Why gut health is important & how to improve it with diet and supplements
Do you ever wish you had a magic wand that would take all of your health problems away? Human bodies are complex, but if I had to pick one way that would very likely do this for you, it would be working on your digestive or gut health.
If you have symptoms such as constipation, bloating, gas, acid reflux, or abdominal pain, it’s obvious that you need to work on your gut health. But if you can’t sleep well, or your thyroid is sluggish, or you are struggling through perimenopause, it might not be as obvious that this is related to gut issues. I will talk about this in this article.
What is the gut?
“The gut” is a casual term for the digestive system. Before diving into how to support your digestive system, it is important to understand what it is composed of. First, the digestive tract starts at the mouth and ends at the anus. Various digestive organs are found mostly along this tract.
The digestive system is composed of hollow organs found along the digestive tract: mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine (which has three parts: duodenum, jejunum, ileum), large intestine (colon), and anus. The solid organs that aid in digestion are the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder.
Why gut health is so important for your sleep, thyroid, and sex hormones
Now that you know all the organs that make up the digestive system, let’s talk about why a healthy digestive system can dramatically improve your overall health.
- Sleeping better by healing your gut. Not many people know this, but over 90% of this amazing calming neurotransmitter called serotonin (so important for your mood and sleep) is produced in the gut! The beneficial bacteria have to be plentiful to make enough serotonin so you can sleep well. It’s not a coincidence that sometimes you feel that “gut wrenching” worry when you can’t sleep! In addition, since there is a direct pathway between the gut and the brain through the vagus nerve, whatever happens in the gut will affect the brain, and the other way around. Hence, when your gut is struggling with inflammation from overgrowth of abnormal bacteria, low beneficial bacteria, or colonies of parasites, it will affect neurotransmitter production. What is worse, the inflammation is sympathetic (fight or flight) activating, and not ideal for good sleep.
- Supporting your energy and thyroid health by improving your gut. When your weight creeps in, you can’t sleep very well, you are dragging or you’re losing your hair, it’s a good idea to look at your thyroid health because you may have hypothyroidism. The mind-blowing fact is that the large, large majority (somewhere around 90%, according to the thyroid expert Dr. Izabella Wentz) of the women who have low thyroid function, they actually have the autoimmune disorder Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Since over 70% of the immune system is located in the gut, in order for an autoimmune attack to start, the gut health must be less than perfect. Hence why, in order to heal your thyroid, you must heal your gut.
- Having healthy sex hormones through balancing your gut. There is a particular part of the microbiome that helps with estrogen metabolism, called the estrobolome. The estrobolome refers to the bacteria in the gut that help detox and break down estrogen. If that detox process is affected, we reabsorb larger amounts of estrogen back into the body. Larger estrogen amounts circulating in the body promote growth and may lead to various types of cancer, fibroids and ovarian cysts, breast lumps, infertility, thyroid nodules, and endometriosis. Sleep issues can also surface with estrogen dominance and can make perimenopause and menopause miserable (along with low progesterone).
These are some of the ways in which the gut affects the health of various other organ systems. Next, let’s look at some foundational ways in which you can support your gut health.
Three ways to put you on the right track toward better gut health
There is so much I can talk to you about regarding gut health, but today I’ll share three foundational ways that can greatly improve your gut health, and beyond.
1. Is the food you are eating good for you?
Every time we ingest something, it has an effect on our body. If it’s nutritious food that our body reacts well to, it gets broken down and we get wonderful nutrition to fuel our bodies. If we eat food that’s highly processed, or high in sugar, or food that our body has a negative immune reaction to, we get inflamed, we sleep poorly, we get aches and pains—or we just simply don’t feel well.
One thing that you can do right away to identify which foods make you feel good and which ones do not is to keep a 3-day food log. Eat as usual and log the foods and how you feel. At the end of the three days, sit down and analyze it. Then make changes and watch your health improve.
A more advanced way to look for food issues is to eliminate the following for 30 days: gluten-containing foods, dairy, eggs, corn, soy, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. At the end of the 30 days, introduce one at a time every three days and watch for any unusual symptoms, even if mild in nature (abdominal cramps, acid reflux, constipation or loose stools, headaches, runny nose, stuffiness, insomnia, etc.). If you react to a food, leave it out of your diet for 3 months, then try it out again.
NOTE: This elimination diet is best done with the help of a practitioner. Go to damianacorca.com if you’d like support with this.
2. Are you digesting your food well?
We eat food and assume that our body does a good job at breaking it down. Things are often not that simple.
First, the pancreas produces digestive enzymes to help digest carbs, protein, and fat. Based on the many tests I’ve done on people, the digestive enzyme production is often stunted due to long-term stress, poor signaling and communication in the gut, and not chewing your food thoroughly. There are pancreatic enzymes you can take with each meal to help digest your food, such as PAN from Loomis or Digestive Enzymes Ultra from Pure Encapsulations. This helps your digestion as long as you take them, but if you want to improve further your own production, also take digestive bitters 10 minutes before each meal. I love Bitter X from Quicksilver Scientific. And most importantly, take a few deep breaths before each meal and chew each bite 15 to 30 times (I know, it feels like a lot, but it’s so good for you!).
Second, in order to fully digest your protein, you have to have enough stomach acid. There is a lot of talk in our society about having too much acid and taking antacids. But what actually happens is that we don’t have enough of it, then the sphincter above the stomach doesn’t close well (the more acid, the tighter it closes), and then we experience acid reflux. That is when taking Betaine HCL as a supplement increases the stomach acidity and helps with our digestion. A good supplement is Betaine HCL Pepsin from Pure Encapsulations. The digestive bitters mentioned above will also help with increasing the stomach acid production. (NOTE: It’s best to check for overgrowth of the H-pylori bacteria, before supplementing with Betaine HCL, as it can cause stomach ulcers if the bacteria is present).
Lastly, if you don’t have a gallbladder or simply have a hard time digesting fats, in addition to the pancreatic enzymes, you can supplement with bile acids or ox bile. A favorite formulas is Digestion GB from Pure Encapsulations.
3. Is your microbiome balanced?
The colon (large intestine) bacteria is incredibly important for your health. We hear a lot of talk about taking probiotics to improve your gut microbiome.
Probiotics are wonderful and can be beneficial but there is one step before this that is often missed: supporting your body with prebiotics. Prebiotic foods contain non-digestible fiber, which will feed and grow your own beneficial bacteria. This fiber is found in some of the foods you may be already eating. Here are some examples: green (or slightly unripe) bananas, plantains (not cooked), garlic, onions, asparagus, dandelion greens, endives, jicama, legumes, honey, sunchokes, and whole grains. You can also supplement every morning with a prebiotic fiber such as FiberMend from Thorne.
Probiotics can come in the form of using fermented foods, along with probiotics in supplement form. Some of the probiotic categories to consider taking, together or in a rotating manner for maintenance, are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium combo (such as FloraMend Prime Probiotic from Thorne), Saccharomyces boulardii—a non-pathogenic yeast that acts as a probiotic for the prevention and/or treatment of gastrointestinal issues (Pure Encapsulations Saccharimyces Boulardii), and soil-based probiotics using different bacillus species such as Ion Gut Health.
Try these three main approaches to healing your gut health for three months and you’ll look back surprised at how much better you are feeling.
If you want a free guide that goes into the root causes of sleep issues, get my FREE SLEEP GUIDE here. This guide goes straight to the bottom of the top three root causes of why women can’t sleep and what to do about it.