As most of our Food Matters friends would know, we’re huge advocates for a healthy gut and the prosperous health benefits it brings – but what you might not know are the ways in which you can heal your gut naturally. In this article, we will navigate our way through the intestinal tract to discover what makes our gut tick and 6 natural alternatives to keep us happy and healthy.

Let’s get started.

1. Breath-work

You might be familiar with the term fight or flight, or the shortness of breath commonly associated during a stressful event such as losing your wallet or narrowly missing a car. Events such as these can cause a tightening in your stomach, as the body gets ready for “flight” or to “run” away before your mind has had time to think. A response such as this causes blood to move from the gut to the larger muscles, which interferes with digestion, weakens the immune system, and increases inflammation. Although this feeling may be fleeting, repeated actions can cause adverse health effects, with research showing direct correlations between anxiety or stress and the development of some gastrointestinal conditions. With over 70 million Americans suffering from digestive diseases, there’s proof in the pudding that our gut health shouldn’t be taken lightly.

It should come as no surprise that oxygen, specifically deep breathing, can assist our body to re-energize and revitalize our organs from our brain down to our stomach. Utilising this method as part of our everyday routine can assist us with a myriad of benefits including increased concentration, blood flow, and improved muscle circulation which aids in relaxing your digestive system. By practicing your breathing techniques for 10-minutes every day, you will start to see the increasing health benefits associated with deep-breathing.

2. Fiber

We all know a hearty meal is a sure way to satisfy your hunger, but did you also know it can promote a healthy digestive tract?  Whilst most of us are conscious about eating enough protein, there’s another nutrient that’s more worrisome as a deficiency risk: fiber. Recent studies show that of the 97% of Americans getting the recommended protein fix, only 3% are getting the recommended 40 grams of fiber they need per day – a crucial ingredient for our gut health! As we discovered in our article - Did You Know Your Gut Has 3-5 Pounds of Bacteria?– our bodies have a mutually beneficial relationship with gut bacteria; when we keep them happy through providing the right nutrients, they keep us healthy and happy!

Our microbes extract the fiber’s energy, nutrients, and vitamins, including short-chain fatty acids, which can play a crucial role in your health and well-being, assisting in improved immune function, decreased inflammation whilst also protecting against obesity.

Vegetables are a great place to start and provide our body with the nutrients it needs on a day-to-day basis and help maintain general health. Foods such as whole grains, fruits, nuts, and legumes, provide our body with the fiber to keep our gut healthy and help our body’s systems run more effectively.

3. Water

Staying hydrated is key in keeping our body happy and healthy. Drinking water can help support energy, promote weight loss, flush toxins, improve skin and hair, prevent cramping, and last but not least – keep our gut health in-check. As we drink water, it aids our body in moving matter through the intestinal tract, purging toxins and metabolic waste – creating a healthy microbiome and preventing constipation.

Drinking water can also help in supporting the digestion of soluble fiber – which as we now know, is a crucial component in keeping our gut healthy. Soluble fiber is our microbes’ food of choice, and helps our body break down most complex carbohydrates which is key in keeping a healthy, happy you! 

Another great way to keep yourself hydrated is by drinking lemon water. Recent studies show lemons are high in vitamin C, phytonutrients, and pectin – a kind of fiber that acts as food for your gut bugs promoting healthy gut bacteria and balance. Its vitamin-C rich concentrate can also double as a GI cleanser and balancer of bacteria.

4. Serotonin

Over the past several decades, the link between our brain and gastrointestinal tract has become more and more apparent. The central nervous system (CNS), which is found in the brain and in the spinal cord, evolved from what is called the enteric nervous system (ENS), or the nerve tissue and neurotransmitters belonging to the gastrointestinal tract. In layman's terms, there is an uncanny relationship between your brain and your gut that can have a direct correlation with mood, health, and sleep. Approximately 90% of the body’s serotonin is created in the gut, with the additional 10% synthesized in the central nervous system.

This ‘happy hormone’ is created from various good bacteria that have the special ability to generate that “feel good” mood, with some beneficial bacteria increasing GABA receptors in the brain – which adversely makes us happier!

So how can we achieve this?

Together with a healthy diet and reducing your toxic load (such as the substances found in fillers, food dyes, processed foods, and sweeteners), you can reduce the toxic build up in your body and reap the benefits of a healthy mind and gut!

5. Sleep

Sleep plays a crucial role in the health of the immune system, skin, mental wellbeing, and gastrointestinal health. The association between our sleep quality, immune function, and gastrointestinal health has been shown to be an important element of good health. A recent study by World Journal of Gastroenterology concluded that sleep deprivation is associated with an increased susceptibility to infection and mortality, and gastrointestinal diseases which, conversely, can often lead to sleep abnormalities.

This holds cause for concern for the many of us who don’t get enough shut-eye and are feeling the adverse side effects in both our gut and immune system. A great way to combat sleep deprivation is to deprive yourself of electronic devices before bed. By turning off electronics an hour before sleep and reading a paperback book – you will notice both the quality of uninterrupted sleep and increased mood change! Read more on the gut-sleep connection here.

6. Probiotics

Last but not least, probiotics! Probiotics are the live microorganisms that reside inside the gut supporting our immune system, aiding in digestion, and assisting with nutrient absorption– so it’s safe to say they play a pretty big role in our gut health. Together with their help in absorbing important nutrients such as Vitamin K and short-chain fatty acids, they help in balancing our good and bad bacteria as well – they’re a triple treat. 

Found in a range of fermented foods such as tempeh, kombucha, miso, kefir, and yogurt, as well as in powdered forms – probiotics are one sure-fire way to kick-start your gut health.

So there you have it! Six simple ways to kick-start your gut-health today!

Tell us your gut-happy tips in the comments below!