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How to optimize your gut health and microbiome

Updated: Jan 4

Gut health is not a thing you attain.  It is a living organism that needs to be cared for.  Much like a beloved pet that we endlessly spoil and snuggle, our guts need to be fed, groomed, exercised, and considered.  In return, our gut rewards us with various facets of our health, emotional wellness, a vibrant energy, an uplifted spirit, and fantastic elimination.  

healthy gut

The thing to understand about the gut - is that it is home to over 100 trillion organisms.  And although we really love to view ourselves as autonomous beings - the masters of our own domains, the sad truth is that by without these organisms in good health, well balanced, and diverse in population - we would find it very difficult to remain alive.  These organisms, known as our gut microbiome, are not only responsible for turning the foods that we eat into energy, but also for protecting us from pathogens, producing a variety of neurotransmitters, supporting cognition, modulating our immune systems, and promoting healthy sleep.  Learning how to be in relationship with these little microorganisms is the first step towards gut health.  And as we do with any relationship, we curiously learn about one another, understand what is wanted and needed, figure out how to deliver in a way that works for us, and then reassess.  how to optimize gut health and microbiome

Taking care of our gut is pretty easy, until you step into modern society.  It is only then, that you have to evoke endless amounts of discipline to avoid the sweet and savory gut destroying temptations that are around every corner, gather tremendous amounts of research and education in label and ingredient reading, and tireless hours explaining to everyone you know why you are, or are not eating one particular food group or another.  Once you are able to tune out the distractions, gut health is a pretty simple equation.  I like to break it down into a few questions.

Bloated gut, bloated belly

The first thing to ask yourself about your gut health is: “Do I have any gut disturbances?”  Things like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas, stomachaches, or acid reflux are the most common indications that your gut is not particularly happy or healthy.  There are some other more subtle indications that your gut is unhappy - things like skin problems, headaches, anxiety, or hormonal dysregulation can indicate suboptimal gut health.  If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may not be a bad idea to reach out to your local functional medicine practitioner to help you sort out these issues, as they need to be treated, and they are not a normal part of aging, as most people seem to think.  The next question you can ask yourself to assess gut health is:  “Am I over nourished or undernourished?”  Being over nourished means that your caloric intake exceeds your body’s needs.  This is commonly seen in combination with inadequate nutrition - meaning that we are consuming too many calories, and those calories do not contain any nutrients to feed the body, leading to poor metabolic health.  This is a very common pattern trending in Americans on the path towards diabetes and obesity, and is generally speaking the result of consuming a heavily processed standard diet (SAD) .  The last question is this:  “What are my eating patterns?”  Most of us eat very erratically.  We eat when we are tired, we eat when we are sad, mad, or lonely.  Some of us eat when we are hungry, but most of us eat when we are bored.  Take the time to ask yourself: “What type of hunger am I feeling right now?”  The answer to this question can help you to make more appropriate choices for your gut health.  

healthy whole foods

“So what do you eat?” This is the number one question I get asked when people realize that I am a Functional Medicine Practitioner.  And even though I spend a serious amount of everyday discussing which foods contain what phytonutrients - I try to avoid this question in social settings.  The reason is simple:  food is emotional.  How and why we consume the things we do represent a huge portion of who we are, where we came from, what comforts us, and how we celebrate life, and death.  It is part of almost every single gathering, event and ceremony.  For this loaded reason, I find it difficult to speak on the subject with such finespun elegance that leaves everyone ready to abandon their deeply rooted, poorly understood, lifelong habits.  

But in truth - the rules for a healthy, optimized gut are very simple.  Eat enough, not more.  Include clean proteins (avoid commercially prepared animals and when possible choose organic, or wild, well cared for animals).  Consume whole foods - which are, generally speaking, foods that come out of the ground.  Eat essential fats, vitamins and minerals, and avoid saturated fats, low quality oils, food additives, chemicals, toxins, and pathogens.  

That’s it!  Beyond that - fine tuning some version of this to suit your particular circumstances, genetics, or metabolic profile requires the help of a professional.  You may be disappointed, or looking for something more exciting to learn - but that is the human diet, in a nutshell.  I tell my patients who are only getting started on their health journey to focus their visits to the grocery store along the perimeter of the store, where all of the animals and vegetables are located.  The aisles contain all of the boxed, frozen, processed and gimmicky foods that are designed to get you thinking you are consuming a more convenient version of healthy, but in reality they are simply a more expensive, less nourishing version of “food”, full of chemical additives, and do the added disservice of producing more trash into the environment.  

One more key point to gut health is staying hydrated.  Water is required to process almost every cellular sequence in our body.  Close to 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated, leading to a host of subtle symptoms that most of us ignore such as headaches, dry skin, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and constipation to name a few.  Simply ensuring you are drinking half your weight in ounces of water every day will support a healthy gut.  It is important to focus your hydration on water.  Prepared drinks such as fruit juice, electrolyte drinks, iced teas, or any of the many others will likely expose you to a tremendous amount of sugar, sugar substitute, or chemical food additives of one variety or another.  All of which will irritate and disrupt the gut microbiome.  This is not to say you cannot drink any of these beverages, but rather choose to do so as an occasional delight, not as a means of hydrating your body.  

Remember, that life is full of choices, and decision making can be overwhelming at times.  Just practice making the best decision that you can when faced with options.  Try and decide based on what is best for your body - not just your tastebuds! 

For more tips and tricks, follow me on social media.  Comment or email me with what you would like to learn more about!



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