GUT CHECK: FROM HEALING DISEASES TO A HAPPY MOOD

More than 2000 years ago Hippocrates said "All diseases begin in the gut". Only recently have his words rung true enough to gain world wide attention as scientific research continues to prove strong correlations between gut performance and health.

Poor gut health has been linked to a multitude of issues from cardiovascular disease to autoimmune disorders, mental illness, chronic fatigue and even skin conditions. The good news? Not only can you heal your gut, but having a healthy gut is the cornerstone to recovering and preventing almost any other condition.

But we digress so let's start at the beginning.

WHAT IS YOUR GUT?

Your gut is the hollow tube that runs from your mouth to the other end... okay we'll say it, your bum. It takes what you eat and decides what stays to be digested and what goes out the back door. Under optimal circumstances, your gut will choose to keep the good stuff and throw out the bad. However, in some cases this process can go awry. One is when your gut bacteria isn't working in harmony to extract nutrients from food. The other is when people develop what's known as 'leaky gut'. Sounds gross right? Well, it's more common than you may think.

IS MY GUT 'LEAKY'?

Imagine your gut as a screen door with super tiny holes just large enough to let through extracted nutrients. Sometimes, those holes get chewed open, allowing undigested toxins to wander freely into the body completely unsupervised. Thus, a 'leaky gut'. 

Let's say you have a leaky gut and proceed to eat a chocolate bar (just for the antioxidants of course). You chew, you swallow and while your gut starts diligently breaking down the food, little pieces of gluten, bits of peanut, sugars and other entities are escaping through these enlarged holes and infiltrating your bloodstream. Your liver starts working overtime. Your immunity eventually gives in. Toxins start attacking your heart, lungs and other organs.

Our gut feeling? There might just be something to this gut health stuff.

So what causes a leaky gut? Well, the obvious culprits of course. Poor diet, stress, inflammations and medications. Researchers have been able to isolate a protein that increases the permeability of the intestinal barrier. This protein, Zonulin, was subsequently found in abnormally high levels in those with autoimmune disorders such as Rheumatoid arthritis, Multiple sclerosis, Celiac and Type I Diabetes.

BACTERIA: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

The gut is home to thousands of different bacteria or flora, both good and bad, working in balance to extract and divert the right amounts of nutrients from the foods we eat.

We need the bad bacteria just as much as the good to ensure a functioning immune system. Has anyone ever told you not to overdo it on the hand sanitizer? That's because if we aren't exposed to bad bacteria, we won't build up an immunity to it. And when we do get an infection, what does the doctor prescribe? Yup, antibiotics. Which kill off the good flora at the same time, leaving us at risk for even more severe attacks.    

Gut bacteria has also been linked to stress and depression. Tests have shown much lower levels of Cortisol, the hormone released when we experience anxiety, in those with balanced flora. Add to that the fact that your brain and your gut are in constant communication so when your gut is sad, it instantly complains to your brain.

Healthy levels of gut bacteria can rev up our metabolism as well. Twin studies conducted, where one twin was obese and the other lean, showed significantly higher and more diversified levels of gut bacteria in the lean twin. Food for thought: ever wonder why some people lose weight when they're stressed while others gain it? Sure, that has to do with how our appetites react under stress, but where do those cravings (or lack of) stem from?

THE ROUNDUP & THE REMEDY

One might assume that poor gut health would manifest itself in long term digestive problems. That only seems to be a minor symptom, one that most people wouldn't take for more than eating a bad hot dog. The truth is that poor gut health contributes to a much wider range of issues than the ones we've already touched on.

The good news is that your gut health can be vastly improved. If you are already aware of gut issues, it's best to start from scratch. Cut out all processed foods for a while and replace them with whole foods known to aid gut health such as beans, bananas, leafy greens, polenta, garlic and blueberries.

From there (and this is where the rest of you can jump in) start adding in fermented foods, or "whole probiotics", such as yogurt, kefir, kim chi, saurkraut and kombucha. Just make sure the fermentation process didn't include vinegar or pasteurization as this can kill off the bacteria we're trying to ingest. Finally, if you need a bit extra, look into live probiotic supplements.

SO WHAT DOES YOUR GUT TELL YOU?