How to restore your gut health naturally?
We all know that feeling after a big heavy meal. We feel tired, sluggish and want to take a nap. All the blood in your body is being redirected to your digestive organs to churn up and break down food. This leaves your brain with less blood, making you sleepy and less alert. Imagine what we could accomplish if we could give our gut what it needs and have that mental clarity we desire. Our brains need the gut to perform well for it to work in the best capacity. Restoring the gut is the key to unlocking our brains full potential. Many short term and long term health benefits will develop from treating your digestive system and brain with the love and care it deserves. What follows are my tips to restore gut health.
The brain-gut connection is real. Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology says “The enteric nervous (GI tract) system doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain—with profound results.” If we are stressed it can lead to constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and even depression. When a stressful event in our lives happens we can literally feel that fear or anxiety in the pit of our stomach. The twist and turning of our stomach can focus all our attention on that part of the body. When your mind is calm you will be able to digest your food better. When your digestion is good that feeds your brain the vitamins it needs. Simple meditation practices can help to relieve stress and anxiety. Helping you think better and make smarter decisions.
The following simple meditation will help calm your mind. It will send messages to your gut to calm down. It can be done in 10 minutes. Find a quiet place you feel comfortable. Turn off your phone, computer, and tablet. Sit in a comfortable place. Breath in slowly and notice your breath. Quiet your mind. Let your thoughts come and go and don’t try to control them. Let your stress drift away like clouds. Say what you are grateful for in your life. This will put your mind into a positive perspective so you can go on to have a happy day. This will help you lower stress levels, lower inflammation and help to boost your immunity.
Avoid Processed Foods
Staying away from the foods and substances that affect our gastrointestinal tract negatively can provide an infinite potential for our brains. When we have a clean and healthy functioning gut our minds feel clear and alert. Our gut affects how we feel and react in our everyday lives. The brain fog and sluggishness that processed food induces is a symptom of a much larger problem developing. Cut all processed food out of your diet to get that clear head you want most. The father of medicine Hippocrates said all disease begins in the gut. The food we ingest has a huge effect on our mood and overall health.
All our senses become dulled by processed foods. Our digestive system is long and food travels a very long way before it leaves the body. If we fill it with preservatives our bodies will be using all the energy in our bodies to digest them. The longer it takes to digest our food the longer our brains are getting less blood.This is because our bodies direct all the blood from our body to our guts to digest our food. Our brains thrive when there is a fresh supply of blood flowing in. We must eat foods that are easy to break down so that our body can send that blood from the digestive tract to the brain. Raw fruits and vegetables are easy to break down and uptake.
Processed foods were created to sit on a shelf for soldiers during world wars. It wasn’t created to be consumed on a daily basis. Read the labels on the back of all the boxed, bagged and canned food that you buy at the grocery store. You will be shocked at how many preservatives and unnecessary ingredients are inside them. Processed foods are dead foods that provide no real health. These canned, bagged and boxed foods are fortified to provide us with the vitamins and minerals we require on a daily basis. My strategy for grocery shopping is to stick to the outer rim of the store in the produce section. Focus on raw fruits and vegetables as much as you can. These are the foods that are packed with vitamins and minerals that will feed the cells in your body.
Our gut is supported by a whole host of good bacteria and flora that live in symbiosis with one another. These bacteria and flora help you digest your food and protect you from harmful effects of toxins. Depending on the food we eat this harmony can be thrown out of whack. When this happens organisms like candida and parasites can take over and cause a host of bad problems like dry skin, eczema, thrush, yeast infections and nutrient malabsorption. Your body will try to compensate but sometimes it’s unable to get back into balance on its own. If the body is unable to heal on its own probiotics can help to bring balance back into your gut.
A 3 month, 6 month, 1 year or longer regime may be needed to bring balance back to your gut. During that time you will need to stay away from processed foods. Feed your body fruits and vegetables. Fruits and Vegetables are what feed probiotics. Probiotics naturally live in your gut. When there is an imbalance present this can lead to constipation, leaky gut, and gas. If you have any of these symptoms then a round of probiotics may help you get back into balance. If you are eating a diet of only meat, dairy, and cooked food then you are supporting this imbalance further. Raw fruits and vegetables are the only way to feed the probiotics to keep their population levels high. If you are just replacing the probiotics and letting them starve essential you will need to take probiotics forever. It’s okay to take probiotics when your levels are low but, make sure you eat raw fruits and vegetables to feed them.
