Most of us have been there – stress or anxiety strikes, your brain sends a distress signal to your gut, and the next thing you know you’ve got a churning stomach. The occasional “gut reaction” is one thing, but a recent survey indicated that 74 percent of the U.S. population live with digestive health issues such as irregularity, gas and bloating. While these symptoms can be traced back to a number of causes, stress also impacts the health of the inner ecosystem of the gut – called the microbiome – and many people do not realize that about 80 percent of the immune system lives in the gut, too.
This brain-gut connection suggests that keeping your digestive system in tip-top shape is vital to your sense of well-being. So, it’s important to maintain good digestive health, since the health of your digestive tract can have a profound effect on how you feel each day.
Your digestive system has a huge job – It breaks down the foods that you eat in order to make nutrients and energy available to the body, and it is responsible for steering unwanted waste out of the body, too. On top of that, your digestive tract is a key player in immunity – the cells lining your digestive tract help protect your body against bacterial and viral invaders that could make you sick.
Signs of an unhealthy gut – The most common signs associated with poor digestive health include gas, bloating, heartburn/acid reflux, diarrhea and constipation. Over the counter medications can help alleviate some these symptoms, however when any of these become a daily occurrence or interrupt your routine, it’s important to consult with your doctor to make sure you’re not dealing with anything serious. If your discomfort is attributed to your diet and lifestyle, then it’s time to consider adopting healthier eating habits and incorporating exercise into your daily routine. And don’t forget adequate fluids, too, which are vitally important in maintaining regularity.
Maintaining gut balance – The foods you eat and the way you live your life both influence the health of your digestive system. A diet that includes plenty of fiber from colorful fruits and vegetables and whole grains, adequate hydration, and regular exercise are all key factors. Also, take time to enjoy your meals – you’ll be more relaxed, and less likely to overeat, too. The microbiome in your gut is made up of numerous strains of beneficial bacteria that promote gut health. You can introduce these “good” bacteria, called probiotics, into your system by eating certain fermented foods such as yogurt and kefir, pickles and sauerkraut, miso paste and olives, or you can take probiotic supplements.
Regular exercise supports digestive health in a couple of ways –As your muscles contract and your breath deepens during activity, the natural contractions of your intestinal muscles are stimulated, too, which helps to move food through your system. Exercise is also a well-known stress reducer, so it can help reduce digestive upsets that can occur in response to negative emotions.
Listening to your gut has taken on a new meaning and it’s never too early or late to work toward getting your digestive health back on track by living a healthy active lifestyle.