We’re learning more every day about how important gut health is to our overall wellbeing. In fact, scientists now suspect that gut health could play a role in a huge spectrum of conditions from acne to depression to attention disorders.
Gut health is important for many reasons, but one of the primary factors that makes it so important is that without good gut health, you’re unlikely to be efficiently absorbing the nutrients you ingest. So, to put it bluntly, it doesn’t matter how well you eat if you’re not taking care of your precious gut bacteria. Here are a few sneaky factors related to daily habits that could be taking a toll on your gut.
GETTING STRESSED OUT
Stress is a difficult aspect of health to take seriously because it’s such an abstract concept. But the physical effects of stress are pretty clear-cut: When we feel stressed, our bodies release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which put us into fight-or-flight mode. This has the effect of our body redirecting blood flow from our digestive organs, which can be a big problem for gut health.
“These stress hormones take us out of ‘rest and digest’ mode and activate our ‘fight or flight’ response,” write the health coaches and bloggers at Cultivate Beauty. “In this state, the body directs energy away from non-essential functions (i.e. digesting your lunch) and towards the heart and muscles in preparation for a quick getaway. But for our poor gut – this involves shutting down digestive secretions and motility temporarily.”
SITTING TOO LONG
Sitting all day is also notoriously bad for digestion, and therefore for gut health. It’s been understood for decades now that physical activities such as running and swimming can help “move things along,” leading to digestive regularity. On the inverse, can you imagine how a sedentary lifestyle could slow things down?
DRINKING TOO MUCH COFFEE
Remember how getting stressed triggers the release of stress hormones that tell our bodies to neglect digestion? Well, there’s another factor that triggers the release of these hormones: Caffeine.
USING ANTIBIOTICS UNNECESSARILY
Antibiotic use is a major problem, but it’s particularly bad here in the United States. More than ever, doctors are becoming worried at the number of bacteria strains that have become resistant to antibiotics.
Another good reason to avoid using unnecessary antibiotics is because they kill off the “good” bacteria in your gut. Furthermore, a healthy exposure to bacteria strengthens the immune system and may even help prevent food sensitivities from developing in the first place, according to Science Daily.
NOT EATING ENOUGH ALKALIZING FOODS
Alkalizing foods help prevent acid reflux and other digestive issues, and are basically a boon for overall digestive health. Be sure to incorporate powerhouses like dark leafy greens, root vegetables like turnips and beets, and apple cider vinegar.
EATING TOO QUICKLY
This one is a no-brainer, but many of us forget about this thoroughly unexciting tip: The better we chew our food, the easier it is to digest, and the less gas it will create in our digestive tract.
EATING TOO OFTEN
Above, I explained the importance of entering the “rest and digest” mode throughout the day. Our modern world tends to advocate for eating 24/7, starting with a large, nutritious breakfast, eating a solid three meals a day, and incorporating healthy snacks until we go to sleep. But that’s not the way that humans evolved to eat.
More and more research is showing that there are major benefits to going through fasted periods of time, often referred to as intermittent fasting. Give your digestive system a break by deciding not to eat between dinner and breakfast — your gut will thank you for it.
NOT EATING ENOUGH FIBER
We all know fiber is beneficial for digestive health. Insoluble fiber moves through the digestive tract, keeping us regular and helping to clean out any stuck matter in our digestive tract.
EATING TOO MUCH SUGAR
Sugar is a big problem for the gut. For one thing, it’s now suspected that sugar consumption is closely linked with inflammation, and chronic inflammation can be disastrous for the body as a whole, not to mention the gut.
Secondly, sugar feeds groups of bacteria in the gut that may have colonized the area, preventing a healthy diversity in your microbiome.
Last but not least, gluten is a major problem for people who have sensitivities, but even if you don’t suffer from Celiac’s disease, you may want to consider eliminating it from your diet altogether.
In his book “Grain Brain,” Dr. David Perlmutter explains that every human body responds to gluten with a low-lying inflammatory response, which is dangerous not only for the gut health, but for many other aspects of wellbeing. While gluten doesn’t cause problems for everyone, it’s best to eliminate it from your diet when you’re trying to heal your gut.