Got Gut Problems?

Healthy Gut

By Jennifer Laity, MA, RCEP

Corporate Fitness and Preventive Medicine

Many people have issues with digestion and elimination and are wondering what they can do to minimize them. As Hippocrates said over 2,000 years ago, “All diseases begin in the gut,” which makes focusing on improving gut health an integral part of overall health and well-being. From GERD (heartburn), ulcers, H.pylori and leaky gut syndrome to constipation, colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gas, bloating, and urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal disorders are a multi-billion dollar health expense in the U.S. alone. Other associated diseases include major ones like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease as well as less deadly, but difficult to live with issues such as psychological disorders, asthma, allergies, acne, eczema, and teeth and gum problems. Antacids, Pepto-Bismol®, fiber supplements, enemas and detox regimens are a ‘band-aid’ solution at best, not a cure for the root of the problem.

Our gut flora is a mass of various bacteria, yeasts, viruses and other one-cell structures that weigh four to six pounds in the average adult digestive tract. These beneficial or probiotic microbes are the key to our nutrient absorption and digestion, which then effects everything from our immune function to our psychological health. At no point in human history have we lived less active lifestyles, spent more time indoors, had poorer quality diets, used more medications, or been bombarded with more environmental toxins and various wave forms than we are today. This major change in lifestyle in such a short period of human history has had a significant impact on gut health which is negatively affecting our overall well-being.

One of the most important things that anyone can do to improve digestion, increase energy, and manage body weight is to focus on consuming a high quality diet. Many of the things we choose to put in our mouths are so far removed from their original plant, tree or animal source that they can only be called “food-like substances,” which lack much of the effective nutrient content of the original product. The foods that cause the most problems with digestion are sugars, artificial sweeteners, grain products (especially those which contain gluten such as wheat, barley, spelt, rye, couscous, etc.), pasteurized dairy products, unfermented soy products, shellfish, nuts, vegetable oils and trans fats. Minimizing or even avoiding these foods may be essential to correcting gut health.

Probiotic foods, which enhance gut health, have always been a part of every traditional cultural diet. However, as we have strayed from traditionally prepared foods to more factory-processed foods, the probiotic benefits of these foods are often eliminated. Pickled, cultured and fermented foods naturally contain probiotics so consuming a variety of these foods can help restore and maintain gut health. Pickled vegetables such as sauerkraut, kimchi, beet kvass, olives and pickles are a great way to preserve vegetables and even enhance their original nutrition by making them more probiotic. Fermented soy products such as miso, tempeh, and natto and fermented grains such as sourdough are healthier than unfermented versions. Cultured dairy products such as yogurt, kefir, lassi, and cultured cheeses enhance the digestibility and probiotic effect of dairy products which might otherwise be hard to process.

Using probiotic supplements that contain a variety of bacteria strains can also help restore gut health, especially after taking antibiotic medications. Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1 is a particularly beneficial strain of probiotic. A good probiotic supplement should be high potency, stable at room temperature, free of all food allergens and in a vegetable-based capsule, providing at least five different strains of probiotics.

Besides focusing on a high quality, minimally processed diet with plenty of probiotic foods, there are a few other healthy habits known to enhance well-being. Reducing sedentary activity and increasing physical activity, spending a few minutes each day outside in the mid-day sunshine to improve vitamin D levels, using antibiotics only when absolutely necessary and minimizing exposure to environmental toxins can help restore the health of your gut and get you back on the path towards optimal health.

Resources: The Weston A. Price Foundation by Natasha Campbell-McBride

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About the Author:

Jennifer Laity received her Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Gerontology Certificate from the University of Georgia and her undergraduate degree in Kinesiology from California State University, Hayward. She is an ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Certified Health Fitness Specialist. She has worked in commercial, private, and corporate fitness as a program manager, personal trainer, and group exercise instructor for over 19 years, 15 of those years with BaySport. She has also worked as an exercise physiologist at Duke University’s Center for Living, as a graduate assistant in the Cardiac Rehab/Adult Fitness program at the University of Georgia, and overseas as a personal trainer and fitness consultant for a cruise line. In her free time, Jennifer enjoys playing almost any sport, especially basketball, and enjoys traveling, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, backpacking, gardening, reading, volunteering with the high school ministry at her church, and playing with her eight nieces and nephews.


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