Cut out Gluten
No more bread, rice, and other grains. Bread and rice slow down your digestion and lead to brain fog. You can think of gluten like a glue. When it enters your system it gums up all the movement, making digestion impossible. Have you ever made bread before? The consistency is like dried glue. Bread and rice provide no nutritional benefit. They are simply filler foods to make us feel full. They do a very good job of fattening us but they don’t give us that feeling of vibrancy. Giving up bread and rice was the best thing I did for my health. I lost weight and my digestion improved.
The gut is a place that requires speedy transmission of nutrients into the bloodstream so that we can uptake, transport and deliver them to the cells that need them. When we gum up the system with heavy and sticky foods like bread and rice this slows this process down. If food sits too long in our body like bread and rice do it can ferment and rot. It can get trapped in our guts giving us extended bellies. In order to loosen up this waste, we need to fill our bodies with fresh juices that are hydrating and stay away from grains. I believe that we all have a slight gluten intolerance. Our bodies are made of 70% water and our systems need to keep flowing like rivers. Bread and rice are like sticks and stones that can slow down the flow of liquids in the body.
Drink more water to heal your gut. In order for the gut to absorb nutrients effectively, it needs to be hydrated. Drinking a full glass of water before meals can help lube the digestive tract. It will clear the path for the food you eat. Don’t drink water during your meal because this can dilute the digestive enzymes which help to break down your food. You want to hydrate your gastrointestinal tract first then allow the digestive juices do the work of breaking down your food. You will experience a major transformation with digestion when you practice this method.
Water filters and replenishes your blood supply we don’t need it during a meal. A fresh supply of blood will make digestion easier. Water will also make elimination smoother. Stool that is dry and hard to pass can be a sign that you need to be drinking more water. Make sure the water is room temperature. Cold water can cause organs to contract. Much like when you jump into a very cold pool your muscles all constrict. Constricted digestive organs don’t do a good job of digesting food. Then after a meal wait 20-30 minutes to drink more water. This will help move along any undigested waste that needs to be eliminated.
Mushrooms are amazing for long-term health. Not only are they are anticancer, antitumor, and anti-acne. They reduce inflammation in the gut. Inflammation is linked to diseases like cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes. This inflammation of the digestive tract can cause brain fog. Mushrooms have essential B vitamins that are coenzymes to help your cells uptake the vitamins and minerals in food. This absorption of vitamins in your gut is filtered throughout your entire body which supports brain health. The best mushrooms for restoring gut health are reishi, shiitake, cordyceps, oyster, and Cremini/White Button Mushrooms. Mushrooms can be eaten raw or cooked, both ways provide benefits for gut health.
Cut Out Fat
Cut down on oil and consume the whole fat like coconut meat, avocado. Why oil is so bad for our gut health is not really talked about. Coconut and olive oil have been touted as healthy to eat on a normal everyday basis. This simply isn’t true. Essentially it is just fat and just because it comes from an amazing plant doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Oil (fat) is a refined substance that has all the vitamins and minerals stripped away. None of the other amazing properties are left. When we ingest oil it coats our entire GI tract in fat. Our digestive system is not able to function when it’s coated in fat. When your cells, receptor sites, and insulin are coated with fat (oil) they can no longer uptake the natural sugar, vitamins, and minerals from your food and feed your brain.
The American diabetic association in the 60s said that sugar was not the cause of diabetes that fat was the culprit. Your brain relies on natural sugar in fruit for energy. If we can’t uptake these natural sugars we then need to replace it with caffeinated drinks like coffee and soda to stay energized. If you want true gut-mind connection you need to eliminate oil to 1 tablespoon per day or less. I choose to not cook with oil. A great substitute for oil is water. When making stir fry I use this trick. You can still add in all your seasonings to give it the same yummy flavor. If you feel like you need more fatty foods eat whole foods like olives, almonds, coconut meat, avocado, sesame seeds and durian.
