inflamed colon allows bacteria, food and parasites to enter the bloodstream; this is what can lead to the above mentioned diseases and more even inflammation in the body. To reduce inflammation, a healthy diet that is high in antioxidants and essential fatty acids is recommended. Reducing intake of fried foods, sodas, processed and refined foods is also recommended. There are also some sources that are proven to reduce inflammation such as turmeric, aloe vera, garlic, ginger, liquorice and echinacea. Incorporating these sources into your diet as seasoning is a great way to boost your anti-inflammatory diet.
5. Probiotics / Digestive Enzymes
The final way to improve your gut health is by increasing your “good” bacteria. Probiotics are available in supplement form and can be taken daily. If you have increased your whole food and vegetable intake then I would skip any additional prebiotic supplements, it’s not needed if you are getting enough from your diet. One thing I do recommend, especially if you are showing symptoms of digestive dysfunction is a digestive enzyme. These come in a variety of sources and ingredients, so check with your doctor or health professional to see what option might be best for you (health stores often have specialists who can recommend options also). Taken with your meals, digestive enzymes contain enzymes that help to breakdown food particles and promote digestive function.