I’ve shared here many times, the underlying importance of optimizing digestion and gut health in order to set the body and the brain up for health and wellness. Gut health is crucial to all other systems in the body, including the immune, cardiovascular, endocrine/reproductive, nervous systems, and more. It is through the digestive system that we breakdown and absorb the nutrients that are necessary to fuel all vital functions in the body. If there is dysfunction in the digestive system, then you expect things to go awry elsewhere in the body. This is why when a client comes to see me, I focus so much on optimizing digestion and correcting any imbalances in the gut. This is especially the case when someone comes to me with mental health concerns (be it depression, anxiety, cognitive decline, Autism, ADHD, etc). There are a number of things involved in correcting poor digestion and gut health. Let’s dive in to these six steps:

  1. Remove inflammatory foods 

When looking to correct gut health, the number one name of the game is to reduce inflammation. Inflammation in the gut leads to inflammation in the body and brain. The biggest part of this is removing the foods that are contributing to that inflammation. Often gluten, dairy, soy, colorings, additives, preservatives, and poor quality oils are at the root of this inflammation. If I suspect food allergies or intolerances, those foods have to be removed (though perhaps not forever) until healing can be found. Additionally, it may be necessary to remove foods that are triggering to certain digestive conditions, such as spicy foods, coffee, etc. as in the case of reflux. 

2. Focus on eating in a relaxed state 

Our digestive systems operate best when we are in a relaxed, or parasympathetic state. This is known as our “rest and digest” state as opposed to the stressed out, sympathetic, “fight or flight” state. When we are stressed, blood is shuttled away form our digestive system to the other parts of the body that are needed to fight or flee. Making sure that you are taking a few deep breaths before eating, sitting to eat, chewing your food well, and eating free of distractions (such as TVs, phones, or computers) will go a long way to helping optimize your digestion. 

3. Stress Management

We think about how the foods we eat can cause digestive upset, but did you know that stress in and of itself can cause significant digestive problems? Stress can reduce levels of stomach acid and digestive enzymes, and can also significantly disrupt the balance of gut flora in the microbiome. Stress is linked to flares in digestive conditions such as IBS and IBD. Implementing a daily mindfulness practice, incorporating daily movement, and seeking out a therapist can all be incredibly helpful tools to help manage your stress and in turn support your digestive system. 

4. Soothe & heal the gut lining

Leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, and inflammation in the GI tract are big culprits of digestive dysfunction and a host of other health conditions. Taking out offending foods and accounting for lifestyle factors (as discussed in steps 1-3) can go a long way in helping this. That said, work also needs to be done to help restore the integrity of the gut barrier and repair the mucosal lining of the GI tract. Fatty fish, ginger, turmeric, quality proteins, L-Glutamine, and a variety of other plants and herbs (such as aloe, slippery elm, licorice root, etc) can be helpful here. 

5. Improve overall digestive function

You’ve heard me say before that digestion is a north to south process, so we need to take the time to ensure that things are in proper working order.  Making sure that an individual is producing enough stomach acid, digestive enzymes, and bile to properly break down and absorb their foods is crucial to optimizing the digestive process. Without doing so, a number of links in the digestive chain down stream fall apart. Part of optimizing this north to south process also means addressing gut motility, daily bowel movements, and ensuring that detoxification pathways are open. Increasing the health of the microbiome also comes into play here. Including fermented foods (probiotics), and plenty of fiber rich, plant based foods (prebiotics) will help to increase the number of beneficial species in the gut microbiome, which has cascading impact on a number of areas of physical and mental health. 

6. Address dysbiosis and possible pathogens

If all of the above steps have been followed, but an individual is still experiencing digestive or other physical/mental health concerns, this tells me as a practitioner that there is likely something bigger going on in the gut. Dysbiosis (or the imbalance of good to bad gut bugs), if not corrected by incorporating fermented foods and fiber, could mean that there is something like a yeast or bacterial overgrowth, or even potential parasites or pathogens in the gut. Targeted antimicrobial diet and supplement protocols can be helpful in correcting these sorts of situations, though should be done with the oversight of a qualified practitioner. 

If you or someone you know are in need to individualized support to address gut health, please reach out today for a FREE discovery call. It is never too late to put your physical and mental health first. 

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