Greetings! One of my goals this year is to blog more often. For all of 2015 and most of 2016, I was both a student and working with clients, which can be stressful to say the least. But this year marks the first year of being able to run my personal training and nutrition coaching practice independently, without having to worry about assignments or group projects or any of that stuff associated with school. Don’t get me wrong, I love school and I love learning. And at some point, I wouldn’t be surprised if I went back to school. But everyone needs a break at I’m really excited to be focusing on my blog and business more this year. Hail to 2017!
I’ve also been wanting to write more about gut health, but really didn’t know where to start. There’s SO much conflicting information out there about your gut, and it’s almost as if everyone has become a gut health guru these days.
Yes, I do believe gut and digestive health are imperative to overall health and wellbeing. I also think a lot of chronic symptoms people tend to experience can be related to gut and digestive health. So whether you’re bloated, stressed, anxious, chronically fatigued—a lot of these situations can be traced back to your gut. Today’s post is going to go through some of these very common chronic conditions and what you do from a digestive viewpoint to feel better and better your health.
Common Chronic Condition #1: You’re Always Bloated, Constipated, and Having Digestive Issues
This is one of the most common indicators of gut health problems. And while it seems like a no-brainer, millions of Americans struggle with digestive health problems every day.
When your gut is imbalanced, basically this means the balance of good and bad bacteria in your digestive tract is imbalanced. Top causes of gut flora imbalances usually include poor diet, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, and overuse of antibiotics. But the good news is you can definitely get your gut back on track with some simple lifestyle changes:
- Start tracking what you’re eating with a food log/journal—I’m actually not a fan of food tracking apps because while they might track calories, carbs, etc., they really don’t track your symptoms. So try keeping a handwritten food log for a few days and see if you notice trends. For instance, do you notice that every time you consume something with diary, you get bloated or gassy? That might be a cue for lactose intolerance, or that you just don’t digest dairy very well. Bottom line, identify these trigger foods and temporarily remove them from your diet for 2-4 weeks. Then try reintroducing them and see if there’s a change in your digestive health.
- Try a lower glycemic diet—Most people with gut problems in general don’t do well with a ton of sugars in their diets. Why? Because sugar doesn’t just feed your muscle cells, your blood cells, and your skin cells. Sugar also feeds the bad bacteria, fungus, and other potentially damaging microbes in your digestive system. Cutting excessive sugars from sweets like cookies, cakes, etc. will help. But even your beloved whole grains and certain high-sugar fruits can be the culprit of gut flora imbalances. Try a lower-carb diet for a 2-4 weeks and see if you notice any benefits.
- Start taking a probiotic (and maybe some other supplements) that can aid in digestion—Probiotics have become much more mainstream in recent years as a potential remedy for digestive concerns. If you do decide to take one, make sure you store it in the fridge. Remember, those healthy microbes are living things and they’ll most likely die in your overly-humidified medicine cabinet! You can also try other natural digestive aids like ginger roots, fennel seed, and slippery elm. Just be sure to talk to your health care provider before incorporating any new supplements into your diet.
Common Chronic Condition #2: You’re Anxious, Stressed, Not Sleeping Well, and Having Other Mood Issues
Surely you’re familiar with serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter responsible for a lot of your moods. And typically, you’ve heard about serotonin in a formal sense as a neurotransmitter involved in your brain. But did you know that serotonin also plays a huge role in your gut and gut health?
That’s right. Only about 10% of your total serotonin is made in your brain. Up to 90% of serotonin is made in your gut, and more and more studies are coming out every day supporting this. Theoretically, your gut-brain axis, a bidirectional system between your gut and brain, is responsible for this. In other words, your gut can affect your brain, and your brain can affect your gut.
Subsequently, a lot of people with gut problems don’t always manifest problems in their guts. They might not have significant digestive problems, but they might suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. This is by no means a way of saying you should go off your SSRI, anti-anxiety, or other mood disorder medication. Rather, you can use food and nutrition to increase the efficacy of your medication and fight lingering symptoms.
