Gut Feelings: 8 Steps to Better Digestion

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Your gut is a bit like a watchdog. It’s a tough and loyal guardian, and very smart. Its job is to welcome healthy nutrients and life-giving water, while protecting you from various toxins and irritants that may try to sneak in alongside them.

Most of the time, your gut has great judgement. But occasionally, it’s a bit hasty. Every now and then it overreacts. And sometimes it’s just not strong enough to fend off the “bad guys.”

What kind of bad guys are we talking about? There are dozens. Some of the more common ones include:

  • too many over-the-counter or prescription drugs

  • too much sugar or refined carbohydrates

  • too much alcohol

  • “bad” bacteria

  • parasites, yeast

  • stress (acute & chronic)

  • environmental contaminants.

When Your Gut Hurts

Any of these irritants can lead to bloating, gas, constipation, or diarrhea.

If you’re suffering from symptoms like these, it means your “enemies” are too strong. Your guardian has been overpowered and simply can’t protect you anymore.

Symptoms of poor gut health can also show up outside the gut.

Have you ever been bothered by unexplained headaches, joint pain, fibromyalgia, skin problems, sleep disturbances, or fatigue? Any of these might be due to poor gut health.

The good news is that with the right nutrition, you can strengthen your gut’s defenses and provide a stronger barrier. Not only will your gut be happier, but you’ll also enjoy better overall health.

Eight Easy Steps to a Happier Gut

It may be tempting simply to mask your symptoms with medications like over-the-counter antacids or prescription drugs.

But soothing the symptoms won’t make your underlying problem go away, and may actually make things worse.

Instead, try these simple nutritional strategies.

Followed with a bit of care, they can help you figure out the source and treat it at the same time.

  1. Eat when hungry, stop when satisfied. Believe it or not, this simple rule can save you countless hours of misery (and might help you lose unwanted pounds).
  2. Eat slowly. Chewing is important for enzyme release and breaking food into particles that the gut can manage.
  3. Eliminate any foods or drinks that bother you. Aren’t sure what those are? Try an elimination diet to find out. Common culprits include sugar alcohols, refined grains, MSG, and dairy products.
  4. Add real food. Fruits, vegetables, beans, tea, and coffee are good sources of gut-strengthening flavonoids. Beans, peas, whole grains, nuts, seed, fruits are high in fiber, which helps to ensure regular elimination of toxins.
  5. Balance your bacteria. Good bacteria strengthen the intestinal barrier. Choose 1-2 probiotic/prebiotic rich foods or drinks and eat them often. 
  6. Recover well. Sleep, stress management (like meditation or yoga) and exercise are vital to help us control inflammation, which in turn can improve gut health. But remember that too much exercise is taxing on the body. And give your gut a break: avoid big meals before exercise.
  1. Reduce your chemical burden. Choose organic when you can, try not to heat foods in plastic containers, avoid food colorings and fish high in mercury.
  2. Supplement wisely. A few options to consider include glutamine, digestive enzyme supplements, Vitamin D, Omega-3s, iron, turmeric. But be sure to address the underlying problem first.

Like any good guard dog, your gut wants to protect you and keep you from harm. But if you want it to do its best work, you need to feed it and care for it.

Shower your gut with the love and attention you’d show a loyal watchdog, and it won’t be long until bad gut feelings stop cramping your style.


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Bowe WP & Logan AC.  Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future?  Gut Pathogens 2011;3:1.

Carbonero F, et al.  Contributions of the microbial hydrogen economy to colonic homeostasis.  Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 2012 May 15.

Catalioto RM, et al.  Intestinal epithelial barrier dysfunction in disease and possible therapeutical interventions. Current Medicinal Chemistry 2011;18:398-426.

Duncan SH, et al.  Reduced dietary intake of carbohydrates by obese subjects results in decreased concentrations of butyrate and butyrate-producing bacteria in feces.  Appl Environ Microbiol 2007;73:1073-1078.

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