Proper digestion and gut health is the foundation of a healthy body. Our gut houses 70-80% of our immune system that stems primarily from the microbiome- The bacteria, yeast, viruses and other microbes that reside in our gut.
The role of these “bugs” is vast. They not only play a huge role in our immune systems and help us detect invaders but also produce enzymes to help us break down food and absorb nutrients like B vitamins, Vitamin K, and short-chain fatty acids, control the HPA axis involved in the release of hormones like cortisol, thyroid stimulating hormone, and sex hormones, regulate metabolism, support mood through the production of neurotransmitters and regulate cognition and brain function through the gut-brain axis.
The amount and; the variety of your microbiome is determined by diet, geography, environment, toxins, stress, health status, gender, and even your genes.
What does this mean? That if you’re looking to do a gut cleanse or digestive reset then look no further than supporting your microbiome!
Here’s how you can do that:
I can’t say this enough… diet is KEY to a healthy gut.
The questions to ask here are what am I eating that may be harming my microbiome/gut and what am I not eating that could be helping it to heal it?
- Inflammatory foods: fried foods, sugar, processed non-organic meats, refined grains (white flour), soda, chips, and other processed foods.
- Allergens: gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, nuts, caffeine- whatever may be bothering your individual system.
- Not sure if something is “bothering” you or not?
Try an elimination rotation diet where you remove these foods for 4-8 weeks and then slowly add them back in one at a time to see if you notice any issues.
Add food to your microbiome!
- FIBER! The microbiome lives off fiber and helps break it down so we can reap the benefits. Fiber is ultimately what supports your pre and probiotics in your gut to thrive. Top ones for microbiome:
- Soluble fiber: produces a gel when broken down to lubricate the gut. Slows down digestion for better absorption of nutrients and can lower heart disease risks and help regulate blood sugar.
Food sources include oat bran, barley, nuts and seeds, psyllium, peas, legumes, apples, carrots
- Insoluble fiber: attracts water and adds bulk to the stool, and helps food pass more quickly alleviating things like constipation.
Food sources include wheat bran, whole grains, nuts, legumes, cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes.
- Resistant starches: prebiotic foods that help with the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which are critical to a healthy gut lining, mental health, and metabolism.
Foods include cooked and cooled potatoes & rice, potato starch, green bananas, oats, beans, and legumes, peas, and plantains.
- Inulin acts as a prebiotic feeding the good flora in your gut.
Foods include leeks, asparagus, onions, garlic, chicory, oats, Jerusalem artichokes, and soybeans. (organic only!)
- Beta – Glucans: prebiotics that is great at regulating immune function.
Foods include barley flour (only if you are not gluten-free), oats, whole grains, reishi, maitake and shitake mushrooms, seaweed, and algae.
- Variety of vegetables and fruits – besides providing fiber they also provide antioxidants, polyphenols, and vitamins and minerals to support a healthy gut.
- Fermented foods – the microbiome will naturally break down and ferment fibers, but you can also eat fermented foods that are “predigested” by these microbes and are tremendously helpful for gut health – Foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha (with no added sugar), kefir, plain unsweetened yogurt (if you are not dairy-free)
- Other healthy gut foods:
- Healthy fats: avocados, wild-caught salmon, nuts, and seeds.
- Cabbage: high in glutamine which heals the gut lining.
- Ghee: clarified butter which has high amounts of a very important short-chain fatty acid called butyrate and feeds the microbiome. Also lubricates and heals the gut.
- Bone broth: helps reduce inflammation and heal tight junctions in the gut. (Heals leaky gut)
2.) Reduce Stress
Stress is a leading culprit of many health imbalances. Digestive health is at the top of this list affected by stress. When we are under stress (whether it be physical, mental, emotional, or even spiritual or energetic stress) The body responds by making cortisol and other hormones like epinephrine and norepinephrine (Adrenaline) that allow us to respond to the stressor. When too many of these hormones are released, it puts us into a fight or flight state which shuts down digestion making it harder to produce enzymes, absorbs nutrients from our food, and even affects bowel movements. Besides releasing hormones our bodies will also store fat under stress, reduce our ability to regulate blood sugar, and even release inflammatory chemicals.
I’m sure you’ve noticed at some point in your life that when you are under extreme amounts of stress it may have affected your gut with symptoms like stomach pain, nausea, or issues with bowel movements (constipation or diarrhea). Here are ways you can work on lowering your stress:
- Meditate – even 5-10 minutes a day or quiet reflection can lower blood pressure and support that parasympathetic nervous system responsible for “rest and digest”
- Deep belly breathing – not only helps to get into a parasympathetic state but also helps to expand and contract the diaphragm and digestive tract to help move things through
- Yoga/Stretching – especially moves that involve torso twists, stretching, bending, and compressing to help move the contents through your gut
- Exercise – a great way to blow off steam however be careful not to over-exercise or exercise at too high of intensities for long periods of time. This can be counterproductive leading to more “stress” on the body and inflammation. The gut is a muscle too and this physical stress can lead to micro tears in the gut lining, aka leaky gut.
