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That Gut Feeling: Your Digestive Health

Does it seem like you get sick a lot? Like all the time? Whether you’re constantly fighting a sinus infection or find yourself prone to skin breakouts, it’s not necessarily just viruses or allergies to blame. There’s a chance your gut is involved. Yes, your gut.

In fact, more than 70 percent of our immune system is located in our intestinal tract. And it’s here in the digestive system that communities of healthy bacteria, called the microbiome, live, doing things like producing vitamins, protecting against infection and running the metabolism. There are literally 100 trillion good bacteria in our system — more than human cells in our whole body! But when bad bacteria start to take over, we run into trouble.

An imbalance of bad bacteria causes damage to the gut lining and creates a condition known as a “leaky gut.” This damage of the gut lining can activate the immune system and increase inflammation throughout the body. Sometimes this leads to chronic inflammation in the skin and body and other times it can lead to autoimmune conditions where the body attacks itself.

Check Your Gut

For women, common digestive complaints, like tummy rumbles and gas, may be embarrassing, but if you are relying on these symptoms alone to tell you something off with your gut, you may not be seeing the whole picture. Here are a few often overlooked symptoms of gut trouble in women:

  1. Increased Urinary Tract & Vaginal Infections
    These conditions point to an overgrowth of candida, a fungus that occurs naturally throughout the body, and a leaky gut, meaning your intestines are not absorbing nutrients properly.
  2. Bloating
    Often, women contribute bloating to a hormonal imbalance related to their menstrual cycle, says Amanda Patchett, a family nurse practitioner at Health and Wellness of Carmel, a holistic functional medicine practice. However, bloating can point to an issue with the digestive tract called gastroparesis, or “paralyzed stomach,” where food is delaying from passing from the stomach. While various groups of people, including those with diabetes or have had abdominal surgery, are at greater risk of gastroparesis, women are four times more likely than men to have the condition.
  3. Gum or Periodontal Disease
    Many people don’t think of this, but the mouth is the start of the digestive system. If it’s not healthy, it could point to problems in the gut, as well.
  4. Mood Swings
    Our gut helps produce and regulate certain hormones that affect our mood, such as serotonin and estrogen. When the gut isn’t functioning properly, neither are these hormones, meaning we can feel anxious or depressed.
  5. Autoimmune Diseases
    Autoimmune diseases, such as Hashimoto’s disease, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis, are more frequently seen in women, and these conditions can often be traced back to a leaky gut.

If you don’t get your gut in check, symptoms like these could lead to more chronic conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome; chronic skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema; recurrent infections; and more serious mental health issues.

On the Offense

Our bodies are constantly battling stressors that can take a toll on our digestive health. While a poor diet — one high in processed and sugary foods — is an obvious no-no when it comes to maintaining a healthy gut, other things — such as pesticides and mental stress — can put it at risk, as well. To give your digestive system a leg up, try incorporating some of these gut-friendly practices into your everyday life.

 

  • Clean Up Your Diet
    A diet focused on fresh, local organic foods and clean water is the best thing you can do for your gut. Fill your plate with a colorful selection of vegetables, as well as whole grains; healthy fats, like avocados, nuts and olives; and fermented foods. Choosing these foods over highly processed ones means you’re getting the enzymes needed to properly digest your food and move it through your body.
  • Enjoy Your Meals
    Relaxing at the dinner table instead of rushing through a meal allows you to take in your food at a good pace and helps your body to digest the food better.
  • Take a Probiotic Supplement
    This will help increase the good bacteria in your gut to get your microbiome back in balance.
  • Reduce Stress
    When you’re stressed, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, meaning your digestive system gets turned off. Find ways to manage your stress, such as exercising, doing yoga, meditating and getting a full night’s sleep.
  • Get to The Root Cause of Your Symptoms
    Unfortunately, standard treatments for gut trouble manage symptoms instead of helping treat the cause of the problem, Patchett says. If you suspect you are experiencing recurrent digestive issues, consider seeing a doctor that practices functional medicine, who can help you get to the unique underlying issues of your symptoms.

We all aspire to a life of fullness and wellness, so give your gut a little TLC and start on the journey to feeling and being your best self.

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