- Add probiotic-rich foods into your diet—Probiotic-rich foods like kefir, yogurt, kimchi, raw sauerkraut, raw pickles, kombucha, certain raw cheeses, and even some types of sourdough bread all contain probiotics. These probiotic-rich foods support serotonin production in your gut, which could help with overall serotonin levels.
- Balance your carbohydrate intake—Carb intake can be tricky if your gut problem has mood-altering symptoms. Think about how you feel when you sink your teeth into a huge muffin or a bagel the size of your head? Pretty good, right? That’s because most likely you’re getting a serotonin rush. This also explains why a lot of people tend to feel moody when they go on a low-carbohydrate diet. The trick is to figure out what amount of carbs helps you feel good, but not lethargic or heavy. If anxiety tends to get the best of you, especially in the evening, try eating carbohydrate at night. Doing so might be just the right amount of serotonin you need for a good night’s sleep.
- Consider tryptophan-rich proteins—Serotonin and tryptophan go hand in hand in that tryptophan is an amino acid that enhances serotonin production. If your serotonin levels are out of whack, you might benefit from eating more foods that have tryptophan in them. Usually this amino acid is found in proteins, so foods like chicken, turkey, nuts, beans, and fish, so eat up!
Common Chronic Condition #3: You Feel Fatigued No Matter How Much Sleep You Get
You’re getting eight hours of sleep a night, you’re watching your caffeine intake after 4 pm, and you’re even exercising at the right time of day. And yet you still feel fatigued.
I once had a doctor who literally told me, “Some people are just tired.” It was perhaps one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever heard from a medical professional. BUT, it also got me thinking about possible reasons of fatigue that I hadn’t looked into.
If you’re having trouble with fatigue and think it might be gut-related, consider the following:
- Consider going gluten-free—I know gluten-free diets have been overdone in the last five years, but if you’re suffering from fatigue, look into how gluten could be impacting your health. MANY cases of people with Celiac Disease and gluten sensitivity do not manifest symptoms in a traditional sense. That is, they don’t have traditional gut symptoms. Conversely, they very well may have other non-gut symptoms like thyroid disease. In fact, thyroid diseases like hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Disease (an autoimmune disease of the thyroid) are often linked to Celiac and gluten intolerances. Cutting gluten for 4 or more weeks could lead to improvement, but it might take you 6-12 months to notice a full change in health and wellbeing.
- Look into leaky gut syndrome—I’ll spare you the nitty gritty of leaky gut syndrome and what exactly is it, because if you used to the internet to find this article, you can certainly use the internet to do some more research on this highly debated gut disorder. Chronic fatigue is one of the hallmarks of leaky gut syndrome, and healing your gut appropriately is a big part of fixing your fatigue. I strongly recommend you work with a team of nutritionists, functional medicine doctors, and other healthcare professionals to ensure you get the care you need.
- Play around with ‘warming’ and ‘cooling’ foods—It’s no secret that you crave salads in the summer and roasted pumpkin in the fall. Certain foods embody warming qualities, while others are more cooling. There are many classifications out there (Ayurveda, Yin Yang, etc.), and I encourage you to do your own personal research to figure out what works for you. But in terms of fatigue, try playing around with the amount of warming and cooling foods you’re eating. Maybe you’ll notice that your warming oatmeal in the mornings is too heavy, and you need something lighter like a green juice or smoothie to help balance your energy levels. For years, I avoided carbs in the afternoon because I thought they would weigh me down. Later, I learned that some carbs during the day actually help me maintain my energy levels. Who woulda thought, right?!
Bottom line, gut health is no one-size-fits-all solution. We must remember that we are all individuals and that what works for one person might not work for someone else. I encourage you to try different strategies to find the meal plan and digestive health plan that ultimately works for you. And if you ever have any questions, feel free to reach out to me and contact me personally. I’m always here to help 🙂