The Gut Health Guide: How To Identify Problems & Improve Your Digestion
Though the human body is comprised of a series of complex structures, organs and nerves, there is a system that stands above the rest. About 70% of the immune system can be found in the gut, which is a junction of intestines, bacteria and hormones that handle digestive functions. Research shows that the gut is responsible for many mental, emotional and physical functions of the body. For this reason, it’s important to understand how it works and how to keep it healthy.
When the body senses something is out of balance, it will usually transmit a warning. These can come in the form of a rash or ache. However, when the gut is damaged, there may be numerous signs. It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what’s going on under the skin, but there are several ways to identify gut issues and improve digestive habits.
Identifying the Problem
If you’re digestive system is unstable, there are some aspects of normal daily routine that could be the cause. Reflect on your mental, physical or nutritional habits and determine what the gut is trying to say. However, if it’s truly a mystery, seek a physician’s guidance.
What are your bathroom habits? Pay attention to how often you’re visiting the toilet. A normal bowel movement occurs anywhere from three times a week to three per day. No two people have the same genetic or anatomical function, so don’t stress. Many individuals are told that they need to produce a bowel movement once a day, but it generally takes between one and three days for food to fully digest. When the cycle is off, it can lead to constipation, which stems from dehydration, not enough fiber or an underlying medical issue.
Too Much Processed Food
Your gut could process large quantities of food. That’s not to say it can handle large amounts of processed meals. Whether it’s the most popular breakfast cereal, a favorite fast food or snack, common additives found in these types of comestibles include:
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Food coloring
- Sodium nitrate
- Guar gum
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Sodium benzoate
- Artificial trans fats
- Xanthan gum
- Artificial flavoring
- Yeast extract
Too much of these flavor enhancers can inflame the gut’s lining and gastrointestinal tract.
Certain food additives can inflame the gut's lining and gastrointestinal tract and may lead to changes in the composition of the gut microbiota.
Prebiotics Are Your Friend
If you’ve recently been to the hospital or gotten sick, such as with the stomach flu, perhaps a physician prescribed antibiotics for you. This medication typically eradicates bacteria in order to stop infections from spreading. Although bacterial infections can be killed with antibiotics, unfortunately, they also eliminate good bacteria. Because there are trillions of bacteria in the gut, it’s important to have the beneficial kind as a defense. Prebiotics encourage good bacteria to reproduce and you can find it in onions, garlic, asparagus, bananas and legumes.
Relax and Get Your Sleep
According to some researchers, there may be a connection between poor sleep and the gut’s bacterial environment. A lack of sleep could cause cortisol levels to rise. Cortisol is considered the stress chemical, so without proper rest, whether it be from long work hours or tension at home, you may feel more physical or mental pressure. When you’re relaxed, there’s more time to be mindful of lifestyle habits.
Prioritize Gut Health
If you’re regularly going to the bathroom – remember, laxatives aren’t the answer – and aren’t experiencing any abdominal pain, the gut should be in good shape. However, if the stomach is groaning and grumbling, it may be trying to reveal something. Identify different aspects of your daily routine and lifestyle to determine how they might be affecting your gastrointestinal health. For more information on the gut as well as how to identify problems and improve them at home, see the accompanying resource.
Author bio: Kara Kash, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian at Factor — a premium weekly meal delivery service that fuses world-class culinary dishes with the latest in nutrition science to produce fully prepared meals that are as delicious as they are nutritious.