Two thousand years ago, a wise man called Hippocrates proclaimed that “All diseases begin in the gut”. Unfortunately, it has taken over 1800 years for modern medicine to really take note of his profoundly accurate insightfulness.
For many years our digestive system was regarded as little more than a food tube with few functions other than absorbing nutrients and removing waste products. Sure, conditions such as Crohn’s disease, indigestion, and irritable bowel syndrome have always been known to be caused by damage to the tissues within the digestive tract, but it has only been in the last twenty years that doctors have realised that complaints such as headaches, fatigue, joint pains and an unresponsive immune system often have a gut basis as well.
Our digestive tract is home to trillions of bacteria as well as fungi and viruses – these are known as the gut microbiome. The makeup of this biome is largely genetically determined; however, it is heavily influenced by several factors such as whether we are born naturally (vaginally) or by cesarean section, if we were breastfed, our use of antibiotics, and our exposure to chemicals, pesticides, and other toxins.
Scientists now know that this microbiome is critical to our overall well-being. Some call it our second brain. Small imbalances can cause significant changes to our mental health and in the appearance of our skin and has been linked to almost every known condition such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Type 2 diabetes. Your likelihood of putting on weight also comes down to your microbiome and the influence it has on your response to insulin and thyroid gland function.
For those of you don’t have any of the conditions listed above, signs that your gut health may be compromised include bad breath, bloating, diarrhea, food allergies, gas, and sugar cravings. Luckily, even a lifetime of bad eating habits is fixable. Start by minimizing your intake of sugary, processed, or fatty foods. Remove foods you suspect could be causing issues and base your diet around whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes (such as beans) and soluble fibers such as oatmeal. Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and tempeh are rich in probiotics and easily digested, and in small amounts boost the numbers of good bacteria in your gut. Supplemental probiotics can be beneficial especially if you need to go on antibiotics to treat a serious infection.
Say yes to a little dirt. Studies have shown people who garden, handwash dishes, own a dog, or forgo chemical based disinfectants for more natural cleaning products such as citric acid are generally healthier than those who are strict with their cleanliness. Sleep more, stress less, exercise lots and don’t smoke.
Look after your gut and it will look after you.