Gut Check: What It May Be Trying to Tell You
Getting Your Gut on the Right Tract
When you’re tired, you may pour an extra cup of coffee. If your stomach is upset, maybe you pop an antacid. When you discover a new skin rash, perhaps you head to the pharmacy for a fast-acting ointment. But what if we told you that all these issues may be caused by the same thing?
Stomach upset, fatigue, skin rashes and even sugar cravings may all be signs that your digestive health is out of balance.
The Gut-Brain Connection
Believe it or not, your gut and your brain are in constant communication. Because of the nerve cells and hormones produced in your gut, your digestive tract may impact your mood and have other effects on your health, including the aforementioned symptoms.
Here’s another example. Previously it was thought that anxiety, depression and stress led to irritable bowel syndrome, but now researchers believe that those feelings may be an irritated gut sending an SOS message to the brain. Stress may raise your blood pressure, and your heart and breathing rates, but it causes your digestion to take a nosedive. As a result, your body may not be able to produce as much of the “happiness” hormone, serotonin.
“We call the gut the second brain. When the gut is in good health and well balanced, everything falls into place.”— Julie Usdavin, M.S. HPN/SHL registered dietician
How a Healthy Gut Works
Good bacteria (yes, there is such a thing) and other microorganisms that take up residence in your gut help absorb vitamins and minerals from your food, metabolize drugs, eliminate disease-causing cells and support your body’s immune system. A healthy gut may also help you:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Lower your risk of diabetes and some cancers
- Relieve skin irritation
- Improve your mood
Did you know 70% of our immune system lies in the gut? A healthy gut also helps keep our immune system strong.
Tips for a Happier Gut
Luckily, there are plenty of things we can incorporate into our lifestyle that may help us reach our happy-gut goals:
What About Probiotics?
As we mentioned above, probiotics may be a key component to better gut health. We told you what foods you may find them in, but what about those probiotic supplements lining store shelves? Are they just as effective?
The most common probiotic supplements contain either lactobacillus or bifidobacterium bacteria. But within those two groups are hundreds of species of strains, and each one may also have a different effect on the body. Science has yet to determine which probiotic supplements may have the most benefits.
“Food is the most important source of probiotics, but I recommend supplements for complicated stomach issues. It is important to talk to a registered dietitian or a provider first about which supplements may be best for a particular issue.”Julie Usdavin
The American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) also says probiotic supplements may not be right for everyone, including children, women who are pregnant, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. You can learn more about probiotics on the AGA’s patient resource page at Gastro.org.
We hope these tips help you connect with your body in a whole new way. When in doubt, listen to your gut!