In the past 5-10 years, the connection between nutrition and neuroscience has been evolving at tremendous speed. We now have new evidence which reveals that imbalances (dysbiosis) of gut bacteria is linked to dysfunction of the brain and cognitive decline. Research has also shown that an unhealthy diet contributes to gut dysbiosis, while eating a diet high in prebiotics and probiotics may rebalance gut bacteria. So, what does this mean for you? How can you make some simple changes to improve your gut and brain health?
I’m glad you asked! Today, I’m going to walk you through 5 simple steps to heal up your gut, improve your digestion and support your brain health! These 5 steps have been used successfully for years by healthcare practitioners who are focused on healing the root cause of disease, instead of putting a Band-Aid on the symptoms.
Let’s dive right into the 5 Steps!
Before we do the work to add in beneficial factors and healing nutrients, we need to remove stressors that negatively affect the environment of the gut. This includes infections, toxins, chronic stressors (both mental and physical) and inflammatory foods. According to Dr. Junger, author of Clean Gut, the 5 most toxic and inflammatory foods or sensitivity triggers include:
By removing these 5 foods for 2 weeks to 3 months, we give the gut a much-needed vacation, so it can focus its energy on healing up instead of fighting off toxic offenders. Along with this removal phase, it is vitally important that we add in nutrients and factors that help the gut function at its best!
2. Replace & Nourish the Gut
Many people are severely lacking in adequate digestive factors due to years of eating processed foods, high stress, certain medications (eg. Proton pump inhibitors), and aging.
First of all, we need to replace digestive factors that may be missing in the body or the diet, including:
- Digestive Enzymes
- Stomach Acid
- Bile Salts
Additionally, we need to nourish the gut with the right foods, including:
- Soluble & insoluble fibre rich foods: Think Fruit & Veggies!
– These act as prebiotics and feed the good bacteria in your gut. Some individuals with poor digestion may need to avoid raw foods and only eat well cooked or blended fruit and veggies until their gut heals up.
- High-quality protein at every meal
– This helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and provide building blocks for healthy intestinal cells. Collagen peptides are one of the most hypoallergenic and gut healing forms of protein you can consume! Collagen is found in high amounts in homemade bone broth, but you can also purchase it as a powder and add to your smoothies, oatmeal, soups or anything else you feel like!
- Healthy Fats and Oils
– Omega 3 Fatty Acids are shown to decrease inflammation of the gut and also improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. Talk about a double win for your belly and brain! Great food sources include wild salmon, walnuts, flaxseed oil, and chia seeds.
3. Repopulate the Gut
We can have all the right factors and nutrients present in the gut, but if your gut bacteria are out of balance, not much is going to be working well. A proper ratio of 80:20 good to bad gut bacteria is ideal. The key is to have more of the good gut bugs to outnumber the bad. Most people have too little good bacteria due to antibiotic use, chlorinated water, poor diet, certain pharmaceutical drugs (eg. Metformin), and chronic stress. If you don’t have many risk factors or digestive symptoms, including more fermented foods may be enough for you (Eg. Coconut yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha). Fermented foods are considered probiotics and introduce healthy bacteria into the gut. However, most people need to consider supplementing with a high dose, high-quality medical grade probiotic to replenish the gut with good bacteria. You can usually start with 10 Billion live CFU’s of bacteria, and slowly increase from there, but it is always best to talk to a healthcare practitioner to decide which strain and species of probiotics are best for you.
4. Repair the Gut
The next step is to begin to repair the damage done and work at regenerating the mucosal lining of the digestive tract once your diet is in check. There are 4 main things you can do to support the gut healing process:
1) Eat Mindfully:
– Every morsel of healthy food you eat is nourishment for your millions of cells providing energy, life force, and vibrancy. When you chew this food slowly and until it is almost liquid, you will not only enjoy the tastes and textures of your food more, but also give your digestive tract a break from having to process large chunks of food. Ideally, you should chew each mouthful of food 30-50 times! If you are far from that right now, try setting a goal of chewing each bite as least 20 times before swallowing. It will slow you down, you will probably end up eating less, and likely even lose a few pounds in the process 😉
2) Practice Time Restricted Eating, otherwise known as Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent Fasting is when you narrow the window of time in which you eat. For example, you may choose to fasting for 18 hours/day (7pm -12pm) and eating during the remaining 6 hours (2pm-6pm). By taking a break from eating, you give your gut a much needed break. Just like most people take the weekends off work to refresh and rejuvenate themselves, taking a few extra hours off eating, gives your digestive organs a chance to rest and get ready for the next batch of food you give it to process! Longer fasts, such as 3-day water fasts, have even been shown to reset your good gut bacteria so it is functioning optimally!
3) Listen to your body and eat when you are hungry, as opposed to by the clock
By eating when you actually feel hungry, instead of by the clock, you ensure that your digestive juices are flowing and your body is ready to receive the nutrients you are giving it. This is especially important for anyone who experiences bloating, gas or constipation.
4) Consider supplements to speed up the process.
Supportive supplements can help expedite the gut healing process, which may be needed if digestive imbalances have been present for long periods of time. It is very important to talk to a natural healthcare practitioner first for dosage recommendations and to ensure there are no contraindications with medications you may be taking. A few supplements we often recommend at the clinic include:
- Aloe Vera
The above four steps would not be complete without talking about the importance of rest and relation on gut health. When your body or mind feels stressed, your nervous system stays in sympathetic or ‘fight or flight’ mode, whereas when you feel relaxed, your nervous system can shift into the parasympathetic mode known as “rest and digest”. During this phase, bloodflow moves towards your internal gut organs and the body releases the right amount of digestive factors needed for you to properly digest and absorb the nutrients from your food.
Emotional and mental stress can have devastating effects on the gut by increasing a compound called lipopolysaccharides (LPS) and inflammatory cytokines, both of which increase gut permeability (leaky gut). Leaky gut has been associated with depression, anxiety, arthritis and autoimmune conditions. It’s vital to find ways to reduce chronic stress in your life to support your gut and overall health! This can include everything from a regular exercise routine, meditation, going to therapy to work through emotional distress, or spending less time at the office and more time with loved ones. Some of these habits can take time to implement, so in the meantime, a few key ways to reduce the impact of stress on gut health include:
- Take 5-10 deep breaths before eating (Inhale 4 counts, exhale 5 counts)
- Eat when you are mentally calm.
- Eat in a relaxed environment (Eg. Outdoors in green space)
- Avoid watching TV or being on your smartphone.
- Avoid having a stressful discussion while eating (or eating after a stressful event).
What I want you to take away from this article is that there are very simple changes you can make to your diet and lifestyle to support your gut health (and ultimately your whole body health too!). Here are a few take away points for you to remember:
- Remove toxic and inflammatory foods (Eg. Sugar, Alcohol, Dairy, Gluten, Caffeine)
- Replace digestive factors (Eg. Digestive Enzymes and stomach acid)
- Repopulate the gut with good gut bacteria (Eg. Probiotics and prebiotics)
- Repair the gut lining through supplements and mindful eating practices
- Relax! Take time to rest and give your body the chance it needs to heal J
If you have any other questions about healing up your gut to support your brain, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 204-952-7982. I’m always happy to help!