Avoid Processed Sugar
Processed sugar will cause elevated levels of blood sugar that isn’t natural. Your body will uptake and use this isolated substance to quickly. Your GI tract will send it to the brain and you will feel alert and awake right away. You may feel like you can take on the world. You may get many things down but the crash will come. Processed sugar is what I call legal cocaine. It is processed in the exact same way. All the other essential nutrients and minerals have been stripped away. You are left with only a substance that gives you this euphoric effect but because it’s isolated it can cause damage to the body. It hits the same receptor site of dopamine over and over. Over time your body becomes used to this hit of dopamine and you will need more and more of it to get the same effect. This is exactly like cocaine. Studies on processed sugar have shown that the same parts of the brain light up as when we take cocaine. Probes are attached to your head and a little machine will show you which parts of the brain light up. Sugar and cocaine have the exact same effect on the brain. Why is one illegal and the other is sold in grocery stores around the world? In order to get the positive mental effects of sugar eat it in its natural state. Along with the fiber, minerals, and vitamins that help to slowly release the sugar into the bloodstream. Then you will not feel that crash later leaving you feeling depressed.
Stop Eating Salt
Avoid table salt to have a healthy gut. We need salt in order to survive but we only need less than 10 mg of salt per day. Too much salt can cause you to eat more food. This dehydrates you which makes you feel thirsty. This thirst can be confused with hunger. Have you ever eaten a salty bag of chips or fries and still felt hungry? If you get into this habit you will be needing more and more of it to feel satiated. This can lead to weight problems. This will definitely cause your digestion to slow and cause a sluggish brain. If you are craving salty foods this simply means that you have not had enough vegetables. Choose salt vegetables like celery, kale, rainbow chard, arugula, and spinach. Don’t cook with salt. Salt loses its flavor in things like soup. Then you end up needing more salt later because you can’t taste the salt that is already in your food. If you are going to use salt use sea salt and only put on shake on your food. Over time you will start to notice the subtle flavors in your food without the need for salt.
Eat slowly and chew food until it’s a consistency of baby food so you don’t get gas. Being bloated never feels good. I know when I’m bloated I can hardly think of anything else. I have been a fast eater ever since I was a young. I noticed recently that even though I was eating healthy fresh food I was severely bloated all the time. I made an effort to consciously chew my food. Setting down my fork after each bite and allowing myself to mix my saliva with my food. Digestion starts in your mouth. We have enzymes in our saliva that start to break down. Now that I eat my food slowly and take over 20 chews each bite I don’t feel bloated and tired anymore. I am now able to get right into work without wanting to roll over and take a nap. If you are still getting bloated after it may be a sign of an underlying problem like leaky gut or irritable bowel.
Practice Stomach Massage
Give yourself stomach massages. This has been highly effective for me. I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is rub my stomach in a soft circular motion. I breathe in deeply as I do this. This gentle practice wakes up your organs. This can also help any undigested food move along to be eliminated. You will feel the organs moving and waking up when you practice this. It feels good and it’s important to do this it’s similar to stretching in the morning. They send messages to the brain to wake up. You can practice this in bed before going to sleep as well. This quiets the organs down by letting them relax. This is my favorite technique I practice before bed. This also helps for indigestion and to relieve trapped gas.
The brain-gut connection is still being studied to further understand how they affect each other. The simple strategies I’ve given have been shown to restore and heal the gut and mind. Meditation is the first step to take charge of your digestive system. Eliminating heavy processed foods from your diet that come in a box, can, bag or a fast food restaurant. If you need healing from a long pattern of habitual bad eating probiotics can help to balance your gut flora sooner rather than later. Do not become dependant on them. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables to feed those probiotics so their populations can grow. Remember to stay away from bread, rice and other slow digesting foods that can cause fermentation in the gut. Drink plenty of water throughout the day at least 9, 8 oz cups. Drink when you wake up in the morning, right before meals and 20-30 mins after a meal. Eat a variety of mushrooms to bring in those coenzymes to break down food. Hold off the oil when cooking as this coats your entire gastrointestinal tract and makes uptake, transport, and delivery of vitamins impossible. Eliminate processed sugars and table salt as these provide no health benefits for your gut and do not help to restore gut health. Eat slowly and consciously to make digestion easier. Give yourself a much-needed tummy massages to get things moving down and out.
- Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Furhman chapter on salt intake.