Do you have the “Guts” to be healthy? Dr. Lesley James is a board certified family physician whose mission is to enrich conventional medical practice with a more natural approach to prevention and healing in one holistic practice. Today Dr. James is taking over our blog to talk about gut health.
Written By Dr. Lesley James
These days, we hear a lot about the importance of “gut health.” How to get it, how to keep it and why it’s imperative to an optimal lifestyle.
What’s all the commotion about our core?
The gastrointestinal tract (GI) contributes to our health in multiple ways, mainly by ensuring the digestion and absorption of nutrients, minerals and fluids, and by defending against infections and other pathogens. In order to achieve and maintain gut health, the GI microbiome barrier, which consists of many bacteria that are located mainly in the large intestines, and the Enteric Nervous System, the largest neuronal network outside of the brain, must work together to complete complex functions, such as taking in nutrients, ridding of waste, preventing infections, regulating the immune system and communicating with the brain to control gut functions. In short, our gut health is a key component in our well being.
The notion that health begins in the gut is far from new. More than 2,000 years ago, ancient Greek physician Hippocrates stated that “All Disease Begins in the Gut,” and, according to traditional Chinese medicine, the abdomen is not only honored for its spiritual and physical strength, but is considered the location of the soul. Also, balancing the digestive system is a key principle of Ayurvedic Medicine, India’s healthcare foundation, believed to be the oldest whole-body healing system.
So how do we relate these philosophies to today’s health challenges? A scientific committee working on gastrointestinal health recently identified several criteria for a healthy GI tract that include the effective digestion and absorption of food, the absence of gastrointestinal illness and infections, normal immune status, the absence of ailments such as acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease, and, lastly, a state of well being that begins with a positive “gut feeling.”
As a physician, I deal more and more with a growing list of ailments and diseases that may stem from a compromised GI barrier, such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune disease, parkinson’s disease, celiac disease, even mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, arthritis, allergies and obesity. For patients experiencing symptoms, there are countless ways in which to test and analyze gut health, which are accompanied by complex questionnaires about lifestyle and environment. Currently, and unfortunately, much of today’s medical climate seems to focus on the treatment of GI disease rather than promoting a lifestyle that focuses on prevention.
If we’re ready to guard our gut, prevention begins with diet, and one of the largest levelers we have to influence our GI health is embracing microbiota-friendly foods that balance our microbiomes and promote overall good health. Also helpful are limiting the use of antibiotics and medications that negatively impact gut health, paying close attention to our environment — everything from our soil to our pets — and surrounding ourselves with healthy microbes.
Foods for Gut Health:
- Bone broth is a natural source of collagen. Collagen protects and soothes the lining of the digestive tract and can aid in healing the gut.
- Cauliflower, collard greens, kale and broccoli – They have a chemical and an enzyme in their cells that when chewed or chopped offers powerful antioxidants for fighting inflammation.
- Garlic can be used as a fungicidal food. It may help clear out bad bacteria.
- Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and pickled vegetables are loaded with the beneficial bacteria that support health and balance the microbiome.
- Eating fibrous, whole foods (including seeds such as flax and chia!) will keep the gut healthy.
If you feel that your GI is unbalanced, make subtle changes to your diet, conduct a bit of research and ask questions of your physician. If you’re fortunate to be free of GI issues, be aware that prevention is the best medicine to maintain balance and avoid a future gut punch.
Want to learn more? Join Dr. Lesley James right here at Hart’s Local Grocers on 10/24 from 6:30pm-7:30pm for a free “How Gut Health Impacts Weight, Digestion and More” class! Register here.
References: ‘Gut Health’: a new objective in medicine? Stephan C Bischoff BMC Medicine 2011 The Good Gut Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood and Your Long Term Health, by Justin Sonnenburg and Erican Sonneburg, PhDs The Inside Tract Your Good Gut Guide to Great Digestive Health, by Gerald E Mullin, MD, and Kathie Madonna Swift, MD, RD, LDN