Have you ever had a gut feeling? Or you just knew that something wouldn’t work out, but you couldn’t put your finger on it? That was your gut talking.
Although we are still learning about the importance of the gut, gut health has become a trendy topic lately. This is good because the more we know, the more we can help our gut to provide us with the best feedback.
There are many ways to look at gut health, but today, I want to show you the connection between gut health and stress. Why? Because when you know what affects your gut, you can look at ways to improve its health.
But before we start, get your copy of my e-book The wholehearted diet. Discover the power of plant-based eating, stress less, and have more energy.
Before you make a plan to jumpstart your gut health, let’s talk about your microbiome first. The term microbiome refers to the organisms living in your intestines. There are over 39 trillion bacteria, across over 200 different species residing in your digestive tract.
Before you freak out, you need to know that there are good and bad bacteria. Some bacteria are very beneficial and often necessary for optimal health. What’s more, the more diversified your microbiota, the better.
Unfortunately, there are also bad bacteria that can be harmful and cause serious health issues.
It is important to keep the good-to-bad bacteria ratio in check. As mentioned before, those are living organisms, so they will fight for survival. The good news is that they feed on different foods, so by feeding the beneficial ones you control which one you keep.
The Gut-Brain Axis
Another term flying around when we talk about gut health is the gut-brain axis. The Gut-brain axis is like a highway between your brain and the digestive tract.
You have hormones, neurotransmitters, and other chemicals travelling on this highway. You don’t want any congestion, traffic jams, misdirection, or roadblocks. You don’t want anyone to get lost or follow the wrong sign.
You want a trouble-free passage. So, both your brain and gut get a clear message on time.
It is important because if there is any miscommunication or interruptions you will be out of balance.
You either have under or over-production of certain hormones which in turn disrupts almost every function in your body.
How Your Gut Health Affects Your Body
It is not only the gut feeling you get when your gut functions properly. The biggest benefit of having a healthy gut is healthy digestion. If you feel bloated or constipated, have cramps or diarrhea then you won’t be at the top of your game.
An unhealthy gut can lead to even more digestive problems such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and peptic ulcer disease.
All those conditions disturb not only how nutrients are absorbed and processed, but drain your mental and physical energy. They can also lead to even more serious conditions.
Around 70% of immune system cells live in your gut. I strongly believe that the immune system is one of the most important systems in your body. It is a shield against bacteria, infections, viruses, and any possible illness.
If your immune system is weak, it can’t keep you healthy. So, if your digestive tract is struggling, you won’t have your body’s natural protection.
But probably the most significant benefit of a healthy gut is the hormonal balance. You have already learned about the gut-brain axis. It is a highway of sending signals for healthy hormone production.
Any disturbances will cause either overproduction or underproduction of individual hormones.
The imbalances will impact your mood, energy levels, pain sensitivity, or the ability to make a healthy decision.
The gut-brain axis regulates your appetite. The two main hormones involved in the process are leptin and ghrelin. They are produced by the pituitary glands and tell you when you are hungry.
Unfortunately, if your pituitary glands receive the incorrect message, then they can produce too little or too much of the respective hormones.
As a result, you may struggle with healthy food choices. You may overeat, which then can lead to other conditions such as weight gain, obesity, or diabetes.
The Gut and Stress Connection
We all feel stress, I know. Stress is a normal part of being human because it is a survival mechanism. Although some stress is needed to get motivated or quickly act on something, chronic stress causes a lot of havoc on your body.
Stress shuts down your immune system. You have already learned that your gut contains 70% of the immune cells.
Further stress can alter your digestion, nutrition absorption, and gut motility. This will result in you feeling tired and possibly struggling with a medical condition that will leave you depleted.
Stress also impacts the composition and diversity of gut bacteria. Different types of bacteria can cause inflammation in your body and cause further damage. One of the most common ones is a condition called leaky gut.
How to Improve Your Gut Health
Taking control of your gut is easy. Many factors may impact your gut. But predominantly your gut health is impacted by the food you eat and stress. So, let’s look at how you can tweak those elements to improve your gut.
#1 Feed the Good Bacteria
You now know there are beneficial and harmful bacteria living in your digestive tract. Bacteria are living organisms, so for them to survive they need to eat.
The good bacteria feed on dietary fibre. Great sources of dietary fibre are legumes, whole grains, nuts, vegetables, and some fruit. You want to mix and match as many products high in dietary fibre as possible.
A healthy microbiome is a diversified microbiome. The more different species of beneficial bacteria you have the better.
Each group of your little friends likes to feed on different food. They like variety in their diet the same way you do. So, the more colourful foods you eat, the more diverse, the more of the good bacteria will thrive.
On the other side, you have harmful bacteria that like to eat sugar. Unfortunately, sugar is in almost every processed product nowadays. The traditional diet is full of pasta, breads, lollies, and other goodies.
When you consume excessive amounts of refined sugars, simple carbohydrates, or starchy products, you feed certain types of bacteria that are not beneficial to your gut health.
#2 Eat Probiotics and Prebiotics
I am sure you have heard about two specific types of food that your gut loves. Prebiotics are dietary fibre that keeps your digestion working smoothly. Broccoli, green peas, artichokes, beans, lentils, chickpeas, whole grains, bananas, apples, or raspberries are excellent high-fibre foods.
On the other hand, probiotics contain live cultures. Consuming probiotics helps to introduce or add new species to your gut. It also helps with replacing any bacteria that got destroyed.
Probiotics are fermented foods that contain live cultures. sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, natto as well as kefir and yogurt are all sources of probiotics. Not all fermented foods contain live culture so always read labels.
#3 Promote Healthy Lifestyle
To further help your gut consider some lifestyle changes. Firstly, assess how much stress you experience daily and have a few healthy coping mechanisms to lower stress.
You may want to take up meditation, do yoga, or do breathing work. You could take up a new hobby, start a gratitude journal, or create routines that help you destress.
Part of your healthy lifestyle needs to be physical activity. Are you moving your body daily? If not, think about ways you can add more movement to your day.
Getting enough quality sleep also needs to be part of your gut health plan. Your body and mind regrow, rejuvenate, and replenish during sleep. So, create a relaxing evening routine and get your needed rest.
Gut Health and Stress Connection
When your gut is happy you are happy too. You will have more energy, feel great, and make better decisions. Although many factors can impact your gut health, stress is one of the major ones.
Stress will not only alter your microbiome but can cause inflammation in your body. Your gut-brain axis and hormone production can be affected which can lead to some serious health concerns.
To improve your gut health, make changes to your diet, so you consume probiotics and prebiotics.
And look at ways to make lifestyle changes by learning about how to manage stress better, add daily body movement, and get adequate sleep time. And your gut will thank you for it.
Ready to improve your gut health? Get your copy of my e-book The Wholehearted Diet. Discover the power of plant-based eating, stress less, and have more energy.