Once upon a time, doctors thought of our digestive system as a relatively simple thing - just a tube for food to pass through, allowing nutrient absorption along the way. However, we now know just how complex our gut really is, and how overall health depends on it. Studies show clear links between gut health and immunity, mood, mental health, endocrine function, clear skin, weight maintenance, and more.
Your gut is "home" to 300-500 different species of bacteria. Some can be harmful, but many are incredibly beneficial and necessary for optimal health. Maintaining a balance is key, and certain things can throw that off, like lack of sleep, high stress, processed and sugary foods, and antibiotic use.
During quarantine, many of us are experiencing interrupted sleep, anxious thoughts, and different eating patterns. We can relieve some of this stress by taking walks, calling friends, and diffusing essential oils (all good things!), but if we overlook our gut health, we miss a critical way to support our mood and overall well-being.
Gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters that are important for behavioral responses, mood regulation, clear thinking, and other cognitive abilities. Some of these bacteria play a role in metabolizing brain chemicals and determining how much gets circulated in the blood. Gut bacteria also produce neuroactive chemicals that reduce anxiety and depression. Ensuring we have a healthy gut is incredibly important! You may suspect an unhealthy gut if you are experiencing:
- Stomach Upset: Digestive issues and heartburn may indicate an imbalanced gut that cannot process food and eliminate waste efficiently.
- Sugar Cravings: A diet high in processed foods and added sugar decreases good bacteria in the gut while increasing inflammation and the craving for sweets. Giving in to cravings only creates further gut damage.
- Weight Swings: Losing weight unintentionally can be caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, while surprising weight gain may be caused by insulin resistance or the urge to overeat. Both situations may spring from an imbalanced gut's inability to efficiently absorb nutrients, regulate blood sugar, and store fat correctly.
- Constant Fatigue or Disturbed Sleep: Your gut produces most of your body's serotonin, a hormone that regulates mood and sleep - and an unhealthy gut cannot do this correctly.
- Eczema and Similar Conditions: Inflammation in the gut caused by poor diet or food allergies may cause "leaking" of certain proteins into the body, which may irritate the skin.
- Autoimmune Conditions: An unhealthy gut may increase the body's overall inflammatory response, reducing the proper functioning of the immune system and leading the body to attack itself.
- Food Intolerance: Difficulty digesting certain foods may be caused by a poor quality of bacteria in the gut, leading to unpleasant symptoms. This is different from a food allergy, though there is some evidence that food allergies may also relate to gut health.
Even if you are experiencing some of the symptoms listed above, you can take action to turn things around. Here are some practical steps you can take to promote a healthy gut and, in turn, boost your immune system, mood, and overall well-being.
- Lower Stress: Chronic stress is hard on your body. Make time to unplug each day and do something that revitalizes you, like exercise, praying, spending time with loved ones, laughing, or snuggling a pet. Reducing caffeine intake goes a long way in reducing stress, along with supplements of mucuna and holy basil.
- Prioritize Sleep: Aim for 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. A melatonin supplement can help you fall asleep, as can a relaxing tea. Try a cup of chamomile with a dash of Sweet's Syrup, or a mug of Moon Milk.
- Hydrate: Drinking enough water benefits the mucosal lining of your intestines and promotes a balance of good bacteria in the gut.
- Take Prebiotics and Probiotics: These supplements may be a great way to improve your gut health. Prebiotics provide "food" to help beneficial bacteria grow. Probiotics contain live good bacteria. These supplements are especially important if you're taking antibiotics, which kill both good and bad bacteria. Not all supplements sold in stores are high quality or helpful. Check with your doctor to see what they recommend.
- Check For Food Intolerance: If you have food intolerance symptoms like recurrent tummy troubles, fatigue or rashes, try eliminating common trigger foods to see if things improve.
- Revamp Your Diet: Reduce processed, sugary, and fatty food consumption. Increase your consumption of foods that promote a healthy gut, such as:
- High-fiber foods like legumes, beans, peas, oats, bananas, berries, asparagus, and leeks;
- Garlic and onion;
- Foods rich in collagen like bone broth and salmon, as well as foods that boost your own body's collagen production, like mushrooms and low-fat dairy; and
- Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, tempeh, miso, kefir, and kombucha. A dash of Sweet's Syrup pairs beautifully with ginger kombucha, and can turn vanilla or lemon Greek yogurt into a treat!
Your gut is complex and has such an impact on whole-body health that it's often referred to as the "second brain." Take good care of yours!
- Tracy Dygert for Sweet's Syrup
Any information provided here is not intended to replace medical advice. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Sweet's Syrup does not claim to prevent, cure, mitigate or treat any disease. Consult a doctor you trust about personal medical decisions and your specific needs.