How to Keep Happiness at the Heart of Your Gut

January 3rd. 

How ya feelin'?

The holidays have pretty much passed (though there are some Twelfth night parties coming up this weekend, and... because I live in Louisiana, Mardi Gras season has already begun and this Saturday I've got a Mardi Gras ball to attend, but for all intents and purposes, we're agreed the holidays have pretty much passed, yes?) and, I don't know about you, but I'm a tad dizzied as I sit in my chair.

It feels a little bit like I was walking through a busy airport, and I got onto one of those moving sidewalks, and I was just trucking along with not a care in the world other than getting to my gate on time, and... then the sidewalk ended and I stepped off and suddenly... just like that, ABRUPTLY and JUST BECAUSE MIDNIGHT HIT ON DECEMBER 31ST, it's back to normal floor. Gotta walk the same pace but not go as fast cause now you're just on weird airport carpet, sorry! Sooooo... my body can't catch up, and it feels like it needs to either speed up or slow down, but it can't know. 

Disoriented.

Except NOW, even though I'm no longer on the speeding moving sidewalk, I'm suddenly supposed to have all sorts of intentions and resolutions and plans and maybe start a new diet and exercise regime and BE MY BEST SELF, but like... I'm tired because the moving sidewalk was kind of... a LOT. And it's cold outside? And my internal systems are all telling me to SLOW DOWN! HIBERNATE! EAT WARMING FOODS! STAY WARM! But society and culture and my Instagram feed are all telling me to GO FASTER! START RUNNING! DO A JUICE CLEANSE OR EAT ONLY SALADS OR <INSERT ANY DIET>!

THIS is why I spent the past few Wellness Wednesdays focusing on Gut Health for the Holidays. So that we could all have a collective foundation for this exact, precise, insane moment of pure contradiction. 

Need to catch up?

Part One: When You Can (or can't) Feel It In Your Gut | The Basics of "The Gut"
Part Two: The Gut Brain Connection | Who's the real mother board? The brain? Or the gut?
Part Three: Shame and Digestion | How your thoughts and feelings are affecting your health.

Part four. Now that we know what we know from the previous three installments: we're gonna chew more (part one), take a probiotic (part two), and focus on the mental modifications of the mindstuff to seek our truth, speak our truth, and want what we want (part three), what's next?

We know that it's more than just the food we eat. It's so. much. more. 

There are five main areas of your world that are impacting the health of your internal microbiome:

  1. stress
  2. illness
  3. aging
  4. antibiotics/medications, and
  5. diet

Seeing as this is the time of year when we are pressured into a "resolution" and "reboot" "new year new me" mindstate, let me go ahead and precursor the rest of this blog by reemphasizing the way I began it: you do not have to address all five of these areas now or ever. My goal is to promote happiness at the heart of healthfulness, so should you feel yourself feeling stressed out by pressures to change who or what you are, step back, breathe and do not engage. Because item number one on that list? Stress? Yeah. We do not want to exacerbate stress in your life.

Stress

Stress affects your thoughts, induces the fight or flight response in the endocrine system, and makes your body shut down non-essential functions (like digestion and the reproductive system). The microbes in your gut can react to stress hormones, which can change the proportions of good vs. bad flora. Over-exercising, over-working, over-analyzing—all of these things can induce a stress response in the body, so when it comes to number one on our list of "things impacting your health," let's focus on what you can cut out rather than what you can add in. What's not working? What's taking up space in your life right now that you'd love to release? Maybe this is a great time of the year to add in some lower impact exercise like yoga, tai chi, or Pilates.

Joy is a GREAT antidote to stress. What brings you more joy?

Illness

Heyo—it's also cold and flu season! When our immune system is compromised, so, then, are our gut flora. Infection, trauma, chronic illness—these can all temporarily and/or permanently shift the population of your gut, meaning the fighters get overwhelmed by the disruptors.

Have you ever had like... one sickness after another? Like, maybe you get hit with a stomach bug, and then next thing you know, you're hit with the flu. And it feels like you're on this neverending cycle of sick-sick-sickity-sick? It's not your fault! When your body gets overwhelmed by diarrhea causing bacteria, your gut microbiome gets royally screwed. The "good" bacteria are wiped out, and the diarrhea-bacteria overgrow. Suddenly, you're wide open to any other bacterias that get invited to the party. Your immune system is compromised, and viruses like the flu are SO EXCITED THAT YOU ARE A WELCOME HOST!

So, this is where stress, probiotics, and diet come into play. A strong gut will help you boost that immune system. 

