Gut Check: Mend Your Digestion, Boost Your Health with These Easy Tips

You’ve likely heard the old saying, “Death begins in the colon.” In integrative medicine, we often say instead, “Health begins in the colon.” These sentiments reflect age-old principles held by traditional medical systems from around the world, which position digestive health as the key to longevity and vitality.

A large and fast-growing body of published data has substantiated this critical link, demonstrating the direct relationships between digestion and cognitive health, immune response, hormone balance and more. So when we experience persistent gut symptoms, it’s critical we take action.

However, poor digestion can have much deeper consequences than a stomach ache. The digestive tract’s primary purpose is to extract nutrition from food and discard the rest. How efficiently the stomach, intestines and other digestive organs process nutrition has a profound impact on quality of life. People who eat healthy diets but have poor digestion may be missing out on vital nutrients.

Digestive Problems and Food Sensitivities

In many cases, digestive difficulties and other ongoing health issues are a direct result of inflammatory reactions to common trigger foods, such as gluten, corn, eggs, or dairy. These reactions, termed “food sensitivities,” often don’t cause full-blown allergic reactions but still trigger inflammatory responses that damage the digestive wall over time, leading to leaky gut syndrome.

Food sensitivities are akin to autoimmune responses, with the immune system treating certain foods as foreign invaders. As the immune response continues, the small intestine becomes inflamed, and over time, the chronic inflammation makes intestinal lining cells larger and more porous. Leakages then occur with undigested proteins, as well as pathogens.

For those facing food sensitivities and leaky gut syndrome, the first step towards regaining good health is identifying the foods that are causing the problem and eliminating them. For information on doing an elimination diet, visit WebMD.

Benefits of Healthy Gut Bacteria

Good bacteria manufacture vitamins, boost immune cells and prevent harmful pathogens from being absorbed into the body. Studies show gut bacteria even play a role in maintaining our mental health. The gastrointestinal system is the most abundant source of regulatory neurotransmitters outside the brain. Serotonin, for example, has been found in the highest concentration in the gut. Numerous herbs, like Chinese cardamom and cinnamon, can benefit digestion by increasing antioxidant levels and boosting immunity.

Improve Your Gut Health

To improve your gut health, incorporate cultured, fermented foods rich in digestive enzymes and probiotic bacteria such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, and kimchi. A critical nutrient, zinc is required to make many digestive enzymes, and also plays a role in fast-growing intestinal cells. Zinc is also involved in hormone regulation, immune health, and neurological function. Additionally, consider adding fish oil to your diet, as it boosts gastrointestinal health and helps to balance hormones.

To support digestive health and manage food sensitivities, follow these tips:

  1. Avoid eating two to three hours before bedtime.
  2. Talk to your doctor about testing for food allergies and sensitivities.
  3. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of filtered water and herbal teas.
  4. Take a daily supplement to help enhance digestive function.
  5. Find healthy ways to relieve stress, such as meditation, exercise and laughter.
  6. Practice yoga to improve digestion and reduce stress.
  7. Limit over-the-counter and prescription drugs.
  8. Reduce caffeine and alcohol, which damage friendly digestive bacteria.

By listening to our bodies and promoting overall health through a better understanding of the complementary relationship between the digestive system and the rest of the body, we can take control of our health and vitality.