- Anything else you enjoy and brings you peace: walking in nature, painting, listening to music, hanging with friends.
We all know the benefits of sleep but again this is so so important so it’s worth mentioning again! While we sleep our body does most of its healing, regulating, and rebooting. This includes working on healing and optimizing your gut function. Sleeping also gives our digestive tract a break from eating and working hard, which it does during the day. Many people have gotten into intermittent fasting for this reason. It allows for a big chunk of time to be dedicated towards “fasting” so your gut can rest, and you can reset your metabolism.
Rest is not often discussed in our society. You may be thinking, “I’m resting while I sleep” which is true, but we actually benefit quite a bit from “resting” and taking small breaks throughout our day. That’s right you now have a doctor’s permission to kick your feet up mid-day! We all live very busy fast paced lives, so taking 5-20 minutes to look away from the screen, put your feet up, close your eyes, or walk barefoot outside can do your body and your digestive track wonders! Rest allows for healing and can be a quick way to reboot and boost your energy throughout the day without having to reach for stimulants like caffeine or sugar. Aim for 2-3 mini rest breaks throughout your day!
4.) Energetic Healing
Ok, we are going to dive into a little more esoteric aspect of gut health now. But I’m including it here because without focusing on your energetic and emotional health it is almost impossible to truly heal your gut or any aspect of your health for that matter. In energetic medicine, your gut is part of your Solar Plexus. Physically it is located in the center of your trunk around your belly button, but your solar plexus energetically is one of the main chakras or energy centers and is a source of personal power. It relates to self-esteem, identifying as your true authentic self, trusting your intuition, and the power of transformation. A lot of deep-rooted emotions, trauma, and memories can be stored in this chakra. When energy is stagnant or perhaps in excess it creates imbalances and leads to symptoms like feeling lost, low self-esteem, difficulty making decisions, self-criticism, control issues, and even physical symptoms like fatigue and digestive issues.
Here are some ways you can bring balance to your solar plexus and improve digestion in the process:
- Meditate with the image or yellow light over your abdomen.
- Positive Self-affirmations. (even better while looking in a mirror)
~ Ex: I am whole, I am wise, I am beautiful
- Wearing or using citrine gemstone (especially over your abdomen) or any other yellow stone.
- Wearing yellow, eating yellow, looking at yellow!
- Look at a fire.
- Tuning in to your true desires, wants, and needs – Literally ask yourself or journal: “What do I want to do right now?” “What will make me happy?” “What will give me purpose?” “What makes me unique?”
- Exercises and stretching to support this area- seated twists, cat/cow, hip rotations, etc.
- Using essential oils such as Lemon, Ginger, Sandalwood, Ylang ylang, Lemongrass, helichrysum, and lavender, Atlas Cedarwood.
Herbs have many healing properties and using the right ones and the right amounts can be so beneficial when it comes to gut health.
Some of my favorite herbs for gut health include:
- Carminatives – help to support digestion and soothe the gut. These herbs include ginger, fennel, chamomile, licorice, peppermint, spearmint, and lemon to name a few.
- Bitters – stimulate enzyme production and increase digestive fire. Here are some bitter herbs: Gentian, Burdock, Dandelion, Yellow Dock, Orange Peel, Goldenseal, and Wormwood.
- Demulcent – adds moisture and lubricates the gut. They are helpful to reduce inflammation. Demulcent herbs include aloe, slippery elm, marshmallow root, and licorice.
You can use these herbs in teas, capsules, and tinctures. At Wildcraft Medicine we formulate some gut-specific teas and tinctures with the above herbs included. Our Tummy Soother comes in tea and glycerite. The tea is gentle yet effective and tastes of warming herbs to spark digestion. The glycerite is safe for kids and pregnant women and is excellent for calming down an upset stomach from indigestion, gas, and bloating and helps with optimizing digestion. Our Digest Tonic is the same herbs as the Tummy Soother but is a tincture meaning it has an alcohol base and tends to be a stronger formula. This is ideal for adults with GI issues. We also have a great blend called Herbal bitters. As the name states it is a blend of bitter herbs to help the body produce enzymes to break down food more efficiently which is super helpful for those who have bloat, acid reflux, or even constipation. You can check out these formulas on our online store or call to order.
There are many ways to support your gut and digestion. At Wildcraft Medicine we like to take an individualized approach. That being said, adding in some of the tips above is a great start for a digestive reset. If you’re dealing with more chronic or serious GI issues, make sure to get seen by one of our doctors so we can do a thorough workup and figure out specifically what’s wrong and help you get back into balance!