By Dr. Megan Rigby, DNP and Nutrition Consultant | Photo by Kajdi Szabolcs/istockphoto.com
Spring marks the end of winter and signifies the start of new growth and renewal. It’s also the perfect time of year to focus on your health and allow for a little inner “spring cleaning.” Our nutrition columnist Dr. Megan Rigby gives you the lowdown on symptoms of a distressed digestive track, plus her five easy tips for boosting gut health.
The 411 on Gut Health
The digestive tract is a core component to our overall health. Research has recently shown the link between a healthy gut and nearly every bodily function, including the ability to balance moods, fight off infection, break down hormones, and achieve weight loss.
A healthy digestive tract is dependent upon a balanced microbiome: the trillions of residences that live in our gut known as good bacteria and fungi. These microbes form our individual microbiomes and play an important role in the optimal performance of the gut and immune system. When the good bacteria are disturbed, it creates a bacterial imbalance and is a major cause of increased intestinal permeability. The lining of the digestive tract acts as a gatekeeper and prevents toxins from entering the bloodstream.
Disruption of the microbiome may occur with excess sugar, alcohol, medications (antibiotics), stress, and personal food intolerances. The inflamed lining of the gut becomes leaky and is unable to act as a filter, which can cause large particles to enter the bloodstream resulting in inflammation and dysfunction that can impact our core health.
The following are signs and symptoms that may indicate an upset digestive tract.
1. Abdominal bloating
2. Acid reflux
3. Irregular bowel movements
4. Frequent illnesses
5. Increased fatigue
7. Mood disturbances
9. Joint pain
10. Food intolerance
5 Ways to Refresh the Gut
Spring has sprung! Follow these five tips to refresh your gut and start the year feeling your best this season*.
1. Start each morning with a warm glass of lemon water. Research shows the warm water helps to awaken the gut and flush out any built-up mucus. The lemon contains fiber which feeds the bacteria within the gut.
2. Consume probiotic-rich foods. Fermented foods are all the rage thanks to their increased probiotic counts. When consumed, these foods help to repopulate the gut’s bacteria in hopes of restoring balance.
3. Eliminate artificial sweeteners such as sucralose or aspartame. It has been shown that these synthetic sweeteners may do more harm than good to our guts. Try ditching these artificial sweeteners when possible and opt for more natural options. Stevia, monk fruit, and small amounts of coconut sugar are easier for the microbes to digest.
4. Temporarily reduce food irritants. When a stressed gut arises, certain foods may increase symptoms. It can be beneficial to do a temporary elimination to help remove irritants that may be inhibiting gut healing. Once symptoms have resolved, slowly reintroduce the offending foods while tracking gut response. Common irritants are wheat gluten, soy, dairy, high fructose fruits, and some grains.
5. Eat your fiber. An important element for gut health, fiber comes from many plant-based foods and is essential to gut function. Fiber acts as a prebiotic for probiotics. This means it is an important source of food for the good bacteria. Try to consume 25 g of fiber per day. High fiber foods include lentils, berries, flaxseed, squash, and kale.
*If you follow these tips and increased symptoms occur, consult a physician.