Age

Well... there isn't a damn thing we can do about this one. As I type, I'm getting older. As you read, you're getting older. It's okay! Older, wiser, and so much more beautiful. (and also as we age, our gut balance can fluctuate, leading toward a gut that's got a bit less of the "goodies.")

Some science points to the fact that it *may* not be age that's affecting your gut flora, directly, rather the domino effect of years and years of stress, medication, and diet. 

Medication

Speaking of, as we age, we tend to have more life experiences, and more experiences can also often lead to a necessity for more medication. I'm a firm believer in taking your medication as an excellent form of self-care, so: how can you empower yourself to maximize your gut health whilst also following your doctor's advice when it comes to medicine?

Antibiotics especially can obliterate your gut health; they go in there to kill off the baddies, and, in doing so, the goodies get wiped out, too. A course of antibiotics should ALWAYS be completed. Like, if you're taking an antibiotic and it's got nasty side effects (like a bad taste in your mouth) and you're feeling better from the original symptoms, STILL COMPLETE THE ANTIBIOTICS. Why am I yelling? Because if you don't, even though you may think you're doing a good thing to stop obliterating your gut health with warrior antibiotics, you've actually increased the resistance of the bad bacteria. They haven't all been wiped out by the antibiotics, and they will grow stronger. So much stronger. and they will become progressively harder to treat.

This is why when you're taking antibiotics, it's especially important to up your intake of fermented and cultured foods and keep on taking those probiotics. Which leads us right onto number five:

Diet

Low fiber, high sugar, highly processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, inflammatory fats (especially trans fats), and commercially grown meat can all be a bit of a detriment to your gut. So basically, the festive foods of the holiday season may have contributed to the way you're feeling right now. But fear not, because there are two things to keep in mind:

  1. All that holiday food was probably ingested in joy. That means it's the gold standard.
  2. The super good news? Your body responds really quickly to dietary changes, so no permanent damage done!

Now, I'm not suggesting you embark on some drastic diet post holidays. That's actually counter-intuitive because a DRASTIC change to your diet could induce stress to your system (especially if paired with extreme exercise). Instead: howsabout a slow adding in of more vegetables, frutis, whole grains, and overall plant based foods. 

Is it possible to give yourself permission to NOT do an all or nothing, feast or famine, yo-yo diet New Year plan? 

Because I so very much would love for every single one of us to embrace a non-diet lifestyle, here are some things you can add in that encourage overall gut health. Try adding in one at a time, and see how you feel.

  1. Gelatin or Collagen Hydrolysate: Gelatin is pulled from the bones of animals/birds (usually beef or chicken) while collagen hydrolysate is a more processed version of gelatin (it's basically what Jello is made of). They're pretty much equal in health benefits (strengthening the lining of your gut), but collagen may be a little easier for you to digest (it will also dissolve in cold liquids while gelatin will, well, gel!). Because both of these are derived from animal bones, they aren't vegetarian or vegan.
  2. Turmeric: curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric that makes it such a fantastic addition to your food medicine cabinet. It reduces inflammation and is thought to assist with pelvic pain, migraines, and joint pain. Because turmeric isn't absorbed well by the body without fat and black pepper, one of the best ways to take it is to mix it with an oil (coconut can work) and black pepper. There are many tablets sold that combine black pepper with turmeric, and, if taken before a meal that includes a fat, you could be golden.
  3. Fermented Foods: Fermented foods are naturally probiotic rich, and they have been shown to kick up the goodies in your microbiome. The wider variety, the better, so try adding things in like:
    1. sauerkraut
    2. kimchi
    3. kombucha
    4. tempeh
    5. pickles (any fermented vegetables)
  4. Fiber: More fiber helps with more bowels.
  5. Prebiotic Foods: Many foods contain what is called a "prebiotic resistant starch," which stimulate the GOODIES you've already gut in your gut, which helps you maintain a healthy balance of flora. Prebiotic rich foods include:
    1. lentils
    2. white beans
    3. chickpeas
    4. cooked plantains
    5. cooked and cooled potatoes
    6. oats
    7. green bananas
    8. cooked and cooled rice

My hope for this series has been to lift the veil on gut health enough to quench the thirst of anyone with a bit of curiosity, but please know it is a much more complex subject than four blog posts can cover. If you are interested in this subject, there is a wealth of information out there (also let me know if you have other questions, and I'll be sure to address them in future Wellness Wednesdays).

Keep happiness at the heart of healthfulness, my friend. Happy New Year.

Brittany KrigerComment