We hear about the connection between gut health, how we lose weight and IBS on trending health shows, whisper about it discreetly with family members and close friends and ‒ sometimes ‒ even let it rule our lives. I’m talking about the dreaded irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Today, it’s one of the most common complaints at doctors’ offices.
And it’s no wonder! Those who struggle with IBS often suffer from disabling symptoms such as bloating, cramps, diarrhea, constipation and pain. (That’s why I used the word “dreaded” to describe it.)
What causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Your gut lining is affected by many things, including stress, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs such as Tylenol and Advil, steroids, antacids, and the food we eat.
The standard North American diet contains little fibre or healthy fat and is high in sugar1, which wreaks havoc on the gut.
Our second brain
When it comes to behaviour, mood, and even cravings, the brain in your head isn’t the only thing doing the ‘thinking’.
Our gut, which is often referred to as our second brain, contributes to our state of mind in more ways than you think. Many of our emotions are influenced by the nerves in our gut. For example, have you ever felt those butterflies in your stomach before delivering a speech or conducting an interview?
Do you crave sugary treats or chocolate when you’re feeling stressed or sad?
Our stomach listens to our brain. In fact, in recent years, the link between the nervous system and the digestive system has been recognized. Many scientists now refer to this link as a single entity called the brain-gut axis. Therefore, whatever affects the stomach will directly affect the brain, and vice versa.
The second brain is what’s responsible for those cravings you get when you’re stressed, and can even affect your physical and mental health.
Nearly every chemical that controls the brain is also located in the stomach region. These include hormones and neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and norepinephrine.
Did you know that 90-95% of all serotonin in your body is found in your gut? Some medications, including antidepressants, increase serotonin levels and create chemical changes in the body, ultimately affecting your intestines and causing issues such as IBS.
The Gut And Good Bacteria
The body is actually composed of more bacteria than cells. These trillions of bacteria called the microbiome, play multiple roles in our health.
Our digestive tract should have 400 types of healthy bacteria. These reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system.
Stress, an unhealthy diet, antibiotics, other drugs, and even tap water can contribute to unhealthy bacteria in our digestive tract, which can lead to IBS, inflammation, allergies, diabetes, autoimmunity, depression, and weight gain.
But the good news is that there are some easy ways to bring your gut back to good health.
10 Ways To Optimize Gut Health (And Shed Weight In The Process)
- Eat whole unprocessed foods.
- Ensure your plate contains 75% leafy greens and vegetables.
- Eat healthy fats such as olive and coconut oil, and avocados, nuts and seeds.
- Eat lots of fibre raw nuts, seeds and vegetables.
- Add fermented foods to your diet (e.g. sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha2 and kimchi).
- Drink filtered water.
- Remove sugar from your diet.
- Get moving – walk, swim, do yoga or pilates.
- Get 8 to 10 hours of restorative sleep each night.
- Stop eating at least 4 hours before bedtime.
Some parting words of wisdom to leave you with: a healthy gut = a healthy body and mind.