Go With Your Gut: How a Healthy Gut Improves Overall Health

More and more people are talking about gut health these days, and for good reason! As research is continuing to unfold, we are understanding more about the connection between a healthy gut and good mental health, immune function, and overall health and wellbeing.

There is wisdom in the saying, “go with your gut.”

Did you know your gut and brain are talking about you behind your back? Your gut is considered your “second brain,” and has its own nervous system - the Enteric Nervous System (ENS). This system is not only responsible for digestion, but also communicates directly with the Central Nervous System in your brain through the use of “feel good” chemicals serotonin and dopamine Your gut produces 95% of the body’s serotonin and 50% of its dopamine, so if your gut health is off, your mood and mindset may very well be too!

Because of the intimate connection between your gut and your brain, researchers have been able to link anxiety to stomach problems and vice versa.

Ever had “butterflies in your stomach” when you felt nervous about an upcoming event, been “too nauseous to eat” before a big presentation, or had a “gut-wrenching experience?” According to Harvard Health, that’s because anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut.

So how can you keep your gut healthy and sending the right signals? The experts at Precision Nutrition have some simple, smart solutions:

Listen: pay attention to the messages your body is sending to you (we are very good at ignoring these). Irregular bowel movements, skin issues/sensitivities, acid reflux, low energy, brain fog...all of these can be your body’s way of telling you something isn’t right.

Dig: get to the root cause of digestive issues. There could be multiple reasons your gut isn’t happy. Start with a professional to rule out larger issues.

Avoid common triggers: Start to reduce sugar, dairy, gluten, alcohol, and refined grains in your diet to see if you begin to feel better.  

Slow down.  The process of slowing down and chewing is important for enzyme release and breaking food down into particles that are manageable for the gut.

Eat real food. Our bodies have a longstanding relationship with whole/real foods.  Food preservatives and additives, on the other hand, present a new (and perhaps impossible) challenge for our bodies.

Recover well. Sleep, stress management (e.g., meditation, yoga) and exercise are necessary for renewal of the body and controlling inflammation.  Improving these areas may improve gut health.

Eat plenty of omega-3s (flax, walnuts, hemp, chia, fish, algae) and other whole food fats (olives, avocado, coconut, nuts, seeds, etc) to help moderate inflammation.  Also note that medium chain fats, found in coconut, can also help with gut health.

Sources and Further Reading:

  1. “The Brain-Gut Connection” https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-brain-gut-connection

  2. “All About Nutrition and Gut Health” https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-nutrition-gut-health

  3. “The Gut Brain Connection” https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection

Jenny Wright