[Premium Content] The Everyday Athlete’s Guide To Gut Health
Dr. Debbie Bright explains why tending to your microbiome is one of the most important things you can do for your health.
We all want muscle growth and strive for progression in our training, yet many of us avoid prioritizing what could easily be the most important influencer in and on our bodies—our microbiome. There has been a lot of buzz around this term lately, and rightfully so as the science is out on gut health. I am here to tell you that you are far more than just the millions of cells that make up your body. You are also your second brain, found in your gut, and the billions of little gut buddies that make up your gut flora. These microorganisms influence you, as you do them.
Gut health extends beyond digestion and to your immune system, nutrient absorption, hormone regulation and overall recovery. It is easy to overlook the importance of gut flora, the impact it has on athletic performance and overall health. Most of us never recognize that digestive issues play a leading role in the development of allergies, arthritis, autoimmune disease, skin rashes, acne, chronic fatigue, mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, autism, dementia, cancer, the list goes on. Unfortunately, many doctors are lacking in this training as the scientific research on gut health is relatively new (it takes up to 17 years before medical discoveries are adopted into practice).
The purpose of gut flora is to aid the breakdown of food, identify pathogens, improve the integrity of our intestinal wall and assist in the facilitation of new cell growth. While a properly functioning gut often goes unnoticed, an inflamed one is felt rather quickly. Because the gut is directly linked to the well-being of your entire body; an inflamed gut leads to an inflamed thyroid and an inflamed brain.The gut is directly linked to the well-being of your entire bodyClick To Tweet
With all the new research, one might argue the gut is at the core of our nervous system, having a strong neurological influence on our organs and our brain. We actually have two brains in our bodies. The second brain, called the enteric nervous system, contains some 100 million neurons, more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system, and it accounts for more neurotransmitters than the brain in our head. Most of our serotonin and dopamine levels are found in our bowels and are carried from our gut to our brain. The gut is equipped with its own set of reflexes and senses and can function independently of the brain in our head. The intestinal nervous system is wired to influence the brain in our head as well as the brain to our gut, so when messages are altered between the two in either direction, our health suffers.
It is important to recognize that our microbiome is delicate. Our entire immune system is protected from the toxic burden and disease-causing pathogens by a single-cell layer of epithelial tissue that serves as the intestinal barrier to our blood stream. The gut has an absorptive surface area the size of a tennis court. Damaging that barrier leads to an overactive immune system that inflames the entire body. When this process is ongoing, we begin to see conditions like brain fog, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, skin rashing, headaches as well as many of the symptoms I listed previously.
Even in a perfect world, it is hard for health-conscious individuals to avoid digestive issues that can lead to “leaky gut” syndrome. Below are some obstacles that throw our digestion off track. You’re likely seeing why these detrimental bowel issues are so widespread and how challenging it can be to identify root-cause solutions when so many factors play against our gut health.
Our highly processed, calorie-dense and yet nutrient-poor, low-fiber, high-sugar, on-the-go meals encourage the growth of all the wrong bacteria and yeast in the gut, leading to a damaged ecosystem.
Overuse of anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, acid blockers and steroids are deteriorating the gut lining and blocking normal digestive function.
Chronic low-grade infections or gut imbalances that are typically not addressed in conventional medicine are leading to conditions where overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, yeast overgrowth, and parasites are causing intestinal distention from bloating, abdominal pain and IBS.
Antibacterial soaps are killing the healthy bacteria on our skin. Harsh household cleaning products break down our gut. We are reactive to air fresheners, perfumes and colognes, detergents, chlorinated drinking water, molds and mercury found in fish, tooth fillings and vaccinations.
Inadequate Digestive Enzymes
As we age past 30, we begin to lack stomach acid potency and digestive enzyme function, which is further disabled by acid-blocking medications or zinc de deficiency.
This key player can alter the gut’s nervous system, causing a breakdown in the epithelial lining and altering the ratios of healthy bacteria in the gut.
In order to understand food sensitivities, it is important to understand what is going on in the body. As the gut lining begins to deteriorate, we often begin having reactions to foods that frequent our diet. As injury to the gut lining occurs, we harm our healthy gut bacteria and lose the ability to digest our food. As partially digested food particles begin slipping through into our blood circulation, our immune system goes into a high-alert mode, bringing out the Army, Navy and Marines to attack what appears to be foreign particles invading our bodies.
Our immune system is used to seeing fully digested foods (proteins in the form of amino acids, fats in the form of fatty acids and carbohydrates in the form of simple sugars), but when leaky gut occurs, our bodies go into full attack. Because up to 80% of our immunity lives in the gut, our bodies react to save our lives. This constant overstimulation of the immune system leads to us being sick, fat, toxic, tired, depressed and anxious.The intestinal nervous system is wired to influence the brain in our head as well as the brain in our gut, so when messages are altered between the two in either direction, our health will sufferClick To Tweet
But don’t despair—there is a way to improve gut health, and it is all about keeping it simple.
Avoid Processed Foods
If it comes in a box, has a barcode, or if your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it (think GoGurt, Cheetos, and Lunchables) then it’s likely not a real food and should be avoided.
Eat Plenty Of Fiber
Consume vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds. Take it easy on the grains (no grain, no pain). Have fiber with every meal to bulk your intestines and keep things moving. Fiber also stabilizes blood sugar and helps you feel satisfied for hours post-meal.
Try An Elimination Diet
Remove the top inflammatory foods such as gluten, soy, dairy, eggs, corn, peanuts, sugar and artificial sweeteners for 21 days and watch as symptoms drastically improve. This will help you identify food sensitivities.
Treat Gut Dysbiosis
Find a functional medicine or integrative medical practitioner qualified to identify and treat infections like bacterial overgrowth, parasites or yeasts.
Supplement When Needed
Take digestive enzymes, probiotics, omega 3 fats, glutamine, and zinc. This will help you break down and absorb your nutrients, repopulate healthy gut bacteria and cool inflammation.
Remember, you are eating for billions, and the proper conditioning of that ecosystem will give you the clear skin, deep sleep energized longevity and faster recovery that we all desire. Lastly, when you’re having that “gut feeling” about something, listen closely to what your body is trying to tell you.